How many Official Plans do we have? Two - but only one of them is legitimate. Confused? You are not alone.

News 100 blueBy Staff

January 25th, 2019



Official-Plan-Binder_ImageThe Official Plan, the document that sets out what can be built where, was an election issue in October.

The city currently has two Official Plans: one that is in force and what has to be complied with. The other is a Plan that was approved by city council during its dying days but has yet to be approved by the Region.

Many didn’t think the 2014 -2018 city council had the right to “approve” the Official Plan that they sent along to the Region where the Plan has to be approved and sent back to Burlington where it can be voted on by council and become the law of the land.

Recently the Region returned the “approved” Official Plan and pointed out four deficiencies.

Amica development rendering

It is a very big development – which Official Plan will it be developed under?

Earlier this month there was a presentation being made by a developer for a large long term care home they wanted to build on North Shore Blvd.

A number of people who attended that meeting were very confused and upset with the way staff from the Planning department were explaining which Official Plan was being applied.

Tom Muir, an Aldershot resident wrote extensively on that meeting saying:

Muir glancing

Tom Muir

I attended this meeting that was joined by at least 80 people and I came away disturbed and concerned by what I saw and heard coming from the planning staff in attendance, the developer’s planning consultant and the residents.

The first thing that was apparent is that there was not a happy and supportive face in the room. The initial questions asked by the audience reflected the general unrest among the attendees concerning the confusing and contradictory statements from staff and the developer consultant about what the Official Plan being brought to bear on this application actually was about.

That is, why did the applicant ask for such significant increases in the existing OP and zoning allowances, and why did they appear to have such confidence in the approval of their application?

It soon became apparent that there were actually two OPs being brought into play here by all the planners present. One was the existing OP that is in force and effect. However, with equal but apparent favored mention, was the previous Council adopted OP that was brought forward as a “Council approved”. I repeat, the word “adopted”, which is the proper word in the context of city Council, was not used, in favor of “approved” which is the Region responsibility. The status of this OP as refused and non-compliant was not mentioned.

It was further noted by staff that this OP was being used for information, guidance and direction for the City planning. It was apparent that this confusing contradiction with two OPs in play was disturbing the attendees (and me) and was a key issue arising.

It was not until I asked a question about this that the OP referred to repeatedly as “approved” had been, in truth, refused by the Region as non-compliant with the Regional Official Plan, and at present is on hold and has no status or legal standing. I repeat, this fact was never revealed to the meeting attendees until my question pointed it out.

Instead, to my dismay waiting for the truth to emerge, this refused and non-compliant OP was actually referred to as “Council approved”, several times in repeated references to it.

In the ensuing exchanges on this point that you can’t have two OPs at the same time, it was apparent to me that Planning is playing a game. All three planners in attendance played the same words and danced around what was going to be done about that.

It was actually stated by staff that the OMB has ruled that the existing OP did not meet the requirements of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) and provincial growth plans, but there was no evidence to support this to show how the maximum medium density and heights (11 storeys was mentioned) permitted under the existing OP were not sufficient.

Staff further danced around the truth by making somewhat light that the non-compliance of the adopted OP was “limited” in some abstract way, so it still had some standing and is okay to have regard for – which is not true. It was stated that City and Region are talking about certain isolated issues of non-compliance, and will get rolling again, but it was never admitted that this OP has no standing because it has been refused as non-compliant based on key things that affect the overall OP.

Muir with pen in hand

Tom Muir, one of a group of people in Aldershot who keep well informed on what comes out of the Planning department.

My recurrent take on this is the staff cannot let the refused OP go to pasture for second public thoughts. I can see that right from the pre-application consultation and discussion stage of the planning process, it seems that all the planners are pushing the basis and ideas from the non-compliant OP for extra height and density and other things .I think that staff do not to give up the power they have to make decisions based on their mostly subjective opinions about what various policies mean in their denotations. Subjectivity cannot be analysed, so it cannot be shown to be objective.

They all want to speak from this OP platform for more height, density and lower facilitating standards to enable the large builds. And they try to generally discredit the existing OP to try and get around it. This has been going on for years and continues in every new application in the pipeline. This is largely why we have such an almost complete loss of control of development downtown and elsewhere.

The Planning staff are the ones who recommended to Council that this OP be adopted, even with major missing parts, including Transportation and Mobility Hubs. And these parts are among the things that the Region refused the OP as non-compliant – transportation named, but Mobility Hubs involve employment lands and that is another key issue in the non-compliance opinion. Again, these two pieces are still missing and this OP is not legal, but staff march on using it, non-compliance or not.

The truth is that if it has been refused by the Region as non-compliant it is dead for all practical purposes, and cannot in good professional planning practice be used as a basis for decisions. Only much later in the meeting, near the end, did staff clumsily mumble that the refused OP is out of the picture somehow, on hold or whatever words pertain, and so we have to enforce the existing OP and bylaws on height and density and so on.

Importantly, staff actually stated that they needed new directions from Council to change the direction of planning in the city, and of the adopted but not compliant OP. It is obvious that the staff are asking for this change to be made explicit from someone in charge, and ultimately from Council.

In planning talk, the Planning Act requires that an application must be processed under the OP that is force and effect. The adopted OP has no status and should not be used as the basis for supporting any new application, not even with the mention of non-compliance with the ROP. The new OP has not been approved at the Region. We must stop this type of action by staff.

In the view of many, including all the Mayoral candidates, the last election campaign and outcome was supposed to be a wake-up call to the Planning department about the development that was being promoted and done in Burlington. Tongue in cheek, it may be that since most of the city planning staff don’t live in Burlington they didn’t hear the clarion call. That said, someone in charge needs to drive that point home with some new marching orders to Planning. This kind of action by staff must be stopped.

