Scobie wants to see respect in play at the city council table and a reversal of a rush to pass a flawed Official Plan.

opinionred 100x100By Gary Scobie

November 25th, 2018



There are two major issues need repair at City Hall.

First up is respect. That would encompass respect by members of Council for one another as well as respect by Council for citizens that come to City Hall to delegate their concerns. It is not a small matter to appear at Council with a prepared delegation text. It takes time and thought to prepare an argument for or against a motion and hopefully allow a better solution if there is one. The standard “Thank you for coming” response is quite a de-motivator for most citizens to ever think of appearing a second time.
I’m hoping a near total refresh of Council will start off respecting themselves and others. Citizens will be watching.

Second up is the attitude by the current Council (henceforth referred to as the old Council) of eight years that the Province alone is to blame for the over-intensification of downtown Burlington. No, the Province didn’t mandate 20 plus storey high rises on Brant and Martha Streets. The Council of 2005 accepted without a whimper the designations of Urban Growth Centre and Anchor Mobility Hub downtown. They both designate density targets within these overlapping zones, but not height. It was the developers, the Planning Department and in end the old Council that translated density over an area into one-off high rise buildings that each over-intensified the lot they sat on. It was and is the cumulative affect of adding tall buildings, without adequate parking, expanded roadways or inviting transit that will clog our streets for decades to come if it is unchecked by the new Council.

The old Council looked at the downtown as an infill area to intensify beyond targets, beyond our current Official Plan and against the wishes of the current residents. The Planning Department aided and abetted. The developers cheered. Building only for future residents without keeping in mind current residents is not a recipe for success, especially if future residents realize what a transportation-restrictive neighbourhood they have bought into to now become current residents.

The rush to pass a flawed Official Plan before the election put the icing on the cake for over-intensification. Most of the new Council ran on platforms against the new Official Plan over-development.

The new Council can talk to the Province about the two designations, can talk to the Region about the Official Plan and can talk to (and hopefully listen to this time) citizens who will accept moderate intensification and no more.

It may take longer than 100 days, but these are the issues that I would like the new Council to tackle.

Gary ScobieGary Scobie is a ward 3 resident who has delegated and usually gave more than he got from a Council that didn’t have much time for him He has served on Advisory Committees and has been active citizen by any standard.  In this photograph he is seen delegating before city council.

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5 comments to Scobie wants to see respect in play at the city council table and a reversal of a rush to pass a flawed Official Plan.

  • Alfred

    The OMB just allowed a 26 floor high rise to be built downtown. How can you say the Province did not mandate highrises of this size to be built in this area. This decision was not the work of the old council or staff. This hearing in front of the OMB was presented on the merits free from the influence of voters. This process is not a roll of the dice. It takes into consideration Provincial guidelines and mandates, that all staff, council and developers have to follow. If you don’t like the result take it up with the Provincial Government. The local developers appear to have picked up on the anti-development sentiment that is in the air. It appears many will be circumventing council completely and going to the OMB directly. The Provincial Government has indicated it wants to remove the costly red tape and needless delays that add to Burlingtons big affordability problem. This process might fit the bill.

    • Gary Scobie

      I always welcome and enjoy informed comment. It adds to the dialog and debate. The next time you come to Ontario, I’d like to have coffee with you Alfred and we can continue our discussion. You obviously cannot be from Burlington or even Ontario because your comments are unfortunately uninformed.

      If you were informed of development issues in Burlington you would know the following out of hand:

      The developer of 374 Martha Street hired the best talent available to defend its appeal at the OMB. Their strategy of appealing once, buying the adjacent property just before the hearing was to start, then simply asking for an extension of the appeal at a new future date was in a word – brilliant. It delayed the hearing just enough so that much more was known about Burlington’s coming future Official Plan that would give away much more height in zoning on sites like this. They would use this information to justify more height allowance in their appeal.

      The City of Burlington sent the B team to fight the appeal. The main actors and witnesses did not distinguish themselves. The case was processed as a mixture of using the current OP and the future plans for the next OP, confusing the OMB Commissioner and the audience. But the biggest error by far was committed on the last day of hearing. The City representatives began to try to negotiate a different height in the hearing as if it was not a legal hearing but instead a negotiating room. The City was supposed to be simply saying no to the appeal for a 26 storey building while the developer’s team wanted a “yes” answer. The OMB Commissioner immediately halted the City’s people and closed the hearing. She would not tolerate her hearing being turned into a negotiation and chastised the City for trying to do so. That’s why it was the last day of the hearing. One can only imagine how much this tainted the City’s case and helped the developer’s case.

