Lots of big plan thinking taking place: citizen involvement is getting a lick and a promise

By Pepper Parr

April 8th, 2023



Burlington now has a Lands Partnership – an idea that was brought forward by City Manager Tim Commission to put the city in a position where it would have access to the land it would need in the future.

The need for park space is going to be very severe once the high rise towers that are in very stages of the approval process are built.

A lot of these single story elementary schools were built more than 50 years ago to meet the first significant wave of population growth as the city became more urban.

The city doesn’t have that much land left – what the City Manager is looking at very carefully are elementary school sites that may not be needed in the future.

On February 16, 2021, City Council approved a recommendations for a new organizational structure called the Burlington Lands Partnership (BLP) and approved funding in the amount of $250,000 from the Strategic Plan Reserve Fund to support the Year 1 operations. A second $200,000 was later allocated.

The Lands Partnership was to be focused on strategic lands related to the following priorities:

Maximize business development opportunities and advance future economic growth and job creation.

Implement major city building projects that enhance the quality of life for all citizens.

Deliver increased supply of attainable/affordable housing through proactive long- term strategies and innovative partnerships.

There are a lot of unknowns on precisely how the former high school is going to be used and just how much space is going to be allocated to the different groups. A lot more work to be done at this level.

One project supported by BLP was the adaptive reuse of Robert Bateman High School; they did the preliminary business case justifying the decision to acquire the site for adaptive reuse into a City owned and operated new community hub and Brock University campus.

On April 6, 2022, Council received the City’s multi-year community investment plan that highlighted the major community land and facility initiatives over the short and medium term.

The report outlined the total of all community investment opportunities amounts to a preliminary best estimate of $374.5 million, over the period 2023-2030, comprised of the following:

Delivering Enhanced Community Benefits ($120 million): includes potential future investments in strategic land, related city community, recreation and cultural facilities, and site amenities to address projected community growth to year 2051 including the provision of City services related to future development in the three Major Transit Station Areas (MTSA).

Acquisition of Strategic Lands ($105 million): includes future land investments for City-wide parkland needs, future site specific needs for community facilities and amenities with the three MTSAs and other non-City related land priorities, including but not limited to the provision of City owned land for the purpose of increasing the supply of attainable housing in the City.

The city is going to need an additional fire station in the downtown area.

Expanding City Operations & Services ($149.5 million): includes investments in strategic land and related operational facilities to support growth and ensure efficient and effective delivery of direct city services, including Transit, Roads, Parks and Forestry (RPF) and Fire services. Specific future major facility investment includes the expansion and/or upgrades to both the existing RPF Operations Center and Burlington Transit facility on Harvester Road; potential new Fire Station #9 (downtown); relocation/construction of Fire Station No. 4 (Appleby) and Fire Station No. 3 (Aldershot). All facility expansions will be informed by master plans and/or related strategies which will be presented to Council for their consideration and approval.

On December 13, 2022,  Council endorsed and directed the Chief Financial Officer to consider one-time funding of $200,000 as part of the 2023 budget to support the 2023 external due diligence and project management needs of the Burlington Lands Partnership.

The report also directed the City Manager and the Director of Community Planning to schedule a Council Workshop for Q2-2023 on attainable housing and partnership options; and direct the City Manager and the Executive Director of Legal Services and Corporation Counsel to report back in Q4-2023 with a Strategic Land Policy and strategy that includes a municipal policy directive on surplus school sites which will inform the multi-year community investment plan. Subsequent to the approval  the following has occurred:

The BLP funding for 2023 has been approved in the 2023 Budget by Council.

A Council workshop on attainable housing and partnership opportunities has been scheduled in Q3 2023 to accommodate other priority workshops already scheduled in Q2.

The Strategic Land Policy remains on track for completion in Q4 2023 and that timing also aligns with a revised timing for the update of Multi-year Community Investment Plan (MCIP).

Strategy/process includes recognizing the critical importance of strategic lands to the future growth and development of Burlington and the potential for partnership opportunities. The BLP structure is intended to assist in building internal capacity and integrate all required due diligence activities.

The Big picture – a Strategic Plan that sets out where the city should be going in the next 25 years. It isn’t a magic wand.

The BLP fits into the Strategic Plan that will be fully reviewed this year  A review of the larger picture gets done and then the Vision To Focus, which is the part of the Strategic Plan that will be set out.  Tied into this is the GO Investment Corridor which was approved in July 2022.  Burlington Economic Development and its role of supporting Land Readiness and Attractiveness is another part of what is taking place.

Burlington’s remaining greenfield employment land sites are fewer today and come with multiple constraints resulting in a lower supply of investment ready land to reach our business growth goals. In addition, the city must shift from greenfield development to redevelopment, intensification and to the creation of mixed use, amenity rich employment hubs that meet the needs of current and future businesses.

Upcoming Council Engagement
In order to support the due diligence work on land partnership opportunities, BLP has planned the for the following touch points with Council:

Council consists of seven members: Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan does not attend in person – choosing instead to take part virtually.

Regular individual updates with the Mayor, Deputy Mayors and Ward Councillors on land due diligence projects.

Sept. 18, 2023 – Council Workshop on attainable housing and partnership options

Q4 2023 – Update on BLP 2023 performance/accomplishments, confidential land opportunities, and recommendations for future strategic land management and another look in Q4 at the   Strategic Land Policy and Strategy that includes a municipal policy directive on surplus school sites which will inform the multi-year community investment plan

Given the nature of the BLP activities being focused on land related opportunities, in keeping with the provisions of the municipal act, the update reports do encompass a closed session component to provide Council with pertinent and confidential land related information.

Tim Commisso is the man carrying the ball on much of what is before Council – he has never come across as a big believer on citizen participation. The Gazette has yet to hear him push council to involve the public.

As specific land related opportunities evolve, Council and staff will endeavour to make information on land opportunities available publicly at the appropriated time both for purposes of information and engagement and prior to final decisions where possible.

In terms of citizen engagement this sounds like a lick and a promise and not much more

Jim Thomson puts what e wants to say on his chest: don’t forget the soccer pitch at Bateman.

Staff believe they were able to demonstrate that the Robert Bateman High School acquisition and related partnerships with the HDSB, Brock, Burlington Public Library and TechPlace was successful due in part to the dedicated early stage due diligence resources made available and administered through BLP.  Citizens managed to bring to the attention of Council that parking was going to be a problem and they questioned changes to the soccer pitch.

Both Staff and Council seem to feel they can take a pass on genuine citizen engagement. Everyone is the poorer from that approach.

This comes back to Council on April 18th.

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