Minister of Municipal Affairs finally gives Burlington the decision it needed six months ago

By Staff

November 16th, 2021



Update from the City of Burlington on Minister Clark’s decision on Burlington’s Downtown Growth

On Nov. 10, 2021, the City of Burlington received official notification of the boundary adjustment of the City’s Urban Growth Centre (UGC) designation from the Hon. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The Minister also confirmed the removal of the Major Transit Station Area (MTSA) designation in the downtown.

This marks an important step in Burlington’s effort to stop the over-development of its historic downtown. The removal of the MTSA designation and boundary adjustment of the UGC takes effect immediately and applies to all new applications. This will help control overdevelopment moving forward.

A 3D rendering of some of the development planned, some approved and under construction in and around the the two Lakeshore Roads.

However, the Minister chose to grandfather seven applications that were submitted prior to November 10, 2021 from the UGC boundary adjustment and the City is seeking additional clarification on how to proceed.

The changes announced by the Minister were the result of City Council asking the Minister to adjust the UGC boundary and remove the MTSA designation based on Council’s vision for the downtown. As part of the process, the City was required to work with the Region of Halton to make these changes through a Regional Official Plan Amendment (ROPA). The ROPA process involved extensive work and collaboration between the City and Region and consultation with the public.

The immediate adjustment of the UGC boundary and the removal of the MTSA designation will complement provincial transit investments and contribute to the development of sustainable, transit-oriented complete communities in Burlington. These provincial actions also send a clear signal that the scale and intensity of recent development activity in Burlington’s historic downtown was driven by misuse and reliance on the UGC and MTSA and was not sustainable given on-the-ground realities of physical and social infrastructure.

The football is the land between Lakeshore Road and Old Lakeshore Road where intensive development is planned.

Five of the seven applications located in Burlington’s downtown are before the Ontario Lands Tribunal and the City will strongly advocate that the tribunal take into account the City’s vision for the downtown and the new changes brought in by the Provincial Government.

This is the development Carriage Gate wants to build on the eastern end of the football properties

The City will defend at every opportunity the vision that this Council has set out and worked tirelessly to have included in the Region’s official plan amendment (ROPA 48). We will encourage proponents of those applications to revaluate their projects given the updated provincial policies.

City of Burlington Council and staff will continue to work with the Hon. Jane McKenna and Minister Clark to see that the pace and scale of development in downtown Burlington is appropriate given the wishes of residents and the availability of infrastructure needed to support it.

This progress is the result of City Council and staff working over the last three years to define the vision for the downtown and see it enshrined in local, regional, and provincial planning policy; this work was done by engaging residents and local businesses who provided clear feedback to Council that the downtown is not the place for large-scale development.


  • On Aug. 24, 2020, Burlington City Council unanimously approved requesting the Region of Halton through its Municipal Comprehensive Review of the Regional Official Plan (MCR), to adjust the boundary of the Downtown Urban Growth Centre (UGC) to generally align with the lands in proximity to the Burlington GO Station, and to remove the Major Transit Station Area (MTSA) designation from the Downtown.
  • In 2020, the City of Burlington received a joint letter from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Ministry of Transportation stating that the Region of Halton, working together with the City of Burlington, can remove the identification of a mobility hub and the MTSA designation in Downtown Burlington.
  • The Interim Control By-law Land Use Study focused on assessing the role and function of the downtown bus terminal and the Burlington GO station as MTSAs, and scoped re-examination of Official Plan policies that focused on the Downtown.
  • The Mobility Hubs Study started in 2017-2018 and focused on area-specific planning work for the three GO Station areas: the Aldershot GO, Burlington GO and Appleby GO Major Transit Station Areas (MTSAs). At that time, the City gathered feedback through visioning, public engagement and technical studies. From there, precinct plans were drafted for each study area around the Aldershot, Burlington and Appleby GO Stations.

Mayor speaking at an event from Spencer Smith Park: How much of the waterfront area is she going to be able to salvage from the Minister’s statement?

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward siad in a prepared statement that:  “Burlington’s Council was elected with a clear mandate to stop overdevelopment, and we will continue to do everything within our power to do so. The adjustment of the boundaries of the UGC and the MTSA are a victory for good planning in Burlington. However, implementation issues still remain to be resolved. The Minister’s decision that the policies apply only to new applications presents a greater challenge to achieving our vision for downtown with the applications already in. But we remain undaunted in our efforts to keep advocating for the best planning outcome for our community.  We thank the Minister and our MPP, Hon. Jane McKenna, for their support on this important work to date, and look forward to their continued support as we seek to achieve the community’s vision for development downtown on all applications before us.”

