ECoB's evolution is in a gestation phase - they will have to put something real on the table very soon.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

December 26th, 2017



ECOB logoECoB – Engaging Citizens of Burlington got off to a pretty good start.

There is some money in the bank, the web site is up and running – plans are being put together for a crowd funding page.

All good – and then – nothing or not very much.

In our travels we meet with people who comment on what is taking place in the city – the good stuff, the not so good stuff and the inevitable question: Is she going to run?

Of course she is going to run. Even if they took all her high healed shoes away from her, Marianne Meed Ward would still run for the office of Mayor in October of 2018 – ten months away.

But we digress.

Some of the more serious minded people who are firm in their belief that the city needs a strong citizen based organization ask if the people who got ECoB off the ground are going to be able to give it the momentum it needs.

The group seems very small – are there new people becoming part of the core team?

We were told there is a bigger picture and that the intention to appeal the city council decision to approve a 23 storey tower opposite city hall is not their sole reason for being.

There has been a bit of a timing glitch and any appeal has to be done under the newly created Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT)  which replaces what we knew as the Ontario Municipal Board.

The appeal application is the matter that is on the ECoB front burner right now.

What is being done to reach out to people in the wards that are not part of the downtown core?

When Lisa Kearns took to the lectern at the December 13th meeting she told the audience that they “had to do their homework” and there is a lot of it to do.

ECoB home page

ECoB has a very well designed web site that set out he events their membership needs to pay attention to – the response to the web site has not been overwhelming – to be fair it was launched in the middle of the biggest holiday season of the year.

Understanding just what the issues are is the starting point and then stick handling the appeal application as well as building ECoB so that it reflects all of Burlington and not just the downtown core.

At this point the leadership team is three people – the founder spends much of her time in Florida and the co-founder is experiencing some health issues and isn’t going to be as available as he would like to be.

This leaves the organization in the hands of Lisa Kearns, Dania Thurman and Penny Hersh.

Kearns is the conceptual thinker – she fully understands the issues. Thurman is the social media leader who got the web site up and running and is ready to move on the crowd funding level once the holidays are behind them.

Penny Hersh is doing community outreach and is handling the funds that have been raised.

It is going to take far more than these three very capable woman to make this work.

A few people have complained that ideas they have sent the ECoB have not been responded to – that could well be because the team in place at this point is run ragged.

421 Brant

Is it a doomed project that is going to get tangled up in a bureaucratic quagmire where assets slide down a drain rather than into concrete.

The organization has to be both advocates for change, the organization that leads in the education of the public and at the same time do the strategic thinking that is vital.

They have to work with a city hall bureaucracy that many feel has a tin ear and is not capable of listening to the citizens. They have to cajole the existing city council into learning to do things differently.

They have to contend with a developer community who may see projects delayed, their costs increased and disruption to plans that have been in development for some time.  Many believe that every piece of property on the east side of Brant Street south of Fairview has either been acquired by a developer or is under an option.  There are huge amount invested by the developers and they don’t like to lose.  Burlington has been very good for the development community for a long time.

There was a time, about twenty five years ago when the city had a very strong active community group. It worked very well for a period of time but then interest fell, the urgency was gone and it just dried up.

Carriage Gate team

Two planners, and a Carriage Gate vice president at the first Carriage Gate development public meeting. From the left: Robert Glover, Ed Forthergill and Mark Bales

When the 421 Brant project was first put before the public there was very little in the way of objections. At the public meeting held at the Art Gallery there were people asking when they could make deposits.

Some very solid, credible planner spoke of the project with sound explanations as to why Brant Street had to become the “spine” of the city.

When the project got to the Planning and Development committee there was one lone delegation opposed to the project.

Yet when it got to city council where it was approved on a 5-2 vote, the ward Councillor and the Mayor were opposed – there is a dynamic behind those two no votes that needs s bigger understanding – citizens, especially those in the downtown core were almost taking to the streets.

ECOB Dec 13 #3

Residents at the first ECoB public meeting.

This shift in opinion and the opposition to the project grew very quickly and caught everyone off guard. It took on a life of its own and now, assuming the appeal is successfully filed a large city shaping development will be put on hold while close to half a million dollars gets spent on legal fees and support from the professionals.

