Height and intensification are the issue: Scobie points out that for the developers - the sky is the only limit.

opiniongreen 100x100By Gary Scobie

June 7th, 2019



I am writing this to expose the absurdity of the Province’s growth centre density targets and how this absurdity is working against good municipal planning, against the livability of Ontario cities where targets apply, against the democratic right of citizens to control their own neighbourhood growth and for just one group – developers.

Bus terminal - gateway - to what

Mobility Hubs can be either full-fledged Gateway Mobility Hubs along GO Transit lines or Anchor Mobility Hubs where municipal transit stations occur. Is this really an Anchor hub?

Henceforth when I refer to growth centres I mean official Urban Growth Centres assigned to municipalities by the Province and Mobility Hubs assigned either by the provincial Metrolinx organization or created by municipalities themselves. The Mobility Hubs can be either full-fledged Gateway Mobility Hubs along GO Transit lines or Anchor Mobility Hubs where municipal transit stations occur. Each has a density target assigned consisting of the number of People and Jobs (P&J’s) per hectare. Not all growth centres have the same areas or density target, but for simplicity I will use the largest area and the highest density target to describe the maximum effect, unless I use an actual growth centre that has been designated.

Mobility hubs

The thinking was to create four mobility hubs and allow significant growth. The studies needed to flesh this out have been put on hold,

A theoretical growth centre is circular and can have up to an 800 metre radius. The area is calculated by the pi X r-squared formula we learned in school, where pi is 3.1416 to four decimals and r is the radius in metres. In this case the area could be up to 3.1416 X 800 X 800 = 2,010,624 square metres. A hectare is 10,000 square metres. So the maximum area of a theoretical growth centre is 2,010,624 / 10,000 = 201.0624 hectares. Let’s round this off to 200 hectares for simplicity.

The growth target for most growth centres is 200 P&J’s per hectare. So theoretically the largest growth centres could have up to 200 X 200 = 40,000 people and jobs within it. That in itself is quite a staggering number, when you consider that Burlington has a population today around 180,000 and if just one growth centre had a maximum area and no jobs, it would have to house 40,000 people in a relatively small area, about 22% of the current total Burlington population.

high profile 421

Going up opposite city hall – sales centre is operational.

But let’s pause here and examine a real growth centre in Burlington, the Urban Growth Centre in the downtown. It is smaller than the circle I described as theoretical and it is shaped more like a upside down capital “T”, stretching up Brant street and adjacent streets and along Lakeshore Road. It is about half the size at 104.6 hectares. So its target is 104.6 X 200 = 20,920 P&J’s. Yes, that’s pretty dense. We were at 157 P&J’s in 2016, over 78% toward target. So we need to get to 200 P&J’s in this growth centre by 2031. At the pace of current approved and constructed or awaiting construction buildings, we will handily reach target well before 2031.

In actual fact, we will not need one more high rise building, beyond those approved, added in the Urban Growth Centre in the next 12 years. We could get to target with a mix of low and mid-rise new buildings. Even though overall Burlington population growth (again assigned by the Province without our consent) will have a new higher target assigned for 2041 compared to 2031, the growth centre density targets are unchanged for both dates. The new assigned population will be expected to be housed at the three GO Station Gateway Mobility Hubs that have been spec’d out for up to 69,000 people and jobs. So even with more assigned growth of population, it would seem that our downtown just might be able to survive and still be liveable at about 21,000 people and jobs by meeting its density target.

Urban growth centre

Citizens are arguing for some limits on just how much development takes place in the downtown core. Interim Control Bylaw has halted any development for a year.

But wait, there’s more! You see, the density target for growth centres of 200 P&J’s per hectare is a minimum target, as developers often point out. So what, you may say. We’ll make our minimum target and no municipality is being threatened by the Province with nasty repercussions if they don’t make theirs. But the Halton Home Builders Association is recommending density targets be increased once municipalities reach the minimum. So municipalities wouldn’t get rewarded for meeting the minimum target, they would get penalized by being forced to densify even further if this recommendation ever went through. Some reward.

Now here’s the real absurdity. The Province “encourages” municipalities to go beyond the minimum density target. OK, but how much beyond? Well, er, there is no “how much”. In the absence of a maximum density or a suggested maximum, there is no number given by the Province nor a hint of what it might be if there was one.

As an Applied Math grad, that can only mean one thing to me. The maximum is infinity. And most people know that means there is no maximum whatsoever. You can bet that the developers and their planners and lawyers, who are smart people by the way, certainly know this and love this gift from our Province. And they make good use of this phraseology of encouraging higher than minimum targets to lobby cities, the OMB and the LPAT that it is their civic duty to go, as Buzz Lightyear would say “to infinity and beyond”. It’s like a license to build ever higher, ever more high rises in growth centres “because the Province wants us to do it”.


