Scobie: Tough words, and I feel bad using them ... this will be your legacy.

opiniongreen 100x100By Gary Scobie

January 14th, 2020



Scobie Jan 14

Gary Scobie

I am here today to speak in opposition to the sections of the Land Use Report that deal with downtown planning and the downtown Major Transit Station Area (MTSA). I support the recent letter to Council drafted by ECoB, Citizens’ Plan B and We Love Burlington citizens groups. I also support Jim Young’s recent article on his concern for a downtown maybe already lost.

Last time I was here in December, I disappointed some on Council.

I’ll warn you now that I’ll probably do that again today.

The MTSA is an outgrowth of both Urban Growth Centre and Mobility Hub designations from the first decade of this century.

It seeks to densify urban areas in Southern Ontario that satisfy or seek to satisfy the intermodal transit needs of citizens.

It has been known for quite a few years that the downtown Bus Terminal does not qualify even as an Anchor Mobility Hub, and the Dillon report finally acknowledges this clearly. I want to thank them for their honesty on this issue. I only wish that Planning staff had not chosen to disregard this acknowledgement and continue to plan as if the downtown is truly a Major Transit Station Area.

Repeatedly saying something that is untrue does not make it true and it certainly doesn’t help our case at the Local Planning Area Tribunal (LPAT) hearings.

The downtown MTSA, the Anchor Mobility Hub, and the Urban Growth Centre are the three cornerstones that legitimize the over-intensification of our downtown, notwithstanding that Burlington will reach its intensification targets before 2031 without their further help. They’ve already done enough damage. I want to offer some contextual comments before I return to the subject at hand, and request that you’ll let me do so. On November 13, 2017, I came before Council and referred to a recent Ryerson University report that worried about the average Toronto condo height increasing from 15 storeys to 21 storeys at that time. The authors were concerned about parking for residents and visitors, the increasing scarcity of parks nearby and the livability factors of these condo groupings. Were they indeed  communities at all?

I asked Council that night if they had the ethical and moral courage to stop their quest to legitimize the Anchor Mobility Hub in the Official Plan and instead make it an election issue in 2018. I also asked that they not grant the developer the right to build a 23 storey high rise at 421 Brant Street, across the road from City Hall.

421 Brant

Scobie on the decision to allow this 24 story structure: If you allow an OP with these designations, you will fail to save the downtown and that will be your legacy,

If they failed to accede to my request and the requests of others, I said the future of high rise buildings along Brant Street would be set that night. November 13, 2017 would go down in our history as the day our Council gave its blessing to a future building spree along Brant Street and its environs to the lake never seen before.

Of course that last Council did not listen to me nor other engaged citizens and the die was cast. Their legacy was set as the Council that abdicated responsibility for future downtown redevelopment.

We’ve continued to follow that path through OMB and LPAT decisions on approving high rises since then. But downtown over-intensification did indeed become an election issue and the majority of this new Council did actively campaign to stop it and can thank that issue in large measure as the reason why you were elected. And it was clear what citizens then wanted you to do.

Today or Thursday or at the January 30th Council meeting, the fate of the downtown is going to be decided by this Council and I am apprehensive to say the least. I view this report and the one on the recommended downtown development concept coming on Thursday as key drivers of the stake through the heart of the downtown. If the recommendations are allowed to stand and they lead to amendments to the OP within the designation mandates of the Urban Growth Centre, Anchor Mobility Hub and Major Transit Station Area, then I believe that the downtown’s fate is sealed as no longer a pedestrian-oriented place of retail, commerce and government but as a sterile, shadowed, windswept, unfriendly place of imposing podiums and high rises of steel, glass and concrete. I see only a few buildings left harkening to our past, like City Hall, Smith’s Funeral Home and the Queen’s Head Pub.

I know there is to be a follow-up study on the merits of the three land-use designations I’ve mentioned. But it will be too late if the OP is already amended as above. If you then intend to re-amend it without the three imbedded designations, the time it will take to remove them with permission from the Region and Province and come up with replacement intensity limits of our own making is simply not available in the five weeks before the March 5th ICBL end. Even if you can do this, it will result in a re-amended OP that I believe will be treated with disdain at every LPAT hearing to come and will be appealed over and over again by developers as unprofessional, poorly executed and manipulative.

Tough words, and I feel bad using them. I campaigned hard in 2018 and supported a number of you in the election, believing that we could save the downtown. But there is only one way – removal of all of the designations, not conformity to them. By investing all of the time, expense and effort in conforming, and none on the removal, we have squandered precious time and resources. It’s not just that we’ve fiddled while the downtown burned; we’ve created a complete orchestral composition that no citizen wants to listen to.

And remember, this composition is being directed for Planning staff by our new Council. You are on the hook for the results.

I’m asking you to put this composition on the back shelf where it belongs. I’m asking you to instead create a new composition without the three designations for the downtown that gives us back control of the downtown’s re-development future, with our own vision of reasonable height and retention of and respect for much of what we value.

Keep the recommendations for the GO Station Mobility Hub intensification that make sense and update the Official Plan once and done with those and with new wordings for the downtown of your own making. Answer only to citizens who elected you to save the downtown from a complete transformation, not to provincial bureaucrats in Toronto who make sweeping generalizations and rules for every city as if they are all the same. Nor to the Local Planning Area Tribunal, nor to the developers. Stand up to keep Burlington’s downtown as one of the main reasons we continue to be judged an excellent city to live in and visit. Adding high rises and further congestion will not add to our score in these ratings. If you allow an OP with these designations, you will fail to save the downtown and that will be your legacy, so early in your term. I don’t want that and neither should you.

