Resident worries that 'exceptions' in the draft Official Plan will become the rule and that single family neighbourhoods will be at risk to unwanted intensification.

opinionandcommentBy Tom Muir

April 16th, 2018



I have been wondering about what has happened to the issues and motions raised by Councillor Meed Ward about clauses in the draft Official Plan (OP) that appear to open low density, single family neighborhoods all over the city to intensification despite repeated assurances to the contrary.

This OP process, and development applications and approvals, has seemingly endless findings, not to mention actions, revealing deviations from what residents have been told will be, and not be, permitted.

The Mayor, Ward Councillors Craven, Sharman, Dennison, Taylor, Lancaster, and Meed Ward of course, Planning Director Tanner (now Deputy city manager) City Manager Ridge, have over and over, in numerous forums, assured residents that existing single family, low density residential neighborhoods are protected from intensification under the proposed new Official Plan. And that only 5% of the city would be affected.

St lukes emerald precinct 1

Residents worry that exception in the draft Official Plan might allow for a level of intensification in their community they don’t want.

I have heard this so many times that with this revelation about these clauses, and that there has been no explanation from the Planners and City about these issues, I have lost trust in this process. It seems like you can’t believe anything we are told.

Councillor Craven has told me and other residents, at his Ward 1 meetings, that low density family neighborhoods are protected more times than I can count.

Will Craven support a Meed Ward motion to strike the relevant clause(s) from the OPs?

I think that overall, clauses that permit this intensification in single family, low density neighborhoods are in both the existing and proposed OPs .At first these permissions were reported as a change and addition only in the proposed OP, compared to the existing OP.

I believe that when fact-checked, the truth of the matter was reported as pertaining to both.

How was this missed by planning in the first place? This oversight, just makes the point even more glaring.

How can this be despite all the assurances that these neighborhoods were protected – that residents have been repeatedly told this will not be allowed to happen

St lukes emerals precinct 2

What would intensification do to streets like this?

Official-Plan-Binder_ImageI am requesting that you provide answers to the following questions;

1. How many “Notwithstanding” sections, that can act as backdoor, or default, loopholes are there in the draft proposed OP, and in the existing OP? These can override the general rules and permissions, and void the OP intent.

2. How many “Site Specific – Exception” permissions, that allow for variances from permitted OP and zoning specifications are there?

I noted this concern in my last submission on the OP to Committee.

In my review of development applications, particularly for Plains Rd. in Aldershot, I see that the “Site Specific – Exception” clause has been applied several times to try and justify a number of significant variances. The most recent include the Solid Gold and the Home Hardware – Bingo site applications. There are others.
Someone needs to do a Word search of the OPs to look for these two terms.

Better yet, the City Manager, Deputy City Manager, Planning Department Director, and the Mayor, as owners of what appears to me to be this inconsistency between words and actions, must direct the Planners to do this Word search and make public the extent to which these two terms of permissions exist in both OPs, and the extent that these permissions can undermine the promises of protection repeatedly made to existing single family, low density neighborhoods.

This is something I believe to be the responsibility of Planning to provide as part of their professional duties to provide the public and Council with all the information relevant to the OP debate and decision-making.

I look forward to your prompt reply, answers and explanation.

Muir with pen in handTom Muir is an Aldershot resident who has been a frequent critic of both the process and content of the draft Official Plan.

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11 comments to Resident worries that ‘exceptions’ in the draft Official Plan will become the rule and that single family neighbourhoods will be at risk to unwanted intensification.