Heather MacDonald, Director of Planning for Burlington responded to Muir with:

This is in response to your email dated Friday, January 11th.

Heather_MacDonald COB planner

Heather MacDonald, Director of Planning for Burlington

 It is recognized that public engagement early on in and throughout the processing of development applications is important and of great value. Neighbourhood meetings held at an early stage provide for information sharing and identification of issues and concerns to be addressed by the development approval process.

At the neighbourhood meeting on January 9th, staff answered questions regarding the status of the new Official Plan. The following confirms the information that was provided to clarify where things are at with the new Official Plan.

The new Official Plan was adopted by City Council on April 26, 2018, and was sent to the Region of Halton on May 11, 2018 for approval. The Region is designated as the authority to make a decision on the Official Plan and is legislatively required to ensure that Burlington’s Official Plan conforms with the Regional Official Plan.

Specific timelines are established by the Planning Act for the Region to make its decision. City staff has been working closely with the Region. To allow more time for the process, on December 4, 2018, the Region issued a statement of opinion that the new Official Plan does not conform to the Regional Official Plan in regard to the following:

– proposed employment conversions and permitted uses within the employment areas and lands;

– identification of and permitted uses in agricultural lands;

– identification of and permitted uses with the Natural Heritage System;

– transportation matters including road classifications.

In accordance with the Planning Act, this notification allows for a pause in the Region’s approval process. The Official Plan is still with the Region for approval; however, the decision on approval is paused to allow more time to resolve nonconformity matters. City staff is continuing to work with Regional staff to come to resolution on these matters.

The pause also provides the opportunity for the City to request the Region to consider modifications to the Official Plan currently before them. Any Council approved modifications sent to the Region would also be considered with respect to conformity with the Regional Official Plan.

Until the Region approves the new Official Plan, any applications received or in process are subject to the existing in force and in effect Official Plan; however, consideration is given to the Council adopted new Official Plan.

Greg Woodruff, another Aldershot resident and a candidate for Mayor in the October election added that:

I think the widening gulf in impression is being created by the terms of the “public input” process are not apparent to those participating. People think they are giving input into the decision and direction of the city. However staff are in reality implementing over arching plans proposed by Provincial entities. The merits of these plans not withstanding; when the desires of these faceless plans come into conflict with the desires of local residents – how is this to be resolved?


Greg Woodruff on a TVO Mayoralty debate

Right now it’s “resolved” by a poor planner from the planners office hauled up in front of a crowed room of hundreds of pissed off people trying to explaining elements of an incredibly sophisticated and complicated planning system. No one can possibly explain the complexity of this process to people in a meeting like this and every one is going away angry.

Most people believe that city employees represent them in a conflict with the Province, not that they implement Provincial policy onto residents. As I put it the “public consultation process” from the staff perspective seems like we get to decide the shade of brown the walls get to be, but not how high or where they should go.

My suggestion going forward would be to open these meetings with what types of resident input the staff considers valid for consideration, and what types of input conflict with an overarching plan plan and are not considered input on the table. If you opened these meetings with, “The staff feel that a high-rise building is in fact what the Provincial Planning Statement imagines at this location and the staff roll is to bring that into realty. Legislation prevents staff from really considering anything else – if you don’t like it talk to x. Where x is an elected leader that could change this direction.” Then at least the public could lobby in an effective direction – as is they keep lobbying Burlington staff for a direction I think the staff themselves feel is “off the table”.

Enter all this business on the “official plan”. I don’t feel staff are “considering the new Official plan.” They are acting like it’s a done deal. Certainly they are not restraining heights as if the old official plan is the basis of anything. It’s all being considered as if some almost identical version of the “New Official Plan” is the reality.

So the question would be what direction do the staff require to consider current development applications primarily through the working of the current OP? I think the general sense is that compliance with the old OP is appropriate until the new council and Halton gets a crack at the changes they want. Other wise staff working with the New OP are encouraging development that may heavily conflict with a new version, something not good for developers, staff or the public.

Lisa Kearns, Councillor for Ward 2 did her best to clarify things saying:

Yes, we are in a complex position.

Kearns direct smile

Ward 2 City Councillor Lisa Kearns.

Here’s what I can offer:
-I have invited Curt Benson to my Ward 2 Updates, scheduling conflict for the next one on January 24. I will open an invitation to him as well for the neighbourhood meeting relating to the application upcoming at Pearl/Lakeshore. (Curt Benson, MCIP RPP Director, Planning Services and Chief Planning Official, Halton Region).

-I continue to be at every planning application neighbourhood meeting, statutory meeting, etc. with the purpose of ensuring a sense of the community input in relation to development applications. I further encourage feedback in the form most preferable to residents, all is weighted.

-I have directed the interim City Manager to work with Council and Staff to prepare a press release/education campaign on the status of the Official Plan*. This is a direction I brought forward following the 1157-1171 North Shore neighbourhood meeting. At this meeting I observed the used of multiple versions of “Official Plan” and the personal/professional interpretations that projected onto the audience due to the individual experiences through this planning process. I impressed a sense of urgency given the ensuing interpretations that result from the absence of this clarity.

I acknowledge there is so much more to this conversation, and I am grateful for an engaged community. Please know that I continue to work hard on your behalf and am very much aware of the opportunities for improvement.

Interim City Manager Tim Commisso closed out the online conversation saying:

“Thanks Councillor Kearns. No question that addressing issues surrounding the OP is at the forefront of building trust and confidence in the City related to protecting the public interest.

Definitely a priority for myself and we are working hard on your direction and other related actions.”

Those who follow this stuff can arrive at their own conclusions as to just what is taking place.


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