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Development for Brant and Lakeshore could change what Downtown would look like

By Pepper Parr

October 19th, 2021

BURLINGTON, ON

 

From time to time there are news stories that grow to something more than a one or two day event.

We have covered a few that were significant – and important.

The legal problems surrounding the pier: when a crane toppled and steel that bent much more than was expected was found to be below the required standard.

It was a Pier that was built twice – at double the cost

The end result was the tearing apart of much of the first version of the Pier and starting all over at double the projected cost.

Another important event was the dumping of un-inspected land fill on the Burlington airport lands without the required permits.

We followed that story for three years, stayed strong during the libel suit that was filed against the Gazette and Vanessa Warren and Monte Dennis.

Tonnes of landfill from unknown sources was dumped on the air park lands. It is still there ruining at least one property for which there was never any compensation.

The libel suit was dropped but the land fill is still on the site – and the city is the poorer by half a million in legal fees.

Then there is decision on the part of Vrancor, owners of the Waterfront Hotel, who are expected to take the first required step to demolish the hotel and replace the 9 storey building with a 35 story tower and a 30 story tower that would sit atop a four storey tower.

There are those who like the idea; there are those who think it is a mistake.  The Plan B group certainly think it is a mistake.

The design of the towers is striking – it would be nice to live in it – but the Gazette does not believe those towers should be built on the Waterfront Hotel site.

During the pre-application presentation both the Mayor and the ward Councillor were given the right to speak. Neither made comments for which they will be remembered.

When first running for City Councillor Marianne Meed Ward was leading the Save our Waterfront Committee, demanding that the city not permit high rise towers anywhere near the lake.

The waterfront is once again at risk

Ten years later and all the Mayor had to say during the pre-application presentation was that the city had yet to receive an application. The first rule of stopping a development is to do everything possible to prevent it getting momentum.

If the Mayor is opposed to this development – and it this point we don’t know if she is or if she isn’t – saying nothing is not what the citizens of Burlington elected her for.

She was noisy noisy about Saving the Waterfront in 2010; she was noisy noisy when it came to pushing to get the Urban Growth Centre moved north and away from the Downtown Core in 2018.

She was close to mute when she had a chance to say something about two towers that would loom over Lakeshore Road if they are built.

The Gazette is of the view that few people fully understand what is taking place. There were less than 100 citizens participating in the virtual pre-application presentation.

In the two pictures set out below we try to give people an idea of what a 35 storey tower looks like when compared to what already exists on Lakeshore Road.

The tower on the left is expected to be on the Brant Street side of the development. It is 39 storeys high, the Hotel is 9 storeys high which would make the development more than four times as high as the current structure.

When set against what is currently the highest building in the city the difference is also very significant.

The Waterfront hotel – stands 9 storeys high.

Bridgewater condominium, currently the tallest structure in the city.

The tower on the right would be next to the Bridgewater development and at 30 storeys plus a four level podium come in at 35 storeys – one third higher than the Bridgewater condominium.

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7 comments to Development for Brant and Lakeshore could change what Downtown would look like

  • S. Hutchinson

    A response to Bruce’s comments on budget monies and that the problem is not within the control of the City or Council. Monies need to be allocated for more staff to handle the large quantity of approvals sitting on the planners desks with only 120 days to properly process them. This is a task that is impossible to achieve with positive outcomes.. From there definitely the control sits in the hands of the OLT which is a part of the Provincial Government to move forward in their favour. My thoughts of course!!

    • Bruce Leigh

      Mr. Hutchinson, I suggest in the most part that would be throwing good money after bad. The super high rise applications are destined to end up at the developer friendly OLT because the City will never be able to negotiate a compromise that an applicant would accept. Why is that? Because the applicant knows the OLT is neither impatial nor judging a matter based upon valid, Provincially compliant locally passed planning rules and zoning.

  • S.Hutchinson

    The Mayor, and City Councillors knew their mandate when voted in – plain and simple!!! Our City budget continues to go up every year increasing our taxes and surveys are sent out with the breakdowns of expenses. Perhaps the priority of spending should be allocated to what is really important and that being having control over the structure and design of our City, not the developers!!! As it stands now the planners of the developers are in full control of how our City is developed. This is a situation that no City should be proud of, nor do we want our taxes going in this direction. If the direction of budget monies have to be a priority to get control of this OLT/Developer scenario, then it is time we take a solid stance and stand up for who we are. The developer height precedences for these towers are now so gravely out of control that we have no time to spare, we need solid leadership NOW!

    • Bruce Leigh

      Just how do you see allocating budget money having any affect. It has been clearly demonstrated by the most recent decision at the OLT the problem is not within the control of the City or Council. Control is with the OLT and the Provincial government.

  • Cathy

    The province has done everything possible to stack the deck in favour of the developers. Developers will automatically appeal to the OLT to get what they want. This proposal will certainly be appealed.

    It might be great politics for local municipal politicians to express their opposition early on. But if we’re concerned about the best outcomes for the waterfront, this is a bad strategy. The developer will quote the politician in the hearings to argue that planning staff were strong-armed to block or limit their proposal.

    City planners need to be seen to have independence in their recommendations.

    What municipal politicians can do is talk about the public opposition to the proposal. Every resident opposed to the development should be emailing council members and planning staff expressing their concerns. Petitions should be created and people mobilized.

    Sadly, Engaged Citizens of Burlington was run into the ground through neglect. Can the Plan B folks mobilize people?