  • Alfred

    Tom let’s leave the councilors and Mayor out of this. Now, my conversation is only about the Low Density areas, which take up much of the City. Can I assume you and the rest of your side are Ok. with the Singles and the Semi-s City wide. Subject to fair and just Zoning by-laws. Heights, lot coverage side yard set backs, Parking requirements, etc. To be compatible not comparable to the neighborhood. So now let us assume a Church comes for sale somewhere in your ward. The Op we have now (Dynes application) states other forms of ground oriented development subject to Compatibility guidelines and approval from Council (not as of right). Could be permitted, That would leave the door open for singles semi’s or townhouses. Are you suggesting the City spend $millions in zoning every property in the City. To Stop this. The applicant would then apply for a zoning change or an Op. change and be back where we started. If you don’t like the Provincial guidelines for development in Ontario. With all this intensification you may want to lobby your Provincial MP I have. We are not that far apart my friend

  • Alfred

    William. The New OP reads like the Old OP. City wide in Low density areas. Single, Semi-detached and other Compatible forms of Ground oriented development. The only change was the downtown mobility area was changed to allow semi’s in the low density areas St Lukes and Emerald precincts. To allow for a more affordable housing types that have been around forever. These areas were protected previously now that the mobility hub supports 23 story high rises and higher. Common sense suggests a very modest increase should be allowed next to these skyscrapers and to match the rest of the City. Nothing more is being imposed.The councilor that is flagging the problem is the one who took the lead in causing the problem. Her dream child By-law 2020 brought regulations so stringent in terms of the building size of single family homes in Burlington. The most restrictive in the Province. When you consider the price of a lot, The construction cost add them together. The price of a house this small in this area would not earn a profit, larger homes would. Semi’s would on the other hand earn a tidy profit for the builders and yes lower the prices of the same size home by more than $400,000 pretty good deal. This by-law was a giant blunder. The industry warned her this would happen. Indian Point and Roseland are character areas. Single detached only. There will soon be corresponding By-laws in all areas that are deemed Low density and will be different for different neighborhoods probably based on lot sizes. Op first then by-law, until then existing by-laws apply. Why is this so difficult in Burlington when it seems to work everywhere else. They have been working on this Op for seven years. Nothing new here guys. Are you new to the area. It appears your councilor is. What I find bizarre is why you haven’t asked her what she has been doing for the past 6 years. I’m sure these question and more will be asked at the next meeting stay tuned. You may also ask her to raise the restrictions on new home sizes. I bet new single family homes aren’t looking too bad in these problem neighborhoods right about now. Builders only have 2 questions what do you want me to build? And where? Pretty easy stuff.

    • Tom Muir


      Hard to get through to you it seems, when you ask (aaaargh!) where have we been forever?; say that the OP has taken 7 years (really less than 2 on completely new one first draft to public and now up to thousands of pages); and the housing forms proposed in low density have been allowed everywhere for hundreds of years; and such permissions will solve the housing affordability problem for everyone, when it clearly does not based on factual observations of the price of all housing no matter where you want to buy in Burlington, at least.

      And this kind of exaggeration from you is just a start.

      Anyways, detached and semi detached are not a command -“shall be allowed”. The problem is the various forms that “may” be allowed, (all ground oriented detached) and what this may be interpreted to mean. Forms are not excluded, but appear to be general, as “may” be allowed. Definition says height mostly up to 3 feet, but “may” be higher.

      Here’s part of the policy.
      a)On lands designated Residential Low Density, single-detached and semi-detached dwellings may be permitted

      b)Notwithstanding Subsection 8.3.3(1) a) of this Plan, other forms of attached, ground -oriented dwellings may be considered by the City on lands designated Residential – Low Density, through a site-specific zoning By-Law Amendment, subject to the fulfillment of the following criteria”

      There are criteria to be met but to residents the forms and features that “may” be allowed are mostly vague, subjective, and open to arbitrariness.

      That’s the problem. People don’t want this. They want to know right now what to expect, based on what they have been told for years that “established neighborhoods will not change”. No surprises wanted.

      Here’s how I put the issues in other places to City.

      “It reads quite clearly from the Tim Horton’s City ad that the planners are telling residents that, “established neighborhoods WILL NOT CHANGE.

      Is anyone not able to get that??

      In other places the planners write;

      “A City that Grows”


      “Older neighbourhoods are important to the character of Burlington and
      intensification will be carefully managed to respect these neighbourhoods.”

      Ward 1 Councilor Craven writes in a recent Canada Post delivered flyer to South Aldershot residents, “… the city is also declaring that major growth should not take place in stable, low density residential areas.”

