Is there a way to make what many feel is a minus into a plus for the city?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

November 15, 2017



The decision has been made.

421 BrantThe condominium that is to be built on the corner of Brant and James Street is to rise up to 23 storeys.

How many parking spaces, the number of elevators, how many, if any, affordable units – all that will get worked out in the months and weeks ahead.

We now know that the land assembly of the block to the south is all but complete – just the jewellery store to be acquired.

What we heard however is that the block to the south – the one that was once the Elizabeth Interiors operation – is going to be limited to 17 stories – a limit that is set out in the Downtown Core Mobility Hub that isn’t cast in stone yet.

That could be both a mistake and a missed opportunity.

We have yet to hear much in the way of negative comment on city hall as a structure. It gets referred to as “iconic” and the city planner likes the building.

Given that we are going to have high rise buildings can we not make the best of it.  If the city hall is really “iconic” (I’ve yet to be convinced) then feature it.

While Burlingtonians hate Toronto being made a reference point – bear with me.

When you drive up University Avenue from Front Street and approach Adelaide there are two towers (Toronto type towers) on either side of the street. Both are Sun Life Assurance buildings meant to frame University as you go north.

University Avenue Toronto

Set aside that the two buildings on either side of University Avenue in Toronto loom over the street – it’s Toronto. Note the way they frame the street.

The photograph we have dropped in isn’t all that good but it makes the point. It is possible to have buildings in place that serve as a frame to what lies beyond.

Now come back to Burlington and place yourself on James Street a block or two along the street and look towards city hall.

James looking at city hall

James Street looking west to Brant Street.

The current Carriage Gate building, on the right in the photograph, which is going to be turned into a 23 story tower. That is a done deal.

The property on the left, now the vacated Elizabeth Interiors store will fall within the rules that are going to govern the development limits for the Downtown Mobility Hub.

There is an opportunity here.

Someone with initiative and a desire to see something significant come out of the decision that has been made could pick up an idea like this and make a difference.

Why not work with Carriage Gate and Revenue Properties (the people who are assembling the block south of Brant and James) and build a better city.

Look for a design that is as close as possible to identical in design and have them rise to the same height. Same set back from the side walk; same trees, same patio set up, same sidewalk furniture.

The public art set outside each building would complement each other.

That is something that people could be proud of and perhaps change the way downtowners look upon their city. For those who need the quaint and historical the Queen’s Head and the old Russel Hotel will still be there.

Can the 421 project be more than just the first high rise tower in the downtown core?

Look at the Sun life building on University.

All this assumes that those opposed to the Carriage Gate building don’t take their beef to the OMB.

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11 comments to Is there a way to make what many feel is a minus into a plus for the city?

  • Brad

    Good job Burlington, can’t wait till they are finished, gonna invest in a few condos, mind you though, this is the wave of the future. You have my vote.

  • Lynn

    Well if we want them to show vision, consider opinions of others, look at current and future trends in Toronto, Mississauga, Vancouver and elsewhere (not ones from 10-20 years ago), find out what young people want for their urban centres/homes/recreation, then we will need 5 different councillors, a different mayor, staff and city manager. And we will need the new people to not only hold workshops where they ask for citizen input, but actually listen to and act on such input, and take their time and do it right. Rushing decisions instead of carefully planning and considering all aspects is not the way to go.

  • Joe Gaetan

    Pepper: if you think this is about a 23 storey building, you have fallen into the same trap as 5 of our councilors. It’s not about 421 Brant, it’s about democracy and possibly why people have disengaged from the democratic process, why they protest, or in the case of the U.S.A why they elected an unlikely candidate.

    Our new and yet unapproved official plan contains the following statement about citizen engagement, “AN ENGAGING CITY: Community members are engaged, empowered, welcomed and well-served by their City. Culture and community activities thrive, creating a positive sense of place, inclusivity and community. The presenters at the November 13 meeting were engaged, they were not welcomed, they were not well served by certain members of council. There was little sense of positivity or inclusivity.

    What this is about is council flouting the law, particularly our Official Plan. As a reminder an Official Plan is a statutory document. The revised and yet unapproved Official plan is a massive 530-page document. Within the plan you will find important planning guidance information, including the height of buildings for a particular area. The old plan (still in effect) calls for 12 storeys in this area, while the new plan calls for a maximum of 17 storeys. That is the issue!!!

    The question, not answered adequately, is why did council vote against its old and yet to be approved new plan by granting 23 storeys in this precinct. On top of that, the city does not require this building as proposed to meet provincial guidelines for intensfication and that is a fact not an opinion.

    You described the virtues of this building as compared to buildings in Toronto. I visit Toronto to see the Jays play, I visit Hamilton to shop on Locke Street, I go downtown Burlington to visit Kellys, or the Martini House. I don’t go downtown to marvel at the architecture. The builders architect was apparently not able to create a 12 storey building that was architecturally pleasing. People and architecture students from around the world travel to St Vito d’Altivole Italy, to see the Brion Tomb and Sanctuary, designed by Carlo Scarpa and yet our architects can’t build a 12 storey building that people will admire?
    One last thing, your comments, “The decision has been made” and “That is a done deal”, isn’t necessarily accurate, according to the OMB, there are situations where citizens can appeal decisions, especially if council voted against itself. By approving this project council may have given the citizens a valid reason to appeal the decision to the OMB.

