Gary Scobie: 'You can adjust your legacy before you leave or you can leave it to others to try and repair the damage you’ve already done.'

opinionandcommentBy Gary Scobie

July 11, 2018



I expect this will be my last delegation to this Council of eight years. Come October 22nd, we will have some new faces around the table. So please permit me to get a little philosophical.

I am very glad to hear that Council Chambers is being renovated and updated to 21st century standards. The news that the City bought the Sims building for staff accommodation also bodes well for the continuing future of our City Hall.

City hall - older pic

City Hall – always loved it says Scobie

I love the look of City Hall; always have. Do you know that you can see City Hall all the way from Guelph Line along New Street in the winter? You can even see it from Seneca Avenue and New Street in the summer when the full leaf canopy is out. It’s framed by low buildings at James Street in the winter and leaves in the summer.

That’s what I call a gateway.

Now the powers that be in our iconic City Hall – The Planning Department management and Council itself, along with the developers of Burlington have a different idea for a gateway.

How about framing this 8 storey building with twenty-something storey building across the road. Now that’s not a gateway, that’s an insult. With the three to four storey podiums in place, I think I may have to get to James Street from the east in order to see City Hall in the same way in the future, between the twin towers of course.

Dundas - King street

Gary Scobie believes that Burlington has lot the opportunity to keep the scale that King street in Dundas has retained.

I grew up in Dundas. Dundas respects its past while gently conforming to the future. Completed in 1849, the Town Hall is noted as one of the best examples of revival style municipal buildings in Ontario. It requires no gateway and occupies its own block. The classic Post Office building still stands and is repurposed. The downtown is low rise and a mix of newer buildings with older ones with the original facades and buildings intact to their upper floors. It’s always busy with people walking both sides of King Street. Our neighbor was the butcher when I was growing up. When he died, the business was sold to another butcher. That store still operates as a butcher shop. Picone’s Food Market still offers great foods and produce a few doors up the street. It’s the same with barber shops, fish and chip shops, a jeweler and fashion shops. The Armoury is now the Community Centre. Film companies come to make TV movies in the Valley Town as it is known, situated beneath the cliffs of the escarpment, because of its friendly, bustling, charming ambiance.

Hotel on lower Brant Street

While horse drawn carriages and wagons are not what people want to see – many would like some of the charm and the histriy of the city maintained.

Burlington once had that ambiance, but that wasn’t in this century, and a Province and a Council decided in 2005 that urban growth for the downtown was the answer to all of our prayers and declared it an Urban Growth Centre. Please forgive them my fellow citizens, for I believe they knew not what they did nor what it would bring today.

In the last century high rise condos and apartments were built in one-off locations, in groupings like in the east end on Lakeshore Road near Burloak Park, centrally on Lakeshore Road near Torrance, along lower Maple Avenue, and even in my own Ward 3 with a lone 16 storey high rise on Upper Middle Road at Duncaster.

These were seemingly done without much planning for the future or much adherence to the Official Plan in place then. Come into this century and not much changed. New high rises were still being built beyond the Official Plan heights. Meanwhile we had accepted an Urban Growth Centre downtown for reasons never
made fully clear to citizens as to why there; and for future repercussions just now becoming obvious in the past three years or so. We had accepted Mobility Hub densities without any questions or push-back to the Province. We (or our Council for us) had accepted a makeover of Burlington that would transform our city
from something to be proud of to something to be fearful of.

We love being known as the Best Mid-size City in Canada, yet We (that is our Council and Planners) are ready to trade in our little utopia for a future dystopia without question. We citizens must be “managed”, “handled” and “educated” to accept this planners’ nightmare because after all, they are the experts and we’re just the people in the experiment who have to live with the results.

This is the legacy of the City Council of 2002 – 2006 and this City Council of 2010 – 2018. The Council and Planning Department management who, while extolling the virtues over and over again of our beautiful waterfront and our beautiful rural escarpment, at the Province’s urging are now going to mess up forever the cream in the middle of our wonderful cookie, the part that’s not permanent hard water or hard rock, the place that is malleable where 95% of the people of Burlington live.

From Civic Square

The view from city hall if the tower on the right is approved – the tower on the left has already been approved.

Page 26 of the report, point 3 says “Where possible establish maximum building heights which are consistent with existing development precedents”. Well that should be easy. This building at 409 Brant Street is across the road from a freshly approved 23 storey building at 421 Brant Street. So anything up to 23 storeys
should now be a slam dunk. Council and planners didn’t abide to the current OP heights of 4 – 8 storeys or the projected new OP heights of 17 storeys for 421 Brant Street. Why should they or any developer be expected to abide to our shiny new OP height limits now?