      The developer indeed “seemed” to be following provincial guidelines and mandate in a general manner, and with some of the “coming soon” OP info now on the table and the City’s case in a shambles it was no surprise that the ruling came out in favour of the developer, in near totality.

      The Province nowhere states how many storeys are to be constructed on a building site within a municipality. It mandates only densities of people/jobs in growth centres and mobility hubs and allows the municipalities to decide how that will be done using height through their zoning bylaws. So no, the Province did not mandate this height; the OMB allowed it based on a good case by the developer and a poor one by the City.

      Oh, and the OMB has been phased out. It will no longer be hearing cases on new development applications. So no developer is “going to the OMB directly” in the future anymore because it no longer exists. It has been replaced by the LPAT, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal that gives much more weight to municipal zoning and planning practices than before, as long as they conform to the broad provincial density targets and guidelines. Developers may choose to rush directly to the LPAT in the future, but they may not receive the same favoured status they got in the past with the OMB. That’s their choice of course.

      So you see Alfred, you seem to be uninformed and surely cannot be a Burlington or even an Ontario resident who has studied and possibly even dealt with planning issues in Burlington over these last thirteen years since the Places to Grow legislation was passed.

      So let’s try and touch base before your next trip here so we can arrange a meet.

      p.s. If you do live in Burlington, please become informed.

  • steven craig gardner

    A few additions to your first point. citizens must show respect for city staff. Questioning recommendations is fine not questioning professionalism especially when those questioing are not experts in the field. And the new council members must show respect for city staff as well. This was not the case in the past especially from certain hold over members.
    I guess what I am saying is it is never one sided and this is very true in the case of lack of respect it went all around the room.
    New council should pass some motion that the same person can not delegate on the same matter saying the same thing multiple times as was done consistenty in the past. If people believe by saying same thing many times it will make a difference they need to be told it won’t and shouldn’t.

    • Lucy

      It is possible that the questioning of city staff professionalism is a result of two problems:

      1. The vision of growth for Burlington that the majority of residents prefer is not in sync with that of city staff. The fast pace of intensification in height and density that the city staff favours is greatly opposed by a large proportion of taxpayers. Residents may not be experts in the field but they do have a right to have a say in the future of their neighbourhoods.

      2. There is an imbalance in the relationship between city staff and developers, along with their planners versus city staff and residents. The developers and planners naturally meet many times with staff during the proposal phase of a project. This allows them to nurture a favourable relationship that gives the developers/planners an unfair advantage over the residents. Residents who delegate with various objections to proposals end up being viewed in a negative light (opponents) by city staff who interpret this as a questioning of their own work.


      I have found evidence that shows that city staff have relented to developers’ proposals who have planners that are well known to both city staff and elected officials over a number of years. These planners have opportunities to push, push, push their own agenda, while residents get few opportunities to be heard. These developers’ planners also repeat over and over again what they feel is right for development of a site until they have finally convinced city staff that they (planners) know best. If planners have a right to repeat themselves during numerous meetings, why shouldn’t residents have that same right? Repetition often does have the desired effect.

      A Toronto Star investigation published as a 3 part series in Feb. 2017 is extremely revealing regarding the OMB and why reform was so necessary and the reason why we now have LPAT. Part 2 Planning Power and Politics is eye-opening. It does relate to what I have written above.

  • TimesLikeThese

    Good article. Well said. In regard to respect for delegators, that needs to also include avoiding the ‘gotcha’ questions by Council members. At least 2 members of the ‘old’ council would delight in asking questions that were clearly meant to trip up the delegators (or sometimes even staff members), sometimes on issues of minor relevance to the argument being made.

    Nothing wrong with clarifying or correcting facts, but there’s a way to speak to people respectfully and a way intended to belittle and humiliate. Don’t forget, those citizens are usually there unpaid and on their own time to delegate to a Council whose salaries are paid for taxpayers such as themselves. Hopefully the new Chairs of meetings will call out Council members on this, rather than passively watching it happen (or not even recognizing it for what it is), as we’ve seen in the past.