Approved – at 24 storeys – the city opposed the development – the OMB said they could. No hole in the ground yet – they are testing to determine just where the water table is.

Would any Official Plan (OP) that doesn’t allow infinite growth in a growth centre therefore be not “in compliance” with the Provincial Policy Statement and the Provincial Growth Plan? So OP’s might be useless to stop this quest for infinite density? Good city planning might also be in danger, although the LPAT & OMB often refer to “good planning” as something they can identify and appreciate, especially when it comes from “experts” (most Planning Departments need not apply since only the Province decides who’s an expert, it seems). All these are worrisome issues for citizens who care about Burlington and support reasonable growth.

Confused? Don’t be. The latest suggestions for changes to the LPAT from the Province are to dismiss a municipality’s OP if it isn’t “good planning” and decide for them what “good planning” is and how many high rises should be allowed and how high these building should be in growth centres, so that we can reach toward infinity by 2031, by 2041, or by infinity I guess.

How many P&J’s should be stuffed into growth centres? An infinite number apparently. And developers are lining up to feast like they’ve never feasted before with high rises everywhere in growth centres, foisting these on unsuspecting municipalities.

In our capitalistic society, where money trumps all reason, municipalities and their citizens seem nearly powerless to stop this. Welcome to the absurd world of growth centre math and the greed that is satisfies.

Now I fully realize that the target is not infinity, but citizens must realize that the impetus from developers to build higher and higher is strong and steady and the Province with its proposed weakening of citizen input to the LPAT process and its proposed takeover of decisions on just how far we go with density and height (under its “good planning” auspice) are putting all cities in Southern Ontario at risk for destruction of the character of their downtowns, the increase of congestion in both people and vehicles and the lowering of livability standards.

409 with 423 shadowed

Looking south down Brant the light shaded building has been approved at 24 storeys, the building to the south of that has been ok’s at 17 – they are appealing to get 24 – same as the guy next door.

Is this what Ontario city populations desire? Is this what Ontario citizens thought they were voting for a year ago? I don’t think so. Yes, there will be more people coming to cities and for many that will mean being housed in high rises around GO stations. Citizens realize and accept this. In Burlington we have room for this. So we’re not against growth, only growth in inappropriate places, like our downtown.

Pearl and Lakeshore

Developer is asking for 24 storeys – same as the approved building to the east,

What can we do? Contact the Mayor and your Councillor and support their efforts to stand against over-development of the downtown and also of the numerous plazas and strip malls that are or will face the same sort of pressure to infill at high density numbers far out of character with the surrounding neighbourhood. City governments and their planning departments must stand firm against what may seem an impervious and imponderable regime constructed by the latest version of our Provincial masters, who apparently think they know best how to manage our cities. Contact your MPP and let her know you want a made in Burlington development plan.

Citizens must attend local meetings on development hosted by the City and delegate at City Hall when Statutory Public Meetings are called. Let the Province know that we care about our city and our elected officials know better how to manage growth than the Province does.

Only the sky is the limit to developers. We need to lower that limit.

Gary ScobieGary Scobie is a frequent commentator on how Burlington can grow – he advocates for responsible and thoroughly thought through growth.

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13 comments to Height and intensification are the issue: Scobie points out that for the developers – the sky is the only limit.

  • Alfred

    Folks this mess all started with the advent of the Greenbelt. Environmental wackos convinced us that we needed it or we would starve. Even though we live in one of the largest countries in the world. Bounded by the Greenbelt, Oakville and Hamilton. Burlington had little room to expand and grow. No problem said the then Liberal Government that Mayor Ward supported. We will build up not out and ride a bicycle everywhere. We would have no need for cars. As compact designs (Tall buildings) would bring things close, that we could walk to. This would be a great cure for diabetes. Because Canadians are fat and lazy according to these people. Not like our fit European friends who walk 10 miles a day and all live in apartments. While their children play in the streets instead of their backyard. Remember your Mayor ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal. Steve and Gary. Listen to what you are saying. You want to decide where people should work and live. Why don’t you consider encouraging the population migration by leading it. These appear to be municipalities you would love. No chance of a high rise ever being built. No growth. What else could a nimby ask for. Remember the only reason Burlington is affluent is because the jobs in The GTA East of us are nearby. Those municipalities you mentioned don’t have that luxury. The Greenbelt cut too close to Burlington 500 yards North from Aldershot to Oakville, would have provided enough land for high rises for the next 100 years without ever touching the downtown areas. Oops what was I thinking? There are a handful of salamanders that live there. Sorry.

