Is your city council about to sell your birthright? Waterfront land just east of the downtown core may be sold.

Part one a two part report on the city selling waterfront property.  

Part 2

Salt with Pepper – Opinion

October 5th, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  City Council, sitting as a Committee last week voted 6-1 to sell small parcels of land it owns on the waterfront between Market and St Paul Street to property owners whose land abuts the city property.

The Market Street and St. Paul Street windows are land already owned by the city.  The land shown as parkette is also land owned by the city which council has indicated it is prepared to sell to private landowners.   The property is actually owned by the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and the city.  MNR has apparently said they will go along with whatever the city wants to do.

This report came to a city council committee as the result of a Staff Direction put forward by Ward 2 Councilor Marianne Meed Ward in 2012. .  It’s genesis goes back to the since sunset Waterfront Access Protection and Advisory Committee(WAPAC) that was formed by former Mayor Cam Jackson.

The since sunset Waterfront Access and Protection Advisory Committee produced a report with good graphics that set out what existed in the way of city owned land that could be opened up more effectively to the public.

One of the smarter things WAPAC did was forward a recommendation to city council that the matter of actual access to the lake be improved.  That committee did an excellent report on just what existed in the way of waterfront access and where the public’s right to access to the lakefront was being impeded.

 During the WAPAC committee discussions Rob Peachey, Manager Parks & Open Space appeared looking less than enthusiastic when he told the committee – “this is not one of my favourite files”.  We know now why Peachey made that comment.

At the time some residents were pushing for more and better public access to the waterfront in this part of the city

 Burlington once had a very proud history of opening up access to the lake and was the city in which former Toronto Mayor David Crombie officially opened the Waterfront Trail that now runs form Niagara Falls to the Quebec border and reaches into parts of Lake Erie.

 When Crombie was in Burlington in 2011 speaking to WAPAC he touched on Burlington’s past Waterfront achievements and said there was a time when Burlington was a leader in waterfront access but that that was no longer the case.  At the time, mayor Goldring, who was sitting beside Crombie didn’t say a word.  We should have seen his vote of last week coming.

 Crombie was back in Burlington recently to witness awards being given in his name to the two women who did most of the yeoman’s work in making the Waterfront Trail a reality.  Burlington had much to be proud of then.

 In her Staff  Direction Meed Ward asked Council to: Direct the Manager of Realty Services to report back to the Budget and Corporate Services Committee regarding the portion of Water Street located between St. Paul Street and Market Street providing the background and history and options available to the city.

 That Direction resulted in the report that was before Committee October 2nd,  along with it was a confidential legal report that has certainly muddied the waters.  Unfortunately the contents of that report are not public.

 When a municipality makes decision it has to refer to and comply with the policies of those levels of government higher up the food chain: Regional and Provincial

 The Halton Regional Official Plan designates all of Burlington’s shoreline as“Regional Natural Heritage System” Part of that policy is: “To protect and enhance the Halton waterfront as major resource t hat is part of the Provincially significant Lake Ontario and Burlington Bay shoreline.”  It is also to” “Encourage the development of trails within the Regional Natural Heritage system” and “Encourage the Local Municipalities to: Acquire public open space on tableland adjacent to water courses and along the waterfront within the Urban Area and  Identify and designate along or near the waterfront of Lake Ontario and Burlington Bay,a continuous waterfront trail,making use of public road allowances in locations where public waterfront properties are not available”

 Burlington’s Official Plan calls for The acquisition of land to create new or add to existing Windows-to-the-Lake/Bay, as a means to increase public access to the waterfront.

This is the lakefront at the foot of St. Paul.

Burlington uses three types of access:   The Waterfront Trail, Windows on the Lake and small Parkettes. 

Waterfront Trail is a continuous Trail that was to be implemented through development-and/or redevelopment along Lake Ontario and Burlington Bay where there is sufficient land between that water and a public or private road.This trail maybe composed of two components: a shoreline trail immediately abutting the Lake or Bay, and near shoreline trail located in the general vicinity of the Lake or Bay.

Windows-to-the-Lake are described as small public areas located on city road allowances next to Lake Ontario or Burlington Bay; established to increase public access to the waterfront. They are typically developed with the following amenities: Seating areas, Walkway connections to the community, bike racks and refuse containers, fencing or barriers to control access to the water, parking located in the widow or on street depending on size, existing vegetation and configuration, bollards or railings to keep vehicles on the road allowance and signage to identify the location  as a Window-to-the-Lake.