Lisa Kearns: Is the Councillor for the ward that is facing just about all of the contentious development on the same page as the Mayor

Councillor Lisa Kearns, Ward 2 added to the Mayor’s statement with one of her own, saying:  “The Minister’s decision may help reduce the long-term development pressure on existing infrastructure and neighbourhoods. On behalf of our residents, I believe there is good reason for concern about the excessive applications already underway. This decision doesn’t fully support the thoughtful and considered conversations we have had to preserve the character of downtown and welcome responsible growth. I understood us to be working towards the same outcome; should the Minister’s decision fail to address this transition issue, it could result in intense pressure for incompatible change.”

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8 comments to Minister of Municipal Affairs finally gives Burlington the decision it needed six months ago

  • Penny Hersh

    Tom, I respect your opinion on this issue.

    Seven (7) development applications before the OLT have been grandfathered by the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Do you feel that the city would win an appeal on any of these 7 grandfathered development applications?

    The city does not have a good record of winning any appeals, that I am aware of, please correct me if I am wrong, and none previously were grandfathered.

    Moving forward, yes we should defend any appeal in the downtown core, or any other ward, that contravenes any UGC and the MTSA.

    Unfortunately, the approval of the changes in the UGC and the MTSA have come too late to protect the our waterfront.

    • Tom Muir

      Penny, Thanks for the respect.

      Using the word “grandfathered” is something of a misnomer when it’s applied directly to the development applications as worded – it does not mean they are approved now. Factually and effectively, what was grandfathered was the wording of the policy frame that determined the location of the lands that were within an Urban Growth Centre for applications that were submitted before November 10.

      There is a big difference here, although it is nuanced, as more density and other policy criteria are allowed in the pre-November 10 UGC locations of the subject applications.

      The existing application itself, as worded in all its OP and ZBL amendments and plans is not approved itself, only the policy frame of the UGC was not made retroactive to before the November 10 effective date of the Ministerial decision that grants the City and Region the power to change the configuration of the UGC.

      “Sections 80 to 80.2 continue to apply to
      applications for official plan amendments,
      zoning by-law amendments and draft plans of
      subdivision or condominium approvals made
      prior to the approval by the Minister of Municipal
      Affairs and Housing of Amendment 48 to this
      Plan if the lands that are the subject of the
      application were within an Urban Growth Centre
      prior to the Minister’s approval of Amendment

      The City got the power to change the UGC, but not for the lands of the 7 applications already submitted that were in appeal prior to the Minister’s approval of Amendment 48.

      The nuance that may not be fully understood is that the applications still have to be argued and justified on good planning grounds, and merit, at a Hearing of some type. The point is, the developers and the City still have to prepare for a Hearing of some kind and present a case.

      It is not a foregone conclusion that the applications have incontestible merit, and will be approved – we don’t know, until we hear the arguments, whether the applications are asking too much, left out or were inadequate in numerous criteria of compatibility, and development standards and so on.

      My insistence that the City proceed with a contested Hearing is because the Minister’s decision gave them leverage they didn’t have before, that they can use in fashioning logical planning arguments – Ministerial approval for moving the UGC moving forward can be rationale for critical arguments to the Hearing. If the City thinks the applications are overall in excess of good planning, or perhaps egregious, this Ministerial decision can be used to bolster good planning arguments.

      I don’t care if the UGC and MTSA are still in the cards. That does not mean that the developers and their applications are still entitled to whatever it is they want, regardless of merit and arguments of good planning justified without supporting arguments.

      I agree that the City has not fielded a winning legal/planning team. Don’t forget, a Hearing is required to make it all legal. An honest hearing hears both sides, and so is contested. My own experience gives me the opinion that they haven’t really tried.

      Most of the time of my involvement (back to 1996) legal/planning pushes for a negotiation and settlement, in an appeal launched by a failure to decide in mandated timelines. I have been a participant in several of these. I thought they were all City not really trying to make a case. They were just coasting and to me this is just quitting.

      I would say that they definitely need the practice. Their track record proves this I would have to say. Don’t forget the precedents set by these at appeal applications, and the 44 or so appellants at the mass attack appeal on the entire City New OP. Pretty obvious what the implications are. A lot of practice will be needed.

      Taking on these appeals in a fulsome manner is the only thing that has a chance of putting the City on road to recovery of control and putting some pride in the planning dept. and planners.

      So, the City has options to lose or win. They can take on the loser role, chicken out, turn tail and run, give up, and meekly submit. They can even let the Hearing Chair order a settlement hearing and submit to that.