    One last comment. While planning staff should have independence from political pressure, we’re not well served by the crew we’ve got at city hall. When I’ve corresponded with them, I’ve realized they’re a fearful lot (fear losing at the OLT) and give away too much to the developers. Every newly hired planner has no idea what was promised to the public by their predecessors, so previous agreements get thrown out the window. The spend a lot of effort coming up with design guidelines, but then ignore them in their recommendations. The Planning Director downloads critically important applications to outside consultants.

    Citizens have to make a point of directly reaching out the city planners, who have been given a lot of (too much?) authority at city hall and the OLT. They can make the difference between the city’s success or failure.

    • Tom Muir

      Cathy has a number of good points.

      First, I want to say that I have been told by a councilor during the Millcroft golf course application discussion that the legals have told Council that the revealing of any Councilors like or dislike views on any pre-application scene is, to quote; “a very nuanced thing.” Councilors have been told that they can’t publicly say what they really think right up front, and they are told this by the legals. Ask questions, but no critical opinions are advised.

      This I was told is what the legals tell Council as a whole in the closed (secret) sessions when these things are discussed. I find this offensive, but it’s what it is. Planning is required to accept any “complete application” and assess it appropriately, and Council is required to hear and consider what the planners report no matter whether they like it or not.

      Only when the application is duly received are the Councilors supposed to say what they think. This is really the ideal because surely at least in private conversations, Councilors can easily telegraph to staff and the chain of command what they would like to see. This was particularly evident in the last Council as the planners were often bombarded by lobby and the City Manager made it quite clear publicly that this direction was the work plan.

      Like Cathy says, if a Councilor is critical and negative prematurely, the developer can use this as grounds to appeal on the basis of bias and undue and early influence on the planning staff. So the point is to keep your powder dry until it is the correct and legally appropriate time in the planning process. Developers have too good a deal at OLT so they will appeal anyways, and we don’t need to give them further grounds.

      I checked on this as much as I can and it is true, and this is proven by the observable behavior of Councilors such as reported here.

      It’s easy to say that planners are independent and professional, but in my many years engaging I almost never ever saw this character in any of them. They are mostly a fearful lot I agree from my experience. They hold their cards close. They are limited by management in what they can say or do, which doesn’t say anything to support independence.

      I worked with one that was really afraid of the legals and gagged herself. I have been a Participant witness in appeals where the City legal and planning staff didn’t say anything and did not speak up to clarify points of fact in their purview.

      The progressive regressive Provincial policy changes in the planning process includes a very important one, which is the very short time of 90 to 120 days that City Planning has to evaluate the application. I think it is designed to pervert the planning process and is successful in doing that for sure. If they don’t meet the deadline the developer can appeal to OLT on the grounds that Council failed to decide in the mandated time.

      Overall, the Provincial rule set is designed to springboard the applications to appeal at OLT, where planning is not the lead, but the legals are, which changes everything – everything at legal is secret and privileged, so it is not transparent and visible. So where do you think this might lead?

      So if we have a little heart we can have some empathy with the individual planners as they bear the slings and arrows of development conflict and politics. The regular staff are mainly just doing their jobs. The chain of command are vulnerable to a party line and the politics. I’ve heard this in action myself.

      I have no problem with more staff from what I have learned myself over the last long while under Grow Bold. Handling all the mass of applications coming in, and the corresponding appeals to OLT, needs many more planners to cope with.

      There are no professional staff that I know of doing economics/finance, for example on the costs and cost trends of development we are doing, and geography/urban aspects of what is really happening and how we need to really use this to determine how much, what form, and where.

      This would produce evidence based scholarly-like studies to better inform us. It seem that the City doesn’t have that kind of competence and so contracts it out. This kind of research should be in-house, as a source of intelligence analysis for the City or Region. This has to be visible and independent.

      But not wanting to be unfair to planners, there have been a some that I dealt with that were very helpful and frank and corresponded freely – every one of these left the City not long after I first needed to correspond with them.

      One of these left the City right in the middle of our correspondence, and I think it was because we were putting too much in writing, and that was not allowed as it turned out. At this persons sudden departure my engagement was restricted to a meeting where I was told this was the last one as it was wasting staff time – the boss said my concerns and questions had been answered.

      Others did very good work that was actually used and notable but also left City, and I was given the impression by colleagues that her caliber and forthright work ethic did not fit the City planning culture. There are all kinds of other aspects of this planner reticence to speak forthrightly, or of turnover, in my experience. Apparently, it never appeared to be a place to stay.

      Finally, as this could go on, I would like to discourage the bad rap you gave to ECoB – run into the ground through neglect? Have you forgotten COVID, as that is what killed it and a lot of things.

      I was around during the founding struggles of ECoB – it was a lot of hard work and you should feel some shame for dismissing the history. You insult a lot of people that did get organized. But this kind of citizen movement has impossible demands to stay focused and coherent. The system is rigged against it – just look around.

      Penny Hersh is the one I identify as closest to the leadership. She deserves mucho thanks, not this bad rap like she did the deed.

      Cathy, maybe you can sketch out an explanation of what you mean?

  • Don Fletcher

    Citizens’ PLAN B is committed to the process & dialogue with all stakeholders to ensure that any development at 2020 Lakeshore 1) enhances the Brant Street gateway to Lake Ontario and 2) extends Spencer Smith Park.
    After all, it will be Our Lakeside Legacy.

    Join us: facebook.com/planbwaterfronthotelredevelopment