Planners looking for public input - too little too late says ward 2 candidate.

opinionviolet 100x100By Roland Tanner

August 22nd, 2018



The City is holding two drop-in open houses for residents to learn more about the mid-rise building guidelines currently being developed.

A mid rise building is defined as any building between five and eleven stories high. The guidelines will be presented to Council on November (after the election, but before the new Council takes office).

1. Take the online survey

2. Attend the open houses

Wednesday, August 22nd from 6pm to 8pm at the Art Gallery of Burlington

Thursday, August 30th from 1:30pm to 3:30pm at the Art Gallery of Burlington

The city advises that “your input will be used to help create the guidelines that will be presented to Burlington City Council in November 2018”.

Mid rise example Tanner

An example of a mid-rise structure

How this affects you

The city guidelines that are adopted will have a large effect on all future development that fall within the ‘mid-rise’ heights. For instance, the tall building guidelines agreed in 2017 set out certain required features for any tall buildings which are planned. These include things like road setbacks, public accessible areas and architectural features. In theory, the guidelines should ensure that new buildings which fall within their remit are designed appropriately and fit well within and transition to the neighbourhoods where they are planned.

Public engagement – too little, too late

As is so often the case, it appears that public engagement on these design guidelines are happening late, at a time of year when many people are away, and with relatively little notice. Residents are being asked to provide informed feedback on design criteria which will have already been planned and considered for many months by city staff and/or consultants.

I feel it is unlikely that bringing in citizens at a stage when so much work has already been done is likely to enable any significant discussion of the guidelines which will result in meaningful adjustment of the guidelines. The decision will be made by council before most residents have even become aware that the guidelines are under discussion. To my knowledge, there has been very little publicity of the public meetings until this week.

What could have happened:

Public meetings at the start of the staff process of drafting design guidelines.
Based on public meeting initial feedback, creation of a short-term citizen-staff committee to research and explore design guideline possibilities.

Citizen committee empowered to reach out and engage further with residents by a range of methods and ensure voices of entire community are heard from all demographic areas, communicate, liaise and interview staff.

Citizen recommendations included as integral part of staff draft guidelines which are then presented to further meetings, via questionnaires, advertised in local media.

Final adjustments made to draft guidelines.
Council considers guidelines which have been developed by staff and residents in a collaborative process.

What’s worse that no engagement? Engagement done badly

I believe that the current City engagement methods actually do more harm than good. By holding ineffective ‘engagement’ sessions where citizens can do little more than provide extremely minimal feedback, late in the process, citizens end up feeling more rather than less resentful of the decision-making process. Not only are they being ignored, but they’ve given up an evening of their lives to be ignored less efficiently. Bad engagement, in many ways, is worse than no engagement at all.

If we are going to ask citizens for their opinions, it’s essential that it happens in a way that those opinions are heard, respected, and built into the development of plans and guidelines from the very outset.

Nevertheless, I encourage all Ward 2 residents to attend the open houses and complete the online survey if you have the time available.

Roland TannerRoland Tanner is a candidate for the ward 2 city council seat.  He was a member of the Shape Burlington report that was adopted by city council unanimously – then never acted upon.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

9 comments to Planners looking for public input – too little too late says ward 2 candidate.

  • Stephen White

    The survey may actually provide some useful citizen input, but the obvious question becomes: why wasn’t the survey released prior to the discussions and approval of the Official Plan?

    Had City Planners prepared, compiled and shared the results PRIOR to the OP discussions they might actually have found there was the basis for consensus throughout the community around the issue of redevelopment. They may actually have found, quelle surprise, that residents are not raving Luddites armed with pitchforks opposing any form of urban redevelopment…that it is the size, scope and magnitude of that development that is the concern. And then they might actually have spared residents from having to endure endless consultation forums trying in vain to impress upon City Planners what we really wanted while they, in turn, kept blabbering on incessantly mouthing silly platitudes about “Growing Bold” and other marketing hyperbole.