Woven into all this and at the same time feeding it, is a community that is finding its voice while the members of city council prepare to move into election mode.

To add to the mix is the fact that the province changed the turf on the playing field creating a shorter period of time for election campaigning to take place and put new rules into effect on where campaign money could come from.

Meed Ward with Mayor Goldring: she is more comfortable with herself as a speaker.

Meed Ward with Mayor Goldring.

That dynamic between the two city council votes opposed to the project – the ward Councillor and the Mayor, is underscored by the fact that the Mayor has already held his “I am running again” announcement – some thought he was offside on that decision. The only thing Marianne Meed Ward has not done is announce that she is actually going to be a candidate for Mayor.

She has been eyeing the Chain of Office the Mayor wears since the beginning of her first election campaign in 2010 for the ward 2 seat.

Human nature is complicated and in the world of politics anything can happen.

The creation of a city wide citizen’s organization will be a little like trying to herd cats. Each local organization has its own agenda and it will take some gifted ECoB leadership to recognize the individual community group needs and at the same time see, if not create, the bigger picture.

If ECoB can find the oxygen to survive we will see more of them in the New Year. The milieu within which they have to work is daunting.

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5 comments to ECoB’s evolution is in a gestation phase – they will have to put something real on the table very soon.

  • Tom Muir

    There are a few things of fact that I take issue with in this story.

    First, you say “Some very solid, credible planner spoke of the project with sound explanations as to why Brant Street had to become the “spine” of the city.

    There are too many adjectives, or too many notes, in your song praising a planner paid for by the developer, and this appears to be a little bias showing.

    You are using an argument from authority, but just because your hired planner asserts some explanation about Brant St, doesn’t make it so, and the argument form is clearly fallacious.

    Neither the planner nor you offer any objective evidence which we could examine and verify. Hired planners may express opinions about matters concerning which they could not possibly have any evidence.

    Stating that Brant St needs a spine of tall buildings is such an opinion. It’s another fallacy, this time one of generalization, which seems to fit.

    Another planner, equally competent, “very solid, and credible” may disagree, with another “sound explanation”. But nobody has paid another planner to offer such an explanation.

    In such cases there is no reason to place more confidence in one than in the other, and people are apt to choose the authority that gives them the answer they want to hear.

    Ignoring the judgement of opposed authorities is a case of biasing the evidence. When there is such disagreement it is time to reconsider the objective evidence that the opposing judgements are based on.

    This is one reason why an appeal of this decision to the OMB has merit.

    Second, there is such a thing as “argument from consensus”, involving a group of people, instead of a single individual. In this case, the group can be taken as an authority, and if a large enough group agrees with a certain conclusion – say citizens about Brant St urban form – this can be taken as evidence that it is true.

    The story here errs in the count of people who showed up at meetings and objected. At the Art gallery meeting the story says there was very little in the way of objections.

    The story misses the Statutory Meeting at Committee and comments made there. And there were more comments made at the P&D Committee decision meeting that was noted, than one opposed.

    And the story doesn’t include the delegations made at the Council meeting that approved.

    According to the public record of these meetings, this characterization of public opposition is wrong.

    I looked at several recent staff report sections containing public comments. Many of these comments were lengthy and reasoned.

    421 Brant St. Neighborhood Meeting: 22 comments – 20 opposed 2 supportive, of which 1 was in the development business.

    421 Brant St Statutory Meeting: Of 10 comments, with no exception, the original proposed height of 27 stories was unacceptable – not just a little bit, like 23 is okay, but it was a rejection. For representative examples you can see my P&D correspondence.

    421 Brant St. P&D Meeting Nov. 1. There was 1 personal delegation opposed, so the story is correct on this count.

    But, there were 3 letters of correspondence, of which 2 were opposed, and 1 offered support for redevelopment but wanted to see compliance with the existing OP and bylaws.

    And the story misses the Council meeting of November 12, the meeting that approved the project at 421 Brant and eventually precipitated the tipping point and the formation of ECoB.

    At this meeting, there were 12 delegations, of which 11 were opposed, and the other one was the developer.

    So out of 48 public comments received, 44 or 92% are opposed.

    And then there was the more than 1000 signatures on the petition – I guess we can argue the list wasn’t vetted, but still.

    And the city says the public is broadly consulted, and uses that claim to defend decisions that are clearly opposed by the public in these consultations.

