Good day for the developers; city’s infrastructure gets put to good use but citizens take it in the ear. But it isn’t over – yet.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON May 11, 2011 – s who had to sit through a four and a half hour meeting wading through two development applications. One for approval of a development at Walkers Line and Dundas and the other f0 approval of a 14 story apartment building at Brock and Elgin – just north of Lakeshore road and east of Maple Avenue.

Both situations brought to light the battle over just how Burlington is going to manage intensification brought upon us by the provinces Places to Grow legislation. The city has to accommodate more people, 30,000 more by the year 2031, and given that there isn’t any “greenfield” development sites left – the growth will come from intensification on the property we do have. Greenfield development sites is property that is basically an empty fields. All Burlington development is going to take place south of the 407 suburban boundaries.

There was a lot of ‘tooing’ and ‘froing’ about the zoning bylaws and the City’s Official Plan, which is due to the fact that few people fully understand the role that each plays in the development of a site.

Lot of things about this project that are just a little bent: public involvement being the biggest.  We can do better than this.

Lot of things about this project that are just a little bent: public involvement being the biggest. We can do better than this.

Developers have quickly figured out that all they have to do is talk about intensification, making use of the existing infrastructure or using public transportation or, in the case of the Molinaro development at Brock and Ontario streets, talk about contributing to the vibrancy of the downtown core – and basically they get whatever they ask for. It’s all very legal of course – the planning staff cover all the bases with deeply reasoned reports which staff take a couple of months t prepare and then give citizens less than a week to review and respond to.

Which is what got Burlington Street resident Mark Henderson to the podium to delegate before Council as to why the Brock/Elgin project should not proceed. Henderson was elegant and while persuasive not persuasive enough to change the vote.

Henderson was a member of the Shape Burlington committee as were Councillors Sharman and Lancaster who had sympathy for the points Henderson was making but not enough for them to go along with the Councillor Meed Ward request that the matter before Committee be deferred until the community had a decent chance to review the Staff` reports.

Henderson’s two main points were that the process is flawed and that community does not have a truly adequate opportunity to respond to Staff reports – and on that one he got agreement. The Planner, Bruce Krushelnicki has in the past agreed that a change in the process is needed and the city can expect to see longer time frames for the public to respond. It would be nice too, if the City would make some of its resources available to those who object to a development.

A large part of the problem with the recent developments is the understanding with what the Official Plan means and what it doesn’t mean and then a deeper understanding of what a zoning by law means and what it doesn’t mean. These are tricky waters and they are not fully understand by people who come forward with complaints but they are very fully understood, and manipulated by the developers and the planners they bring to the table. Nothing wrong with that – if you’ve got a legal problem or a tax problem you want the best talent money can buy and the Molinaro’s have done very well with Fothergill and Associates, their planning consultants.

Henderson started out by saying it was “very clear that citizens were very concerned with the height and density” of the proposed project. Most people in the community believe that the Official Plan allows for a seven storey building and they don’t understand why a developer gets to walk in, ask for 14 stories and get it.

Krushelnicki will explain and the Molinaro planner will also explain that there are solid and sound reasons for allowing the 14 storey application and that is where the confusion and resentment sets in.. “Double” asks Henderson – “why is this acceptable. If this is acceptable then there is something terribly wrong with the Official Plan or something wrong with the planning staff. It isn’t so much that there is anything wrong with either – but there is, as the late Paul Newman said with the infamous line: “What we have here is a failure to communicate”.

Henderson’s plea to the Council Committee was that the community “expected to be listened to”. “There are a lot of new faces around the council table” he said and we thought that meant things were going to be different “but it looks” he said as if it is “just business as usual”. One could hear a couple of “ouches” from Council members.

“What are the limits” asked Henderson. “We are reasonable people – sure you make an adjustment here and an adjustment there , we understand that but double just does not seem reasonable to us.”

“We will get to the point” he warned “where people will just give up and stay home” which caused the Mayor to ask just what the height and density concern was. The Mayor realizes that the city has to intensify and he is not uncomfortable with these higher buildings going up in a part of the city that has many tall buildings.

This gave Henderson an opportunity to point out that there was going to be a 14 storey building on land where there was once nothing but single family detached dwellings and that the project was at the outer edge of what is colourfully called “high rise city” and that in time there will be another one and then another one because if one developer can get 14 storeys then others will expect the same and there are already close to a dozen tall buildings in the immediate vicinity.

What Henderson didn’t appreciate is that there is a hydro line demarcating the property and that the hydro line will become the out edge of this kind of high rise development – which was the justification Krushelnicki and his staff used.

The Mayor made a really strong point when he asked Henderson if it was “not possible to really, really listen and not agree?” And that’s where the rub is. Henderson felt this was coming down to a perception that this is just a public parade – my being here is just tokenism”

After the election we expected different kinds of criticism; we wanted to see compromises and all we are getting is $500,00 worth of trinket which get covered by the price of one of the 115 units the developer is asking for.

And added Henderson – there has been no public input or participation in determining just what the developer should give back to the community for the significant increases in height and density..

“I don’t recall the community being asked what it wanted in return for the advantage given the developer. Let’s have some payback and make that process one that has public engagement.. And on this one he had Mead Ward fully onside but Councillor Sharman wasn’t as sure and he asked” “Has the developer purchased the right to go to 14 storeys?” He didn’t get an answer but the developer has offered – and there was no discussion on who decided what those should be.

Here is what the developer put on the table:

$250,00 towards the burial of the hydro wires on the west side of Brock Street from Elgin to Ontario

$75,000. towards a new play structure in a neighbourhood park

$20,000 towards the construction of a pathway through the hydro corridor.

$55,000 towards the public art reserve fund

$50,000 towards landscape feature at the corner of Brock and Elgin

$50,000 towards the parking reserve fund

It comes to $500,000 and it just doesn’t seem to be near enough for what is being given to the developer. If the developer did purchase the right for 14 storeys – he got a great deal – and no one is suggesting there was any deal made. What was missing in what Henderson called the “trinket” conversations was meaningful public participation. The meeting ran half an hour over the 10:30 pm adjournment time and didn’t get the attention it deserved.

It was a long meeting and Mead Ward did her “I have an amendment” number several times and each time she had no support – that by the way doesn’t mean she was wrong. This is a Council that is learning as it grows – and it is growing.

It was a cool early summer evening and several of the developers gathered in a small circle outside City Hall and chatted about how the evening had gone for them. The Dundas-Walkers Line development took a bit of a shave when it was cut back from 31 condominium townhouse units to 23 but they left the room happy with their gain – even though at some point in the future there is going to be a bit of a stink over garbage collection. This particular project consists of two long rows of townhouses side by side – 11 units, each 20 feet wide all strung together with no break in between. One group will have their garbage picked up at their door fronts while the other will have to carry theirs up the street to have it picked up. Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor wasn’t happy with that one and promised to follow up. The project was in Councillor Blair Lancaster’s ward but she didn’t have all that much to say about the project. A little more attention to detail would have helped Lancaster.

There is more to these two developments. They got approved at Council Committee and now go to Council for final approval and while the rules of procedure are quite a bit more rigid at Council the community has several openings that can be widened to get more for the citizens.

We will return on both these projects.





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