    As Roland says….it’s actually a good survey, simple to complete, with good questions, and it could yield some interesting and useful feedback. It could also have been a great way of engaging the community. But like lots of things at City Hall, it’s late.

  • Alex Brooks-Joiner

    It is the truth though. The developers go through an internal process with layers of staff in different departments to see what is the maximin and quickest dollar they can make. Anyone would do the same.

  • Tom Muir

    I am active on many city development files, on the Mayor’s list, on my Councilor’s list, Meed Ward’s list, Sharman’s list, but I never heard of this study until this afternoon today, and the open houses until right now here.

    So it’s too late for me to get to tonight’s meeting and I won’t be home for the second one.

    How many people are in the same boat?

    How many lists and times and issues does one have to be engaged with city to be really actually engaged in what appears more and more, to me at least, a feckless and bogus public notification and “engagement ???”process.

  • George

    Roland you are totally correct in your analysis it is too little too late by the city planning department

  • steven craig gardner

    With such a negative outlook and wrong headedness i really hope you are NOT elected.

    • Thanks for your comment Steven.

      I do find it odd that there are people during this election season who find absolutely everything the city or council does as ‘off limits’ for criticism. I have to say that in my experience it is an extremely minority point of view. I’m running for office, and people deserve to know what I think could be done better. I don’t for an instant question the good intentions and professionalism of staff. I just think more could be done to make public engagement a much more thorough and valuable process, and that starts with Council. I would hope that even candidates running for re-election after many terms in office still have ideas about what can be done better.

      If I were to criticize and not propose a solution, you’d have a point about negativity. However, in reality I am proposing to take what we have and make it better, and I’m suggesting concrete ways to achieve that. Engagement has been a problem for at least a decade, as has been recognized by multiple councils, and resulted in Shape Burlington and the Engagement Charter. I feel that even with the best intentions of improving public engagement in the decision-making process, we are still very far from a happy resolution that addresses the desires of residents.

      • Tom Muir


        Don’t be naive about the intentions and professionalism of staff. Elected or not, that is a grave mistake to make if you are ever to understand what is going on.

        Staff have a job. They do what they are told. Grow Bold is the marching orders.

        Make everything fit, no matter what. Invent the fit if you have to. They have to invent it to make it fit. So you see all the conflict and anger as the result.

        Objectivity in their recommendations is hard to see – it’s all opinion and constructed narrative. To make it fit.

        Citizens cannot criticize them publicly at Council, no matter how justified the argument. I tried lightly back in April, and was cut off by Craven and then the Mayor. See the Gazette archive for the P&D meeting article and uou can find the meeting Minutes.

        Questioning their independence and objectivity and professionalism is not allowed at City Hall.

        Surely, you must see all the disconnects, and more have been created by the way the OPs are written to let everything be open to gambit and “negotiation”. The “notwithstanding, site specific exception clauses sprinkled liberally in the Plans.

        So get with the program. For everyone’s sake. You just might get elected.

        More on this later.

        • Hi Tom, thanks for the comment. It’s not naivety, I promise you. It’s recognizing that during the rough and tumble of an election campaign, city staff have no right of reply. And the phrase ‘city staff’ covers thousands of people with thousands of different functions and responsibilities. It’s council’s job to set the tone, and insist on a direction from staff that reflects voter priorities. That’s the job I’m applying for.

          • Tom Muir


            With all due respect, make no mistake, your own words indicate that you are indeed naive about how things work at City Hall.

            If you truly want to serve the people, you better shed all your preconceptions that you know anything about that reality.

            There are small power centres, not thousands strong, that need to be brought to heel. Focus. These folks do not warrant deference.

            What about citizen rights of reply.? Talking fruitlessly only to those you would give privilege?

            In elections, staff are part of the accountability , where it falls.

            No determinant right to reply when you are part of the piece.

            So, again, get with the program and stop the dissembling talk.