Parkettes are described as small landscaped venues intended to contribute to an area’s urban design, provide passive/rest areas and lower level park amenities and are typically developed with the following amenities: Seating areas, walkway connections to the community, bike racks and refuse containers. Some include creative playground structures, tree and shrub plantings, park signage and some fencing for demarcation of public and private property.

Waterfront Trail policies were introduced in the 1997 Official Plan.  Since that time limited development along the waterfront has occurred.  Waterfront Trail policy development objectives have resulted in the city expanding the waterfront trail and public ownership including Easterbrook town house development at the Royal Botanical Gardens, where the city required public waterfront access through he official plan amendment and rezoning application resulting in Spring Garden Trail.

Another splendid addition to the waterfront trail network is the pathway at the bottom of the Bridgewater condominium hotel development at the foot of Elizabeth Street where the city will take ownership of the waterfront trail and the shoreline protection work required through development agreements.

 That’s the policy base the decision at the Community Services Committee made their decision within.

The Staff Report that got voted on put forward three options:

 Option #1: Create a city parkette: connecting the St.Paul Street  and market street road allowances.

 Option # 2:  Develop Windows-on-the-Lake at St. Paul and Market streets and retain ownership with an exclusive lease to the abutting landowners until required for public use.

 Option # 3: Develop Windows-on-the-Lake and dispose of the Water Street parcel.

Option #1 would have the city purchasing Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) portions of the waterfront between the St. Paul’s and Market Street road allowances and using that land along with the old Water Street road allowance to create a new waterfront parkette.

Option # 2 would be to preserve land for future public use by purchasing the MNR land and retaining ownership of the land the city already owns then entering into lease agreements with the owners that abut that land.  The two pieces of land on the east and west sides would be turned into Windows-on-the-Lake.

Option #3 would dispose of the Water Street land and still develop the Windows-on-the-Lake on the East and West sides of the site where the city owns the road allowance. 

This is market street. It is hard to tell but that patch of land on the left is actually a city right of way that anyone can walk along to the edge of the lake. The city has never put signs up advising the public they can walk on the property – which is the way the property owners along the street like it.

This is the land at the end of Market Street, owned by the city, public but there are no signs to indicate it is public. Few people walk past that bright sign. The city would turn this into a full window on the Lake.

Wonderful place to sit and watch the sun rise or set – and it is public property that the city has agreed in principle to sell the people with adjoining property.

Staff recommended Option # 2: preserving the land for future use.  They justified their decision based on Regional and city official policy and the Waterfront Trail policy.

Opportunities for waterfront access, financial considerations and those legal considerations that the public knows nothing about because they were the contents of the reports the city solicitor provided and had council declare confidential, are lost if the land is sold.

The sale of the land would be a fabulous deal for the three property owners.  They grump about the cost of maintaining the sea wall.  Were it not maintained their property would at some point face serious erosion.

Staff offered a lot of common sense when they said a decision to retain the property in public ownership maintains the table lands between the Windows on the Lake for future access to the waterfront.  Future access is ensured with the retention of the Water Street parcel.

Over the short term access is improved with the development of Windows-on-the-Lake, which should have been done years ago.

What would the different option cost:  Both capital and current budget impacts for each option would be as follows:

Option #1 Option One- Create a Parkette on Water Street Parcel includes costs to construct and maintain Windows-to-the-Lake.  Capital Budget Impact: $182,000  Current Budget Impact $7,500/per year.  Other considerations:    Land costs and shoreline protection which are set out in that confidential document that you don`t get to see.

Option Two- Preserve for Future use:  Includes costs to construct and maintain Windows -to-the-Lake. Capital costs: $80,000 and current budget cost of $3,500 per year for Windows-to- the-Lake.  Add in land costs and shoreline protection as set out in that confidential document.  One has to wonder just how much the city is obligating itself to pony up within that confidential document.  Last within option # 2: Future cost to develop Parkette is $102,000

 Option Three – Dispose of Water Street Parcel and develop Windows-to-the-Lake.  A capital cost of $80,000 and a current budget cost of $3,500 per year for Windows-to- the-Lake.  The upside for this option is the revenues from sale of lands.  That confidential document doesn’t let you know what that revenue might be.

 In the Staff report mention is made of how all this costs will be handled.  Mention is also made about a community engagement process.  This is rich:

“Upon receiving direction from council on an approved option, staff will develop and undertake a community engagement process which outlines the purpose, outcomes and participation goals of any engagement opportunity.  Outcome of the public engagement process will be reported back to Council with the concept plans for the Windows-on-the-Lake and parkette development.