Point 4 says “Attract a wider range of demographics and income levels to the Downtown Mobility Hub”. Whoa, that’s not so easy.

It’s never been done yet this century and any window dressing that is being proposed to get young families of modest income into this building is in a word, laughable.

Jeweller after

The view of the proposed Reserve Properties development from John Street which will be the exit for cars from the five level underground garage and the bus terminal.

I predict sometime later tonight or tomorrow, you will vote with a strong majority to accept this recommendation report. I predict you will then have trouble negotiating the conditions with the
developer. I predict the developer with go to the new, untested Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) and ask for at least 23 storeys based simply on British Common Law precedent.

I’m asking you to prove me wrong. Turn down this recommendation report. Say no to the whole twin tower concept.

One mistake across from City Hall is your limit and the time is likely up for most of you sitting in those chairs come October 22nd.

Forget about gateways and landmark buildings. Think about the people who elected you to look after our city, not the podium – pushing planners and developers who wish to pack it with more warm bodies than it can take. You can adjust your legacy before you leave or you can leave it to others to try and repair the damage you’ve already done.

At the end of his delegation Scobie got a sustained round of applause – he had spoken for many.  The Chair could not gavel the meeting back to order.

Gary ScobieGary Scobie is a ward 3 Burlington resident who was a member of the now defunct Waterfront Advisory Committee.  He has delegated frequently on municipal development matters.

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16 comments to Gary Scobie: ‘You can adjust your legacy before you leave or you can leave it to others to try and repair the damage you’ve already done.’

  • Bev

    I sat in the audience on Tuesday evening and was appalled at the arrogance of the Chair of this Committee and the Councillor who wanted some members of the audience removed. Do these 2 individuals not realize that we are the taxpayers paying their salaries. I seem to remember several years ago the same individual (the Chair of the Committee) complaining to the City of Hamilton regarding the music from a waterfront restaurant on Hamilton’s waterfront. He kept pers isting with his complaints until the City of Hamilton determined that the restaurant/bar

    s hould have their license revoked. Mr Craven stated that the music was interfering with his quality of life. How can music disturb him across the Bay? He didn’t like to be “disturbed ” but has no qualms about disturbing the residents of the downtown and surrounding area. Is this fair?


    Penny, we are not working in silos. We are just sick and tired of municipal, provincial and federal government!!!!



    Staff and Council put up with delegating because it delegation protocol is the law…i.e. statutory framework

  • Steve D

    Thank the stars for the Gazette that other opinions have an opportunity to be heard in print.

  • Susie

    You are so very right Gary, what is going on is unacceptable and does not need to happen!! Oakville managed to satisfy intensification other than in their downtown area, and yes Dundas is lovely and I commend them on their heads coming together to take pride and preserve the beauty of their downtown. The City Council and Planners are taking the Burlington people directly to the cleaners. They are the dictators of this whole mess and allowing this crisis to move forward. Nothing is fair or democratic, which is what we as citizens and voters should rightfully be entitled too.

  • Lynn Crosby

    Another excellent delegation by Gary. And another night of rudeness by the Chair and the usual council members. Anyone who missed the meeting should watch the video when it’s up. Seeing the questions and comments made by our elected council members is always shocking. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it still floors me. The atmosphere is awful and the disdain shown by several council members and others towards the public is palpabale. Even the body language … sometimes they act like petulant children who didn’t get their way. Strange, since thet usually do get their way. But they appear to hate hearing the lowly citizens disagree with them or – horror of horrors – clap in support of each other in an attempt to try to counter the negative reaction the citizen delegates are getting from the folks behind the table. Was it necessary for Chair Craven to chastise Gary not once but twice and interrupt him because he didn’t like his comments? It’s insulting. At one point another councillor suggested people in the gallery should be removed. She was ignored. I heard at least one member of the public shout out “we are taxpayers.”

    Thank goodness Councillor Meed Ward is there asking intelligent questions that are actually relevant and meaningful and always treats delegates with respect. We see that and have hope for the future.