    So who is represented here, and whose city is it really?

    And who is the proper “authority” in the city, and does this citizen objection not constitute an “argument from consensus”?

    Going further in my findings of public comments on current proposals, let’s consider the Molinaro proposal for 22 (or 24?) stories on Brock St.

    Molinaro Brock St. Neighborhood meeting: 9 are opposed, and none spoke in support.

    Molinaro Statutory Meeting of Nov. 6/17: There were 4 personal delegations and all were opposed.

    There were 13 additional written comments, 12 of which are opposed, and 1 was neither clearly opposed nor supportive, but had several issues and concerns.

    So on the Molinaro proposal, there are 26 public expressions of comments, of which 0 speak in support, 1 is equivocal, and 25 are opposed. So basically 100% do not support the proposal.

    We can go to the Waterfront, and see the same dominant opposition to the city planners and developer proposals. Or elsewhere, and let’s not forget the ADI Martha St. proposal.

    Comments are often lengthy, and basically express the same issues and problems. Consistent concerns are always height, density, no respect for bylaw limits and creeping up proposal by proposal, staff traffic, congestion, parking assertions that are completely at odds with public comment and concern and reality even, and many others you can read.

    And adding insult to injury, city and Council can’t wait to hear the residents comment on what they think of the new OP, bylaws, and Mobility Hub ideas before voting to go far beyond anything in those documents for this location.

    The draft plan ideas are still just that – not vetted, not discussed or debated, and have no approval and are therefore not policy relevant or legal. Given this, the Committee and Council approval here makes a farce out of the formal consultation to come before it even happens.

    To me this erases all doubt that the city, planners, and Council don’t respect or really care to hear what the public thinks of these plans, and wants for what is their city.

    Instead of waiting, as is legitimate and appropriate, decisions are made to go over and above even the 17 story limit proposed, but not approved, for this site in the new Mobility Hub Precinct ideas.

    The existing limit is 12, the proposed is 17, but the City Manager and his planners, want 23, which he says they “negotiated”. And Committee voted 5 to 2 in favor, a vote repeated at Council.

    Is that how Council wants to be seen as representing the people? In a way that drives cynicism?

    Some of you say “tall buildings are the future” and “citizens need to get over their concerns”. Well, “tall” buildings in Burlington are anything above 11 stories.

    So the present permissible of 12 is tall. And certainly the 17 proposed in the Mobility Hub Brant St Precinct is tall.

    So we are there already.

    To conclude here, I think the expectations being raised about ECoB are not reasonable. The “system”, for lack of a better word, works to constrain what is possible to do in terms of citizens leveraging power, and controlling the pace of events.

    Citizens are not in control of process and procedures, but are effectively prisoners of it.

    An appeal to the OMB is only possible when and if the planning and legal offices get the OP and bylaw amendments, conditions of zoning and development agreement approvals, Section 37 agreements, and any and all of the other details, finalized, brought to Council, and approved.

    This has not happened yet, so the leverage available in this appeal is awaiting this process.

    Citizen groups spend a lot of time organizing and preparing and delegating, and are not so much visible. Remember, we are all prisoners of the process and procedures.

    It’s called hard work and struggle.

    But fear not, something will emerge, and if you look closely you will see changes have already been made.

    Election year coming up.

    • Concerned Citizen

      Tom, great information and overview of this ludicrous situation. And it is probably safe to say that many Burlingtonites would agree strongly with your statement that we are “prisoners of the process and procedures”, especially when we (the citizens who pay the City staff’s wages) disagree with their decisions and they choose to ignore us AND the OP we paid them to develop with our input, we the citizens then have to fund our own planners, lawyers, etc to try to reverse decisions and make someone listen to us. Can you say ‘double jeopardy’?

    • Stephen White

      Good analysis Tom! You captured the frustration and anger that many residents feel very well.

      October 2018 can’t come fast enough.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Agree Lynn. Ed – so, in an article about the ECoB group, you make a comment about someone’s high heels who is not even directly involved in the group? Relevance?? Or will your next article on snow plowing include a reference to the current Mayor’s high heels? Can’t wait!!

  • Lynn

    Even if they took all his golf shoes away from him, Rick Goldring would still run for Mayor.

    See how silly that sounds?