  • Adam

    What I think most of the people on this message board want is zero economic and population growth. Our economy is barely growing by 2% and the population of Burlington is growing less 1.5%, its not like the place is taking off and we have rampant development but yes there are new buildings and increased traffic. If you want things to stay the exact same I would look to move somewhere with absolutely no growth or maybe somewhere that is declining.

  • Adam

    The jobs are in the gta and thats where people want to live. The previous Liberal government created the greenbelt and ring fenced the GTA. Now there is no land left and the only way to add more housing is higher density / intensification. Am I wrong? I think blaming this on the PC’s is hilarous. This is years of Liberal policy on the greenbelt and encouraging intensification – places to grow is from the Liberals.

  • Deborah

    Just like Easter eggs in a video game, Bill 108 also eliminates the requirement for a window in a condo bedroom. And one Toronto developer is saving space by ditching ovens. I suppose if your bedroom is immediately adjacent to a high traffic road as those being proposed and built in downtown Burlington (let alone those almost sitting on the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto) those owners may prefer a wall for noise reduction, or to eliminate the view of a 6 hour traffic jam downtown, as happened for the third time in a year last week. As for ditching ovens, this will only further encourage people to eat prepared foods both in their homes and out, rather than cooking from scratch which has been proven to be a healthier diet. Thank goodness for the benevolence of those developers who are not including enough parking spaces in new builds, and locating close to Burlington’s current “major transit hub” the John Street bus stop, so that future Burlington condo dwellers can walk off all those extra calories!

  • Penny Hersh

    Lisa, you are correct – the Planning Department only has 120 days to act on an application file moving forward. My comment was made before this came into effect.

    Kelly, there have been some decisions made by our current council that in my opinion are questionable. The Interim Control By-Law, can be challenged for non-decision. It is the hope of this council that LPAT/OMB will refuse to hear any appeals as this Interim Control By-law is in place, but there is no guarantee that this will happen. I question if everything will be in place to lift this By-Law within a one year period. Council has the ability to add another year to it if they choose. Any new development applications require a decision to be made in 120 days. This By-Law slowed everything down, but that’s it.

    Perhaps this Interim Control By-Law helped the local developers. How – because the Developers who come to build one development, like Amica will simply go somewhere else and others will decide it is just not worth the effort to deal with Burlington. If this happens the local developers have no competition, and pricing of units could be even more expensive.

    Now that the City has abandoned the Mobility Hub Study it could indicate how ill prepared they are to meet the 1 year moratorium .

    The Provincial Government has cut funding to the Municipalities, this will require more tax dollars to pay for necessary services. I was not a fan of using Reserve Funds ( some of which have to be repaid) to lower our taxes this year. I hope this does not come back to haunt residents next year at budget time. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul is not the way any business should choose to operate.

    Burlington has been left in a vulnerable position, in my opinion. It will be interesting to see how this Council handles things, other than blaming the Provincial Government. This has been a year in the making, it should not have come as a surprise, if for no other reason than Doug Ford has been very clear on what was happening.

    Do I think that the decisions made by the Provincial Government are right – no, but this is the hand we have been dealt.

  • Lisa Cooper,

    Actually Penny the wait times have now been cut in almost half. I believe the new times are 120 days from 210 after applications and 90 days for rezoning coming down from 150. How this will affect the applications already submitted. The Council or the planning dept. will have to answer that.

  • steven craig Gardner

    Rather ironic that Burlington elected an anti over-intensification (not anti-development) council and mayor and the same people voted in Doug Ford who as he is so fond to tell us is doing exactly what he said he would do if elected. Ontario is open for business not open for residents. Hoping the same Burlington voters vote for some one in the fall federally and not against someone as they did provincially as Mr Ford and Mr Scheer are definitely cut from the same cloth and who knows what will come next. You do not need parks condos in Spencer Smith, greenbelt makes great housing (remember Ford tried this path once before). With feds and province both conservative we will be in worse shape than the USA. Doug even extended his summer vacation till after the fed election to no doubt plan the coronation of Andy Scheer.

  • Steve

    And it’s not just plazas and strip malls that are targeted, established neighborhoods are on the radar, as well. There is the proposal at Plains Rd and King Rd area where one builder wants to tear down a huge tract of townhouses, and semis, in order to jam high-rise density in its place. That’s a whole new level of overcrowding. What’s next? Parks that don’t get used enough?

  • Kelly

    Thank you Gary. Well done. It is so very sad what previous council did to us Penny. They conned and fooled us all. Planners and council all kept decisions very close to their chest so as to not awaken the giant.