      To win something for the future and for planning pride, and for political integrity with promises made to defend and fight for the OP, they can try and at least start on the track of a new UGC and fashion a Downtown that they want and have spent many years conceiving and planning the framework and built form of.

      That’s where I want them to go, and I think that city residents would like to see this too.

      It’s not like nothing will be built – but let’s at least attempt and participate actively in trying to make this work for the dream.

      • Bruce Leigh

        Very well written. Concise and clear.

        I agree, the City must continue to fight and in my view engage the best outside planning counsel available.

        Quiting never ever wins.

  • Tom Muir

    Look at the data and you will see that nothing is able to put a meaningful and effective lid on escalating housing prices. This is just a false assertion with nothing in the factual evidence to support it.

    And just today on the news was the story about money laundering in the housing market of the GTA, and nothing being done about it.

    And I think that bad planning is bad planning whether it is too late to fight or not. If the City does not fight for the sake of fighting, then they are not really serious about doing what they say they want to, then all is lost. We need to see a City argument about this – they worked three years they say – and the OLT is where they already are and this is where it all can be covered formally and legally and not just left hanging for developers and OLT to pick the best fruit with no opposition, no contest, and no honest contested Hearings.

    The mass appeal at OLT is the coup de gras for any City control over the OP and planning in Burlington, so make no mistake about that. We will never get it back if we do what Penny Hersh suggests and has been pushing for a while, which is to just quit – only losers quit.

    I can never support just giving up the fight for our freedom of choice to plan our City. This is what the residents who are active on this file, and have been pushing for for years, and have been expressing their feelings of City, Council, and Mayoral betrayal.

    The Mayor especially just got what she wanted and promised, so there is no way at all she should just throw this victory in the dust of her walking – running really – away. The time it took is just what it is in the politics, so don’t throw it away.

    This would be a betrayal to me. This is as big a deal as this City is going to get on this development planning control matter. Do they want to make an effort, to play a part, in getting control, and to make arguments and professional planning judgements to justify this? I would hope so, or why do we need planning/legal departments?

    And the individual appeals and applications now ongoing should be fought with even more vigor, and they will follow on with the planning reasoning, logic, and strength of the Ministerial order removing the UGC and MTSA, and therefore any good planning logic of the applications in question.

    The Minister gave us the Provincial Planning legal rationale to use in making the planning arguments and policies for what we want. The Minister gave pretty much what we asked for so let’s use it!

    Without challenging and questioning now, on this Ministerial approval, how will the City ever make any arguments or decisions that are based on this planning framework and not what the developers arbitrarily decided, and will continue to determine, what should be built.

    This conflict at OLT is what we are being advised to give up on, and to accept therefore, really, the perpetual future this direction will ordain if not opposed? This sells out the planning department. Let them speak what they think and what this is based on.

    I can never accept that giving up, as Penny suggests, has any interest to offer the City, never mind anything like the best. It’s not even reasoned or reasonable.

    Give up now, show weakness when the Minister just gave us strength, which is what we wanted all this last 3 years, and created such rancor, makes no rational sense given the issue, and will come to haunt the Mayor and City. Just this one decision to quit will not go away as an active file forever. The developers will just up the stakes and resolve with this weakness.

    This quit will be just more City saying one thing and doing another – politics of duplicity without integrity.

    It’s maddening to me

  • Penny Hersh

    November 10th is the legal date for the boundary changes for the UGC as well as the John Street Bus Terminal no longer being an MTSA. This was confirmed by Councillor Kearns in an email to me.

    When the announcement was made in the summer it led people to believe that growth in the downtown could be controlled. At this point in time it was too little, too late.

    The Interim Control By-law that was put in place stopped development applications from being processed. What this in fact did was encourage developers who at the same time they were putting their development applications into the city were also launching an appeal at the OLT. All these appeals and applications took place way before the summer or November 10th.

    The change in the boundaries of the UGC will not affect these appeals, no matter how vigorously or costly they are defended by the city.

    It would be in the best interests of the taxpayers of Burlington to admit this and move on.


  • Steve Holman

    Unfortunately overdevelopment may be the only way to keep the lid on escalating housing prices.

  • Penny Hersh

    The most honest response to this announcement was made by Councillor Kearns who didn’t try to sugar coat the fact that possibly 5 current building applications that are before the OLT may be exempt from these changes.

    I have 2 questions that I would like answered ? Why did it take from November 10th when the city received this information until November 16th to be published?

    Why were the names of the 7 current development applications being appealed at the OLT not included in this publication?

    This is definitely not the win/win being spun for the downtown or Ward 2.