Is six storeys for residential buildings what Burlington wants or should strive for?

opinionandcommentBy Greg Woodruff

November 3, 2017



Lots of talk at last night’s council meeting on developing Brant street.

The thing that horrifies me is that people in support of the 23 story building or against it seem to have no idea why. Developer wants 27 stores, staff want 23 and the mayor wants 17. Average is 22.3 should we go with that? Here is how you should actually decide these things – with math.

Paris apartment - cropped

The typical Paris apartment building – six floors – “people love them”claims Woodruff.

You never need to build buildings more than 6 floors high – ever. Skip the math if you like – down town Paris, France has a density of 210 per hectare and the buildings are limited to 6 floors – people love that place. The province requires 200 per hectare in down town Burlington. So in practice you can see an actual functional example of the density not needing to be high at all.

However for the skeptics lets go through the math and see why that is. I’m going to round these numbers for readability.

1 Hectare = 107,639 square feet
8% loss for roads/sidewalk 100,000 square feet (107,639/0.92)
50% lot coverage 50,000 square feet (100,000/2)
4/6 floors of living 200,000 square feet (50,000*4)
10% Hallway and amenity loss 180,000 square feet (200,000*0.9)
Density of 200 people or jobs per hectare 900 square feet living a person. (180,000/2)

I support large flexible large family apartments so my sizes are 1 bedroom 800 and 2 bedroom 1,200 and 3 bedroom 1,600. This is 6 floor buildings with a floor of commercial at ground floor and a floor of office space and left 50% of the ground open and provided very generous apartment sizes. I still have 5,000 square feet of feet space left over assuming all 1 bed room apartments with 1 person each which is not true in practice. This means lots and lots of space to add back to open space, road/sidewalks or reduce the building to 3 floors along the street which is preferred by pedestrians.

For reference the current density of Burlington is 10 people per hectare possibly 20 per hectare in the non-green belt area. Taking the already build on area to 200 per hectare would mean 2 million people would live here. Even if Copenhagen like ‘alternative’ transportation rates – which there is no evidence at all we could get anywhere close to and have done nothing to produce – road congestion and pollution alone will have reduced this area to a terrible slum long before we get anywhere close to that. The 183 cars proposed in this development alone would stretch out more that 1km in bumper to bumper traffic. That’s half the distance from the lake to Fairview street – from one development. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Which gets back to the decision. We can have high buildings – if the local community gets so much for the building – they want it. Seems the only people who want this building are the developers, city staff and councilors that do not represent Ward 2.

So would I approve it – no. It can be limited to 6 floors (yes I know the zoning is 12 at present) or the developers can come back with a better offer that gets people who live down town on board. The principle is: We live here – we decide.

Buildings larger than 6 floors are not required by any provincial planning document. Target density numbers of 200 people per hectare (down town) and 150 (mobility hub) do not require sky scrapers.

People who tell you large buildings are needed to hit density numbers are either mis-informed or spouting gibberish.

Greg Woodruff

Greg Woodruff

Greg Woodruff is an Aldershot resident who has a propensity for numbers and mathematics.  He ran as a candidate for Chair of the Region of Halton in the 2014 election.  He appears to be setting himself up for a run in the Mayoralty race in 2018. His views are his own and are published as part of a civic debate.

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10 comments to Is six storeys for residential buildings what Burlington wants or should strive for?

  • Penny

    Craig, people avoid the downtown. They don’t want to fight the congestion, the lack of a parking space near where they want to go, and paying for parking if they do find a spot.

    Most of the people who come to the sound of music, or rib fest are from out of town. The people who live in the downtown usually try to leave the area.

    Council seems to think that noise is vibrancy. Vibrancy is people in the streets on a daily basis, not just at Sound of Music or Rib Fest. The downtown core was once a wonderful place to live. It had a friendly town feel within the City. There is nothing wrong with this small town feeling. The councillors seem to feel that Burlington has to grow, however, growth doesn’t necessarily mean noise and height.