      But my observations tell me that the planners and managers who wrote the latest version of the OP, use language that seems to be careless, and subjective about what can be permitted. This language invites arbitrary interpretations and do not mandate in policy language careful and respectful management, or even prohibition, of intensification.

      I don’t think they seem to be able to get it right – to translate into policy the careful and respectful language needed to serve truth in this promise.

      Greg’s revisions are what are needed to translate this advertisement into truth in policy.”

      And, in addition I wrote;

      “Forgot to add the following from Councilor Craven’s February newsletter reporting on the proposed OP.

      “In the proposed new plan 50% of the city will continue to be protected rural land, 23% will remain established residential neighbourhoods and 11% will be land for employment. Only 5 % of the city is targeted for growth.”

      Add this statement to the below, that has been repeated over and over again for several years, and it should be easy to see why people are upset and angry, and no longer know what to believe coming from the City and planners.

      The message that badly needs to be heard is – Get the 5% out of the 23%”.

      Got that yet?”

      Many of us have been around all through this process. It’s tough to figure out the language meaning in the end, and we see it as subjective, and not living up to the various forms of promises made.

      So please give us a break from what seems a somewhat attacking narrative, tone and assertion, that are sweeping to us all.

      You are of course entitled to your opinion of what you want, but make no mistake, you are not always correct in the facts, and the making of attributions to Meed Ward that are unfair and incorrect.

  • Alfred

    The present or Old Official Plan in place now reads as follows Low Density area: Detached and Semi-Detached {Burlington has plenty of older ones} shall be permitted. Sounds to me like a command. Other forms of Ground Oriented Development may be permitted subject to Compatibility. This has been around for over 10 years. In every City in the Province approx. 450 municipalities have allowed these forms of Development for hundreds of years . Where you all sleeping? The Province, not the Developers. Declared the Downtown (Take the bubble wrap off) Mobility Hub an area to be intensified. People a lot smarter than us have concluded Low Density shall include Detached, Semi-Detached An other Forms of compatible Development. This is and has been happening for over 100 years Province Wide. It provided jobs, affordable housing and a mix of housing types just the way the Provincial Government wants it. If I recall they make the rules. The New Official draft has been around for some time now and in plain English. It appears to be just sinking in now? Poor leadership in this Ward. She did not see it coming This last minute garbage is costing a fortune to the taxpayers in this City and appears pretty
    Slimy. Those looking for affordable houses with backyards, might have to look In Hamilton or Waterloo. It appears that those lower income folks and their children in Burlington that live in Semi’s, Townhouses Co-ops or High rises are considered by this Councilor to be second class and not desirable among the elites in her ward. Young folks our children have to leave the City of Burlington because there is no affordable houses, not slums she’s looking to create. To make sure their children should not get to go to school with the children of the elites. For the trades and suppliers in this City that make their living building in Low Density areas you should be now concerned for your jobs by these attempted last minute changes. The next OP meeting promises to be very interesting.

    • William

      You’re missing the point. No one is opposed to different kinds of housing. The question is do you create an Official Plan that ties the city’s hand behind its back – that can no longer determine where it should go. We used to rely on zoning to provide control on what was permitted and where.

      With zoning now conforming with the OP and the OP has poorly defined language, the city has lost control of established neighbourhoods.

      You foisting this on the one councillor who is flagging this problem is bizarre. The problem lies with the mayor and the rest of council who refuse to fix the OP before it gets adopted.

  • Jeremy


    Have you checked to see whether the Official Plan policy statements that concern you exists in the current Official Plan and thus were carried forward to the proposed New Official Plan?

    The reason why I asked, is because I was shocked when I first read the Councillor’s concern and sought clarification from Planning & Development staff on the matter.

    Residential Neighbourhood dwelling intensification: such as from multiple single-family homes to duplexes, row townhomes, stacked townhomes, walk-up apartments etc. would typically require an amendment to the By-law to accommodate the change in the number of dwellings (density) per unit of area, the massing (setbacks from property lines etc.), and/or the height permitted within the neighbourhood. Such amendments necessitate approval at Planning & Development Committee hosted Statutory Meeting and finally City Council approval.