    It is a taxing and tiring event that we as business owners and residents are facing daily. The impact more residents will have on the core is mind-blowing to me. Friday, for example, it was solid gridlock from Burlington to Hamilton for over 6 hours. Our staff could not get back home to Hamilton and were recording 3+ hour bus rides. This was due to one accident on the skyway bridge. We are not equipped or designed for this claustrophobic lifestyle that appears to be on the horizon. I ask, who would want to live this way? We are trapped in the core with no way in or out in single lane traffic. How did this happen? Fire, Police, Emergency Services,….did they all agree to put us in a gridlock?

    We are driving OUT business. Taxes have gone way up (thanks to the increase in commercial property values).

    Currently, we do not have the ability to attract a significant amount of staff to work at our businesses. It is not conducive to running a business when the parking in downtown Burlington is the biggest joke of the retail world. Many potential staff have cars and need parking. They do not want to rely on transit.

    So……to run a successful business, we are going to be counting on new local residents who will be living in the condos, that can WALK to our stores to shop and eat at our businesses. 🙂 That’s it.

    This does not make great business sense. (Just a note…what happens in the winter?)

    If we are not attracting and on course to attract more visitors and tourists, then that is what we will be left with. Local residents only. That does NOT pay our bills, expenses, taxes and payroll – then it does not make sense to stay in downtown Burlington.

    Yes, Burlington will quickly be a bedroom community with multiple high rises housing 1000’s of people, extremely limited visitor parking, a dark, shadowed core, limited single lane roads to drive on and a maybe a Shoppers Drug Mart below. That is vibrant life.;)

  • Stephen White

    Thanks Gary for your clear, cogent and well-reasoned summary. Many of us argue against this insane emphasis upon intensification and density based on the impact upon neighbourhoods, the environment and and quality of life. Finally, someone with the technical acumen and analytical skills has been able to translate this into concrete numbers to show the utter depravity of what developers and the province are proposing. Bravo! Well done!

    Downtown Burlington is becoming the epitome of congested urban blight. It looks ugly, and every new development just adds another sterile, lifeless, boring sand or pewter coloured building that is nothing more than a testament to developer greed and lack of architectural creativity. For all the marketing hyperbole and sloganeering that precedes the rollout of every new high rise condo the final results are incredibly monotonous and boring.

    Instead of shoe-horning millions of people into a swatch of land on the western edge of Lake Ontario perhaps Premier Dougie should re-focus his efforts towards decentralized regional economic development. There are dozens of communities in this province (e.g. Chatham, Sault Ste. Marie, Port Colborne, New Liskeard, Timmins, etc.) that are literally dying due to economic collapse, aging populations, etc. The long-term prognosis for some of these places isn’t great. The focus should be upon redevelopment of the urban infrastructure in those communities and encouraging population migrations. Let established communities evolve as local residents and local Councils deem best, and not according to an artificially contrived and provincially imposed mandate. The advent of technology no longer requires employees or people to be tethered to the GTA, or warehoused in 300 sq. ft. shoebox condos in downtown Toronto. Sadly, this would require imagination and leadership, two things the Premier and his government have shown they are increasingly unable to provide.

    • Gary Scobie

      Thanks Stephen. Your suggestion about moving the next population and jobs growth to communities outside the GTHA that are starving for some of this type of growth is bang on. Rather than strangling our GTHA cities with growth in excess of what they can handle and remain viable and liveable, how about we ask the Province to think outside the box (ie. outside the GTHA) to spread the population and intensity around and actually help cities in trouble rather than hurt those that aren’t? Seems like a reasonable question.

      Yes, there will be challenges, but isn’t that why we elect these people and support the provincial bureaucracy – to solve the big problems, not create them?

  • Steve W

    Excellent article. Proves what I thought already, that the current freeze on development is just to make it look like council did something. The highrise planned growth will just continue after this brief intermission.

  • Penny Hersh

    Gary, your article once again is extremely informative and easy to understand. It paints a bleak picture for those of us who would like to see responsible intensification in the appropriate areas in Burlington.

    I do believe, that some of the problems that exist in Burlington are as a result of poor decisions made by previous councils. There were times along the way that the previous Council could have made changes to the designation of the mobility hubs and growth centres and they chose not to.

    Studies, were never done or completed. Decisions were made without proper information, and because of this Burlington has been placed in a very vulnerable situation.

    The Interim Control By-Law did nothing but slow things down, and it will be interesting to see how developers deal with the City once the 210 days for decision on an application will be handled, now that the OMB is back.

    The passing of Bill 108 is not something anyone of us wanted or agree with, but Burlington should have been more prepared to deal with this. This has been a year in the making.