Scobie spoke with both eloquence and passion.  No one on council asked him a follow up question

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8 comments to Scobie: Tough words, and I feel bad using them … this will be your legacy.

  • fran - tyandaga

    Thank you Gary ! Excellent.

  • Tom Muir

    I intend this comment to be an open written delegation to Council in the course of their deliberations.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Gary Scobie on this matter in another of his well-expressed delegations. I remember a long time ago he examined this issue in the Gazette and even then he thought the efforts to make these changes he suggests would not be so easy and needed to start right away

    I myself brought this up several times in the engagement process the city held recently on this general matter of Downtown and a new OP. I have seen nothing of this appear anywhere in what I have seen in the planning department reporting out on this engagement.

    In the Planning documents tabled for Council consideration, staff have made no visible effort to acquaint Council with the long time public concern about the need to set in motion a staff and Council effort to at least get rid of the MTSA designation of the downtown bus stop. Moreover, as Gary states, the Dillon consultant report clearly writes that this bus stop will never function as an MTSA and this designation should be removed, and this would be good planning.

    In support of that, a concept plan is obviously needed to illustrate what the downtown plan could look like with that policy removed from the planning frame. This concept information is apparently not provided to the deliberations of this Council and the public on the scoping and the reexamination of the OP, the Downtown portions, and the ICBL that they approved to be done.

    This means that this deleted MTSA policy concept has been lost from the basis of their decision-making on this matter. This has, in my view, important implications for the upcoming Council decision-making process

    The apparent loss of staff listening skills in their public engagement, and their gauging of public concerns damages the credibility of the scoping of the work plan used to do this. In this scoping, done several months ago, my attention was caught by what I continue to see right now, as a stark contradiction between the way the scoping outline work plan expressed the terms of public engagement to address public concerns, vision, values and support, and what I see delivered here.

    In the Work Plan for this scoped re-examination submitted to Committee on May 21, it was stated on page 3:

    “It was indicated that Council and the public are expecting that the outcome of the work will:-Be reflective of the community’s vision for the future of Burlington; -Be that residents believe that the Official Plan represents their values for the future of the City; -Be supported by an effective public engagement process; and -Be supported by the public.”.

    However, further to this, also on page 3, it is stated that;

    “As identified generally by Council, this need for public satisfaction of the plan must be married with the desire to develop a plan that is defensible from a land use planning perspective. In order to achieve success the project team must transparently: -educate and communicate the givens (e.g. the plan must conform to provincial policy);”… .

    I had to wonder what the planning department was really saying here about the contingent nature of public engagement and support. What I see is the planning department really saying that their interpretation of a defensible conforming to provincial policy OP will be determinant in a new OP and what happens Downtown. It will not be public say, values, vision, and satisfaction because they are contingent on this staff interpretation.

    I see this as entering dangerous ground for progressive movement forward for the city in regaining control of planning and development.

    Cementing this, the MTSA implications and options were never in the engagement process. So, the public request to move towards removing the MTSA at least in the Downtown, as a given – and a main driver as it turns out for the entire City – is basically ignored from what I see. The public vision, values and support for the Downtown will not be met with the MTSA designation not removed.

    I think staff (and maybe with consent of Council) over-controlled the rules of engagement, got what they wanted to hear by restricting the planning concepts and policies considered. As a result the reexamination of the OP and the restricted planning concepts underlying the preferred concept for Downtown including the MTSA, and not removing it, falls decisively short of what I was expecting.

    From my experience, all this drafted New OP proposal and plans for Downtown, if adopted by Council, will do is create a repeat of the exhausting pattern faced by citizens over and over in Burlington planning and development matters: first outrage, then another told-you-so disappointment, and finally, resignation that nothing ever changes in the development and planning agenda in the City of Burlington, no matter what is said or promised.

    So it looks to me very much consistent with repeated statements from others suggesting that there is no visible hope for residents concerned with over-development in Downtown, Intensification areas, and MTSA areas City-wide, and for my local interest, with good cause, Ward 1 and Aldershot in particular.

  • Terry Rose

    Bravo, Gary! Spoke truth to power! If the John Street Bus Terminal is a real MTSA then all future buildings within it will need fewer parking spaces. Cut the parking by 50% and see how the developers like that.

  • Carol Victor

    Well done Gary. We want our City back…
    A government should always be for the people…the people who actually live here not the people who develop properties and don’t give a damn about our community….too many see Burlington as conduit for financial gain and not a thriving community of citizens who actually had confidence in the municipal government we elected in 2018.

  • Joe Gaetan

    Two comments. One, with respect to questions from council. Silence is not golden, it is a matter of respect. Two, good job Gary.

  • “It’s not just that we’ve fiddled while the downtown burned; we’ve created a complete orchestral composition that no citizen wants to listen to.”

    “Answer only to citizens who elected you to save the downtown from a complete transformation, not to provincial bureaucrats in Toronto who make sweeping generalizations and rules for every city as if they are all the same.”

    Excellent as always Gary

  • Hans Jacobs


  • steven craig Gardner

    If we truely want people to get out of their cars in Burlington perhaps instead of removing the designation of the downtown bus terminal we should be looking at how we can turn the downtown Bus Terminal into an Anchor Mobility Hub or MTSA as a menas to help our car problem downtown.