  • steven craig gardner

    Penny – you make some very good points. As I read this paper regularly it appears the same handful of people delegate and same the same things meeting after meeting I believe to have impact we need a wider based citizens group so folks are unable to say NIMBYS and council wiil recognize the group represents a majority of the Burlington population. I can sort of relate to Rick Craven when you hear tje same thing from the same person many times and you maybe don’t believe it is the majority view point it can be less then engaging.. We need to prove to council the majority of all Burlington residents feel the same way and not just a vocal minority.

  • Gary, well done. I am glad I did not waste the energy required to make a delegation. I signed up for the new and improved COB engagement process but have deiced not to bother engaging further, no sense pushing rope. I will now await the departure of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse

  • Stephen White

    A very eloquent and heartfelt message Gary! You articulated extremely well the sentiments that a lot of residents feel, especially those of us who recognize and appreciate the importance of history and tradition. Thank you for your delegation.

    Penny makes some really good points in her comments as well. Apart from the much needed changes in the composition of City Council and the municipal public service we really do need to look at the potential power of ratepayers’ associations in every ward. The debate around intensification, Mobility Hubs, etc., can be viewed from a design or planning standpoint, but what it really amounts to is a debate around power and control. Currently, that is vested in a small corporate elite supported by developers, Planning Department officials and “pocket puppies” on Council. It’s time to shift the paradigm and return control to ordinary citizens.

    • Stephen you make a good case for the need for engaged citizens to consolidate their efforts to demonstrate to council and staff that they are more than NIMBY-ites.

  • Tom Muir

    Great delegation Gary – heartfelt indeed.

    I am glad you suggested turning it down and nixing the twin tower idea.

    I did not suggest this in my written delegation. I regret that, as I have been an opponent of what’s being done all the way through.

    My own idea was that accepting the staff recommendation, was perhaps equivalent to turning it down. The staff report, as I read it, is as I said – ready-made for an appeal.

    My sense was that turning it down would just kick-start that appeal.

    Accepting it might do the same thing, but at least the planning staff would not be in disarray.

    The system will have its way with us all no matter.

    You can be sure that Council members have been aware of what was coming from staff.

    Anyways, you spoke for us all, and I thank you for that.

    I would have stood alongside everyone and clapped right in Craven’s face.

  • Judy G

    Well done Gary. The planning department has destroyed our once beautiful city. Now it is an eye sore. We need a mayor and council that will represent the people not the planning department! One who will stand up to the developers.

  • Elaine O'Brien

    Thank you to Gary Scobie for so succinctly explaining what the citizens of Burlington think, and what City Planners and the outgoing Council apparently did not want to acknowledge or rectify. This unfortunate situation has come about in spite of a very large number of extremely credible and thorough delegations against the direction that has been taken to date with respect to poor planning and over development. Hopefully the new Council will direct the Planning Department to act upon Citizens’ concerns. Regretfully we have to live with the results of the lack of vision displayed over the last few years.

  • Lynn

    This is very sad. Sad in deed. The downtown will not be the same and the feel and look will be destroyed. Way to go guys for not only ruining the waterfront with no access for boats to dock but now ruining downtown and turning it into a wind tunnel and ruining the lake view. There is plenty of space north burlington and surrounding areas. Leave the downtown alone.

  • 100% agree Gary.

    The only thing I would add to it where you say:
    “We had accepted Mobility Hub densities without any questions or push-back to the Province.”

    It’s actually worse. The city is pretending that Appleby and Aldershot are mobility hubs to so that it seems like the province has directed 30 story buildings in those areas. They have not – the only direction is for 150 per hectare. For reference, you could get 150 people per hectare with low rise 4 story buildings.

  • Penny

    I listened yesterday to the Committee Meeting, and I give Gary credit for not being intimidated by Rick Craven, who was obviously not interested in listening to anything that did not have anything directly to say about the 409 Brant Street Development. I am surprised he allowed Kelly Child to speak without interruption.

    I have come to realize that delegating at this City Council seems to be a total waste of time. I get the feeling that this is something that staff and the majority of council put up with to be able to say “they engaged the public”.

    Yes, a new council will be elected in October, but for some issues, “the ship has sailed”. Residents need to have a different approach, delegating is not the answer. it is preaching to the converted.

    We need to have a stronger voice. Independent groups made up of professionals and residents with no City involvement need to be formed. Residents need to be at the table at the beginning of the application process not when a staff report comes before Council. This is the one area where a new Council can make a difference in engaging the public. Oakville does it why not Burlington?

    Grassroot organizations, working alone have no clout, we really need to work together. We condemn our councillors for working in silos, are we not doing the same thing?