  • Mary A.

    What part of “We don’t want Monster Towers in the downtown core” don’t you get????

    Burlington is on Moneysense magazine’s best city list for reasons too numerous to outline here. Tall buildings IS NOT one of them.

    As for framing the City Hall as a feature, a few days ago, I was on University Avenue travelling north at that very location. Did I notice the two Sun Life buildings? Not a chance!

    Why? Too busy idling in traffic gridlock (six lanes), avoiding pedestrians and bikes, horns honking, building graphics, neon lights flashing, irritability and stress from the possibility of arriving late for an appointment, looking for parking, etc.

    Is this the Burlington we aspire to? I think not.

    I agree the City Hall needs to be featured, but NOT by building these sterile Monster Towers. We are still fighting to maintain the lake view for all residents and tourists.

    Again, who is running this City?

    It would appear it is most of the councillors, who in my opinion, lack the vision or interest in protecting this unique City; OR the developers and architects who mostly don’t live here; OR is it the residents?

  • Zaffi

    Excellent article focusing on an alternative and positive mindset regarding expansion.
    I suppose Burlington does have the perfect opportunity on its hands to design our growing city into one that reflects a very different and unique concept of how future urban centers could grow and look and still maintain our very own uniqueness. We don’t have to copy the, unappealing to many, aesthetics of Toronto and other large cities.

  • Evan

    I was on University Avenue just this week. Even with the subway system traffic is gridlocked. The noise and fumes are intolerable. Is this what we want for Burlington?

  • Tom Perry

    Revenue Properties has an interesting ownership. Owned by Morguard Financial. Rai Sahi is the owner of these businesses as well as Club Link. Great article last spring in ROB Magazine about Mr. Sahi. Yes that is the same owner of Glen Abbey that Oakville Council have tried to stop it from being developed into residential. City of Milton just gave Council approval a few weeks ago for a 200 Acre piece of land between Britannia and Rattle Snake Golf Course on Highway 25 for the new home of the Canadian Open as well as the move of the CPGA head office. All owned by Clublink. Busy and very experienced developer.

  • Bryce

    By the time any or all of these massive structures are completed and occupied I could be well dead and gone being of a certain age. However all of these future constructions remind me of the phrase DINKS.
    Double income, no kids; which sadly these days is not to be a part of the future of the new downtown Burlington. Or perhaps anywhere else. As one recently married couple mentioned to me; “who can afford to raise children these days and besides it will intrude into our lifestyle.”

    Then again if there is ever another form of demolition as Europe and the UK experienced in two world wars
    within the last 150 years, these high-rise monstrosities could all be laid to waste in a moment’s notice.
    Then what? Start all over again and return downtown Burlington to what it was in the first part of the 19th century? Perhaps. One may only hope.

  • Cynthia Z

    I agree – there is an opportunity to frame the City hall James street approach and perhaps make a larger civic square. Too bad city staff are not taking this opportunity to look at the downtown blocks in a comprehensive way now that so many applications are coming forward. Maybe they will see the light!

  • Eva Amos

    Where is the subway on Brant Street. How are we going to get all the people moving on the already gridlocked streets of downtown Burlington.

    • Steve

      Because as odd as it may seem the city would be happy to have gridlock downtown because they imagine it would force people out of their cars. Of course people don’t like when others try to coerce them to change their behavior and tend to respond poorly to it but that seems to not be something the city considers when making their transit plans.

      They suggest biking in a region where winter makes that impossible three months of the year, not to mention impossible at any time for people that have small children to drop off at school or daycare. Walking, which given the distances in Burlington is not a feasible option for many trips, is another suggestion.

      The cities other suggestion is taking public transit which if funded properly might be a viable option. However Burlington Transit is actually carrying fewer people the last couple of years due to budget cuts and spreading that reduced service to the newly developed areas near Highway 5. The most ridiculous parts are the recent cuts to rush hour service to the routes that loop around Brant Street and Guelph Line, the very lines that people in the new condos downtown would use to get to the Go Station for instance. Service along New Street that loops through downtown and out to the Mapleview mall was cut previously which reduced ridership on one of the few decently used bus routes in the city.

      How they can keep adding density downtown and suggest transit as a viable option while cutting the service is some kind of sad hypocrisy that is difficult to fathom for me. The fact that the latest rounds of cuts were called “schedule changes for improved service and schedule accuracy” was simply dishonest and was clearly designed to try and brand what was a reduction as service as an improvement. Essentially the city tells you take a transit system that they refuse to properly fund.

      Induced demand and artificial scarcity have become the watchwords for the City of Burlignton’s policies with no endorsement of those tenants by the citizens of Burlington. Purposely increasing traffic to drive people out of their cars with no viable options as the city grows isn’t a transit plan, it’s a plan for gridlock. I don’t think people will be very happy with that kind of thinking long term.