  • craig

    vibtant cities require living and breathing people out in the city any night of the week with the ability and desire to spend $$ this is not Burlington today accept when sound of music or rib fest are held. taller buildings will hopefully attract more people that will spend more time downtown

    stores buying things not people like today with no disposable

  • Stephen White

    Great insights Greg! Height does not produce vibrancy. What it does produce, which no one on Council, the Planning Department, or the developers have yet addressed, is a safety hazard. City fire truck aerial ladders only extend to the 10th floor. In an emergency such as a fire or someone experiencing a cardiac arrest, how do you get people down from the upper floors? (Interesting reference:😉

    In an office building, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario, you have to have a Joint Health and Safety Committee in place with management and non-management personnel trained in proper health and safety procedures. You also have to have first aid attendants, conduct monthly safety inspections, have an emergency evacuation plan, and administer a fire drill once a year. Tenants in a high rise are not oriented on what to do in a fire or emergency. Inspections conducted by property management do not include residents’ units. Someone experiencing a medical emergency in a six storey building has a reasonable chance of survival. If you live in a 23 storey high rise you are pretty much toast! Remember: in most fire emergencies the elevators aren’t operational.

    If the Mayor, the Council and the Planning Department are intent on pushing through this intensification malarkey I hope they also have a revised and tested disaster management strategy in place on what to do in the event of a major catastrophe. I also hope like hell those creaking old Sea King rescue helicopters in the Canadian Air Force can make the trek here from Trenton without malfunctioning.

    • craig

      what is the process followed by other cities with 20 or more storey condos I am sure this is nothing new in Ontario must be many other cities with buildings higher than 6 storeys wait I think some exist in Burlington should those folks live in fear of being toast?

      and breathing bodies with the ability and desire to sp

    • It’s a good point Steve, but I’m not sure why anyone thinks a fire tuck or ambulance is going to be anywhere near them in a time of need. I’ve raised this point several times – it’s not a straw man. Several services we have police, ambulance and fire – are based on a functional road network and since the city has no plans to preserve that – it’s a problem.

  • Pauline

    Is this a serious article? Pure fiction. I’m old and I can’t remember the last time a mid-rise building was constructed in the downtown. Saxony?

  • craig gardner

    what about those of us who just like tall buildings and want a vibrant downtown as in more people not the dead zone it is most of the time today?

    • The height does not produce vibrancy – a mix of uses does. So you are much better demanding floors of commercial than anything else. This is what produces people in an area during the day. Noting the Paris example – no high buildings – very vibrant at all hours.

      • Tom Muir

        I agree with this idea.

        If you build tall buildings and people density, expecting “vibrancy”, but don’t build the mix of uses that give people places to go and things to do, then what you will produce is car traffic taking people to places that do have things to do.

        It’s not rocket science as a general principal.

        Mix of uses at appropriate or balanced density is not on in Burlington. This 23 story approval is about condos first and foremost, less retail than existing, and the staff modifications cut the office use floor area significantly.

        It is Downtown though, and maybe, just maybe, if this building could just be dropped into place, it could add walkabout people for existing business.

        However, my fear is that the construction phase, existing business closure, induced speculation and precedent, rent cost escalation and business uncertainty, will become a cumulative process of endless tear-down and continous construction for a long time.

        People may avoid this increase in the traffic and congestion Armageddon that is already ongoing.

    • Dayna

      I find downtown Burlington to be quite vibrant already, personally! With the influx of tall buildings with little retail/commercial space on the main floors, we’re losing locations for great local businesses like Kelly’s Bake Shoppe. If that place doesn’t make Burlington vibrant, I don’t know what does. But we’re at risk of losing her great business in the downtown core from this over-development with little planning for accommodating/retaining/attracting businesses like that.

      I also hate to be that person, but if you’re looking for a dense downtown core with skyscrapers, why does it have to be Burlington? Ontario has a lot of locations like that already that would meet your needs for activity… why does Burlington have to change?