    The proposed New Official Plan adds a statement regarding land assembly in residential neighbourhoods is discouraged. The value of such a statement can be seen in the following illustrations:

    * Ward 4 First Urban Inc. – 143 Blue Water Place Appeal to the OMB on the 14th of May because the City did not approve the developer’s development application to build 28 townhomes in what is currently 2 co-located lakeside properties that he has amassed.
    * Ward 5 Had a situation where a developer sought to assemble some 8 co-located dwelling properties (some with lakeside views and some with Lakeshore Rd. access) below Lakeshore Rd., just west of White Pines Dr. In the end, some of the desired 8 property residents refused to sell and the project was abandoned prior to any submission of a development application.

    This leaves us to consider what happens if a neighbourhood school, plaza or community centre were to close, and the land acquired by a developer for residential infill. These sites typically have their own Zoning By-law which does not include residential uses. As such these Zoning By-laws would need to be amended to permit in-fill residential housing. Once again, such amendments would need to go through the Planning & Development Committee hosted Statutory Meeting and finally City Council approval.

    • William


      I spoke with a planner about this. He said 3 things:

      1. Reassuring words from Planning staff today have no weight at a tribunal; developers will make their arguments based on the words in the Official Plan (notably section 8), as will adjudicators base their decision.

      2. Words like “encourage” or “discourage” carry no legal weight; words that have do have legal weight are “shall” or “shall not”.

      3. If the intent is to protect established neighbourhoods from intensification then the Official Plan should be explicit on this, but what’s proposed is not explicit.

      If zoning now has to conform to the Official Plan – coupled with the OP not not containing precise, legally meaningful language – planning staff are opening the doors for developers to assemble land in established neighbourhoods for intensification.

      The mayor and most of council are derelict by not providing the necessary oversight to protect our neighbourhoods. They are as hopeful as you are that the planning department’s soothing words are enough

      Their reassurances plus $3, gets me a cup of coffee.

  • Penny

    “How was this missed by planning in the first place? This oversight, just makes the point even more glaring”

    Is everyone sure that this was missed?

  • William

    The city has another video out saying “established neighbourhoods” will not change; that only 5% of Burlington will be affected around the mobility hubs.

    This is completely untrue. Tell that to the people of Alton, Bluewater, Dynes Road and north Brant Street.

    There are the site specific exceptions. But also, the OP permits the construction of townhouses and walk-up apartments in stable neighbourhoods. Rather than 5% of neighbourhoods will change; every neighbourhood will change.

    The city’s propaganda videos, funded by tax-payers, reminds me of a scene in the recent documentary ‘Icarus’ where a main character was quoting Orwell’s 1984, “There is learning, there is understanding, and there is acceptance”.

    I wonder what stage the city manager, deputy city manager and council believe we’re at.

  • Perry Bowker

    Could the Gazette please find a more flattering picture of Mr. Muir?

    Nope – we aren’t here to publish pretty pictures – we photographed Muir at public events – what you see is what you get.

  • Stephen White

    Good summary Tom!

    The issue of Site Specific – Exceptions was raised at a Town Hall meeting I attended last year. Someone in the meeting asked about Bateman High School which is surrounded on three sides by low density, established, single-unit family dwellings. If Bateman closes, she asked, what measures are in place to prevent a developer from coming in, buying the property, and submitting a site specific- exception to put up a high-rise? The answer that came back from Planning officials: nothing.

    The proposed OP and the present OP do nothing to protect existing neighbourhoods. There are four things I believe that need to be put in place to provide this protection:

    1) build in tougher protections in the OP to preclude this except in highly unusual circumstances, and make the threshold high to prevent this from occurring;

    2) elect Councillors and a Mayor who strongly believe in the importance of protecting existing neigbhourhoods and the character of older areas;

    3) promote the creation of local ratepayer groups organized by Ward that are prepared to challenge development applications;

    4) a Planning Department that is philosophically committed to the preservation of established neighbourhoods.