How we got to where we are with the Official Plan - it is not a pretty picture.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

October 31st, 2019


This is the second of a six part series on how the city is revising the adopted but not yet approved city plan.

The Taking a Closer look report was prepared by SGL,  a consulting group and delivered to the city last August.

The public didn’t become aware of the document until earlier this week. So much for “meaningful engagement”.

The report is the first step in the re-examination of the Official Plan. It is intended to provide a guide to the background to the City’s Official Plan (OP) Policies for the Downtown and the process the City is currently undertaking to re-examine the Downtown OP Policies.

Table work Action plans Thomas

Planning Staff met with citizens during an Action Plan meeting where the participants had workbooks to record their thoughts.

A companion piece to this report is the Public Engagement Plan. It provides a roadmap of the engagement activities that were to take place over the next few months, highlighting at which points in the process engagement will take place, who will be engaged and the level of engagement. The plan also clearly defines which aspects of the process the City and public can influence throughout the discussion.

On February 7, 2019 the new City Council voted to re-examine the policies in the adopted Official Plan. The Council motion directs Burlington’s Director of City Building to commence a process to re-examine the policies of the Official Plan in their entirety as they relate to matters of height and intensity and conformity with provincial density targets.

A Council workshop was held on March 18, 2019 to obtain further Council feedback on this direction. Council’s further feedback resulted in focusing the work on the Downtown and on refinements to the Neighbourhood Centres policies.

A work plan for re-examining the Official Plan policies was presented by City Staff to Planning and Development Committee on May 21, 2019 and approved on May 27, 2019.

The outcome of this work will be a set of modified policies for the Downtown supported by a Final Report prepared by SGL – the consulting firm the city hired to produce the study and manage a large part of the public engagement.

It is amazing how many people do not fully understand what the purpose of an Official Plan is; what it does and how it gets revised.

An Official Plan is a statutory document that describes the City’s long-term, land-use strategy for the next 20 years. It is prepared with input from the public and helps to ensure future planning and development will meet the specific needs of the community.

An official plan deals mainly with issues such as:

• the location and form of new housing, industry, offices and shops;
• the anticipated needs for services such as roads, watermains, sewers, parks, schools and community amenities;
• where future growth will happen in the City and how to make effective use of land;
• opportunities for community improvement initiatives; and
• community identity, place-making and urban design.

The over-rising issue during the October 2018 municipal election was the matter of height – and where the tall buildings would be located.  Most people did not object to tall 25 storeys + buildings – they just didn’t want them in the downtown core – south of Caroline.  At this point in time the citizens are looking at three that have been approved (one has shovels in the ground) with three others working their way towards the planners at city hall.

City council on innauguration Dec 3rd - 2018

Once they were sworn in they got down to business – the day after this was taken they fired the city manager.

An Official Plan is typically intended to plan for a 20-year time frame but could provide direction beyond that time period. The Re-examination of the OP is intended to guide planning to 2031.

The Official Plan Burlington is working under today was approved in 2006.

The City commenced an Official Plan Review in 2011. The review included preparation of numerous studies, analysis and public engagement over an 8 year period including preparation of a Mobility Hubs Opportunities and Constraints Study, Employment Land Studies, and a Commercial Strategy Study. This review was intended to conform with and implement the Region’s Official Plan and conform to the new Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

This is how we got to where we are.  The next installment is about the process being used.


Process history

How we got to where we are – it is not a pretty picture.

Mobility hubs were to be one of the planning approaches Burlington would use to accommodate the growth that was to take place.

Paradigm -3 from front

The Molinaro Group were the first to develop around a GO station – one of the three mobility hubs in Burlington.

A Mobility Hub, as defined by Metrolinx, is a major transit station area that has the potential to accommodate a range of employment, housing, recreation and shopping around it. Mobility Hubs are intended to be mixed-use neighbourhoods that are walkable, bikeable and transit-oriented and to be a focus for intensification. The Hubs will also take advantage of Metrolinx’s planned Regional Express Rail, which will feature two-way, all-day service every 15 minutes along the Lakeshore West line. The four areas included in the Mobility Hubs Study were Aldershot, Burlington, and Appleby GO Stations, as well as Downtown Burlington.

A major transit station area (MTSA) is an area around a higher order transit station or the area around a bus depot in an urban core or downtown. Higher order transit includes subways, GO lines, streetcars and buses in dedicated rights of way. An MTSA is generally the area within a 10-minute walk (500 to 800 metres) of the transit stations. However, the Region is required to delineate the specific boundary of the MTSA, which will be done as part of their current Official Plan review. Lands within an MTSA are required to provide a diverse mix of uses, support transit, be a focus for growth, and in certain cases achieve a minimum density.

The Halton Region Official Plan recommends that Mobility Hubs receive a higher level of development intensity and design consideration to support transit than what may be applied in other MTSAs.

Following the identification of Mobility Hubs by Metrolinx, the City’s long term 2015 – 2040 Strategic Plan identified the importance of Mobility Hubs near the City’s GO Stations and in the downtown.

Mobility hubs

The original view was that there would be four mobility hubs – the one in the downtown core was little more than a bus station. It is expected to be removed from the list.

In July 2016, Burlington City Council approved a staff report, which outlined a work plan, allocation of staff resources and required funding to simultaneously develop four Area Specific Plans, one for each of Burlington’s Mobility Hubs. An Area Specific Plan, also sometimes called a Secondary Plan, is a plan that is more detailed than an Official Plan and guides future development in a specific geographic area. An Area Specific Plan can include a variety of studies and contains specific policies to guide future development.

City Council unanimously approved the project, with the goal of completing all four Area Specific Plans no later than June 2018. In April 2017, the Mobility Hubs Team began a comprehensive public consultation program around the future vision for each of the Mobility Hubs as shown in the timeline for the Downtown Mobility Hub work.

mobility hub sched

Downtown Mobility Hub Study Timeline. The work on the Mobility hubs was put on hold when the city realized that the number of developments in the downtown core were overwhelming the planning staff and except for the Molinaro Group and the Adi Development Group, no one was doing anything within the hub boundaries.

Staff began working on the Downtown Mobility Hub Area Specific Plan in advance of the other three Mobility Hubs with the objective of including a vision for the downtown in the draft New Official Plan in late 2017. The New Official Plan provided an opportunity to strengthen the existing policy framework for the downtown.

The boundary for the Downtown Mobility Hub included both the existing “Downtown Mixed Use Centre” boundary in the current Official Plan as well as the Urban Growth Centre (UGC) boundary.  The Downtown Area Specific Plan was developed with a long term, full build-out perspective which extended well beyond 2031.

The City of Burlington Official Plan 2018 was adopted by Burlington City Council on April 26, 2018.

A new city council was sworn in on December 3rd, 2018.

On December 4, 2018, the Region of Halton provided a notice to the City advising that the adopted Official Plan does not conform with the Regional Official Plan in a number of respects including issues related to agricultural, employment, transportation and natural heritage. The Region did not identify any issues of conformity with the Downtown Precinct policies.

The Region informed the City that the City can make additional modifications before the plan is approved by the Region with appropriate planning justification and public consultation. Today, the adopted Official Plan is still under review by the Region for regional approval.

City Council together with the direction to re-examine the Official Plan also passed an Interim Control By-law (ICBL) and put the Mobility Hub Area Specific Planning on hold.

Part 1

Next installment: The Process.

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