Just what DID Heather say?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

October 14th, 2020



Just what DID Heather say during both the September 30th Standing Committee and the October 7th Council meeting?

Heather, being Executive Director Heather MacDonald who is also the Chief Planner for the city, was asked on multiple occasions if she supported the amendments made to the Official Plan late in the process of revisions being made to the OP that have been ongoing for more than a year.

MMW Oct 6 anthem 2 look

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward, standing in the Council Chamber during the singing of the national anthem.

The amendment came out of the minds of the Mayor and ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns.

Each of the amendments was strenuously debated at the Standing Committee and done as a recorded vote at the Council meeting.

Specifics on those changes brought forward, and eventually passed at council, will be covered in a separate story – they are a little on the complex side.

Sharman at transit

Councillor Sharman – a very deliberate questioner

Councillor Sharman led the putting of the question to MacDonald on each item. “Do you support the amendment?”

MacDonald + Enns

Heather MacDonald, on the right with Alison Enns at a public meeting.

During the first two amendments MacDonald was a little hesitant – not with her answer but in the way she expressed it. By the third amendment she had her answers formed in her mind and said consistently:  “we gave council our best planning advice and are comfortable with what we did”.

She added later that she could not professionally support the amendments. While the consultant the city hired to advise, at a cost of $600,000 plus on a sole sourced contract, was not taking part in the meeting, Sharman asked if he was supportive and MacDonald said he was not.

MacDonald was put in a very awkward position. She and her staff had done a gargantuan job of ensuring that the recommendations put forward were solidly researched and based on defensible planning practices. The numerous studies done were there to support the decisions made.

Audit Kearns 5

Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns.

Then the Mayor and Councillor Lisa Kearns, come forward with major changes – mostly to the east side of Brant Street.  There was nothing inherently wrong with the changes – why didn’t they come from the planners?

Councillor Sharman concluded that when (he made a point of not saying if, but when) the plan is appealed to the Local Planning Act Tribunal (LPAT) the city will have to hire new  planners because ours, Heather MacDonald, has already said she could not support the amendments.

Councillor Nisan took exception to the mention of hiring lawyers and added that this had already been covered; something that would have been done in one of the now infamous Closed Council Sessions.

This is high stakes stuff at a very professional level – it is the kind of thing one stakes their reputation on. One has to wonder if there was a meeting between MacDonald, city manager Tim Commisso and the Mayor at which MacDonald may have said that she could not support the amendments and would resign before they were passed by Council.

That would have put the fat in the fire.

The planners at every level did some fine work. The amendments took the bloom off the rose; they could have been discussed in detail before it got to the point where the Mayor was challenging the planners.

Meed Ward did say that she understood the position the planners had taken and added that the planners are in place to give council their best thinking.

She also said that Council has a moral and ethical responsibility to do what they believe is best for the city saying  “this council is not a rubber stamp”.

There is now a state of tension between Council and the planning department that should not exist.

Sharman folded

Councillor Sharman

Angelo B

Councilor Bentivegna

Galbraith slight smile

Councillor Galbraith

The recorded votes, with one exception, were 4-3: Councillors Sharman, Bentivegna and Galbraith voted against the Mayor’s amendments and the other three siding with the Mayor.

Council Sharman pointed at that there are at least 23 appeals before LPAT – arguing those appeals are going to be a boondoggle for the planning and legal professions.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

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8 comments to Just what DID Heather say?

  • “There is now a state of tension between Council and the planning department that should not exist.” Editor Let’s call it as it has been since day 1 with this Council. Check back to the Council discussion on the city hall project (January we think) where public engagement saw the Planning Department come up with an excellent plan for fixing the mess we had and worse mess and significant pedestrian safety issues, we now have at city hall; a place that is supposed to set the standard in terms of perception of who we are. The tension began back then when our new Council members and Mayor went on the attack in terms of their ideas for the renovations not matching up with those the public had taken time to input. Nothing met the newbie Council members ideas of acceptable from the public art and the pedestrian friendly surface to the lighting fixtures. Clearly that is the time this tension that we agree should not exist, began.

    • david barker

      So what you are saying is the the duly elected representatives of the people should cave to the thoughts, desires of the unelected civil service and rubber stamp it’s positions and recommendations.

      Oh, and just who says there is tension; members of the civil service or those on the outside with no actual knowledge?

  • Penny Hersh

    David, If Amendment 5 deals with the north east corner of Lakeshore and Pearl is that not where Carriage Gate wants to build a 26 storey development?

    • david barker

      Yes, it is.

      The amendment sets the hight limit at 17 storeys, so as to be consistent with the balance of the precinct.

  • david barker

    Sharman’s comment regarding appeals lodged at LPAT being a boondoggle is bang on correct. But his comment was irrelevant as respects the debate on the amendments. Those appeals were lodged months ago and would have been lodged no matter what the final OP looked like.

    You can bet your life savings that each and every planning application submitted for a lot within the geographic area of the ICBL which seeks high rise buildings in excess of what is set out in the OP will end up at LPAT. The money hungry, greedy developers have no respect for our community and its vision for the future of this wonderful city.

    Publisher, am I correct in thinking each of the amendments targeted specific lots/blocks within a precinct and lowered the high allowance from that put forward by the Planning Dept.?

    Editor’s note: Yes – you are correct and if I can make a Faustian deal with the devil I might manage to find the time needed to report in detail on those amendments.

  • Don Fletcher

    i’m asking for clarification from the city, but Amendment #5 would appear to ADD 50% (or 6 storeys, from 11 to 17) of PERMISSABLE HEIGHT to various blocks & properties at the foot of Brant/ Locust & Lakeshore, most notably the sensitive NE corner of Brant & Lakeshore owned by the Molinaros and the NW corner of Locust & Lakeshore owned by the Adi brothers. Please correct me if i am wrong, but if not, these are significant changes incredulously made at the last moment by our elected officials committed to eliminating further over-intensification downtown. Whoa!

    • david barker

      Amendment 5 deals with the block on the north east corner of Lakeshore and Pearl.

      • Don Fletcher

        You are correct, David. I also heard back from Marianne Meed Ward this morning to confirm that Amendment #5 only impacts the NE corner of Lakeshore & Pearl, and in fact is a reduction of permissible height there. That’s a real relief!