What this means is you will get to have a say on what those Windows on the Lake are going to look like and how the parkette might be designed – but you won’t be asked whether or not you want waterfront land sold.

Six of the significant seven are going to do that for you.  The family jewels will be sold off for the puniest of reasons and the opportunity for a trail that actually lets people see, hear and feel the waters of Lake Ontario will be gone forever.  For once lakefront land is in private hands it seldom gets back into public hands.  One those few occasions when privately held land does get back into the public realm it is frequently at a price equivalent to a King’s ransom.

Why are we doing this – we already own the land.


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3 comments to Is your city council about to sell your birthright? Waterfront land just east of the downtown core may be sold.

  • Linda Ploen

    In the future, what do we wish for our city of Burlington with respect to walk able areas, parks and green space? I was very disappointed to read last week that our council voted against keeping a piece of city owned property that fronts onto Lake Ontario. If the city sells this land, it will become exclusive to three households. If the city is forward thinking and keeps this property, it can be the beginning of safeguarding water front that will be enjoyed by all residents of Burlington.
    Have any of our councilors ever traveled to cities (to name only a few) such as Edmonton, Calgary, Chicago, Hamilton, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Vancouver? And walked along the waterfronts that these cities have created for all of their citizens?
    For example, in the upscale neighbourhood of West Vancouver, the Centennial Seawalk stretches for 1.7km with a width of about 4 metres that borders the bay and the other side is separated from the residential area by a fence and hedges. It even includes a separate dog run for some of the way.
    It is very simple. Where would you prefer to walk? Along a busy, car dominant street or beside a beautiful body of water and green space?
    Linda Ploen

  • Name Withheld

    Wow, sell this waterfront access to the private sector yet look to tear down a historical community such as the Beachway Park Community, where homeowners do not impede on waterfront property. If left alone to continue its revitalization the Beachway community could be a legacy of marked excellence for this city. Isn’t the Beachway community already a step ahead by offering a good mix of residential, recreational and industrial use. A complete, vibrant and walkable community. Beachway residents were told more parkland is needed for future communities, yet this government sells off prime parkland???

    My head is hurting from shaking it so much!!!

  • In Your Face

    STOP! This story is incomplete, and there are more practical options which need to be assessed. Take a good look at the existing property use and title issues along the shoreline, including lands to the east of St. Paul Street running to the existing parkette at Guelph Line and the lake.

    The City needs to provide a complete aerial sketch which includes the two properties to the east; 221 St. Paul Street, and 2444 Lakeshore Road. Both these properties are privately owned, and are the missing link between the Market St and St. Paul St. window lands, and the existing parkette located at the base of Guelph Line which extends out to the lake.

    221 St. Paul and 2444 Lakeshore already benefit from encroaching onto the Lake Ontario property as dryland extensions to the private lands; if anything, the continuation of private encroachment onto publicly owned lands is a liability issue for the City.

    The current options proposed by the City which would see to preserve the Market St and St. Paul Street windows to the lake wont work because there will be a conflict between public users and adjoining property owners; you need somewhere for parking such as is available at the Guelph Line parkette.

    Here is Another Option: The City can extend the park lands westerly from the Guelph Line parkette either behind and/or across a portion of the rear of the two privately owned lands that are currently enjoying publicly owned lake lands for private benefit. That may even require a partial expropriation or, a relatively minor infilling of the lake area, a combinatio of both, or, the city can build a deck/dock/pier like structure to allow for a linear access all the way from the base of Guelph Line to Market Street, through the dry and wet portions of the lake; and there could be some naturalization improvements made similar to what exists at Lasalle Park.

    Need to see the bigger picture; do not sell to adjoining private owners until you see the entire stretch of property boundaries, encroachments, and other feasible and more desirable opportunities.

    The answer for the costs can be pursued by negotiating development benefits and parkland dedication requirements from perhaps other development approvals in the City; does the corner of John and Caroline Streets ring a bell?

    Answer: City makes right decision to link the window parkette lands easterly to join up with the Guelph Line parkette, and ask for donations from developers in exchange for development benefits.

    Get this to Councillor Marianne Meed-Ward, and the other councillors and draw up a comprehensive aerial map in colour with all the property characteristics and ownerships, and existing uses shown, and then develop some options, and only then make the decision, on how to keep and enhance existing publicly owned lake front lands.

    Do not allow this to become another you’ve got to be kidding me its happening again type of city file.