The Official Plan being developed is the bedrock on which future growth is being based - let it be the core issue in the October 2018 election.

opinionandcommentBy Jim Young

January 20th, 2018



Yielding to intensive lobbying, delegation and protests from Citizens Groups, Local Businesses and even from Building Developers, Burlington City Council and Staff have pushed the schedule for passing their revamped “Official Plan.” Back to April 2018.

The original December 2017 schedule for Burlington’s most important planning document for the next several decades, was being rushed in order to have the plan adopted before it could become a 2018 election issue. On Tuesday January 23, council will discuss final implementation dates for that plan.

The question now becomes: Will that final vote by council in April still allow Councillors to avoid electoral accountability in next year’s election?

Official-Plan-Binder_ImageThis New Official Plan is important enough to be a major issue in that upcoming election so those same community groups are now saying very loudly that accountability to citizens can only be served by moving the decision back until a new council is elected. Instead of rushing to avoid electoral accountability, we should spend the time finalizing a Plan that serves all of our city and let the election be a referendum on the plan.

That New Official Plan must be based on the Mobility Hub, Transit and Cycling Plans, which have been promised but not yet completed, begging the question: “How do you build an overarching plan when the building block plans are not yet in place?” These should all be developed and put in place first, with real input from Citizen, Retail and Commercial Groups and with real engagement; not the pseudo consultation that has taken place to date,.

Mobility hub + graphic

The Official Plan will rely on and be informed by the Transit plan, the Transportation plan and the finalization of the Mobility hubs. Citizens want council to wait until the other studies are completed before making the Official Plan final.

The New Official Plan proposes a radical change to our city. It contemplates massive increases in population, allowing hi-rises on traditional downtown retail and commercial sites with no allowance for preserving the quality of life for residents. The city would have us believe that any negative effects of the Plan will be addressed by Mobility Hub, Transit and Cycling Plans which, as previously stated, are not even in place yet.

As our city moves forward with the revised schedule for its Official Plan, citizens ask our city;

Jim Young A

Jim Young, a frequent delegator at city council.

1. Please do not close off further citizen input and delegation. The legalities of the Official Plan approval process demand citizen input. To date that input has at best been directed by staff rather than real participation by those citizens directly impacted. The best and most attention grabbing ideas so far have come from engaged and active citizens groups, small businesses even city developers and not from the Pseudo Involvement so far undertaken by the city. Let staff and council use this time and this groundswell of engagement to seek real input to improve and perfect the plan.

2. Having accepted that the timeline for the New Official Plan was indeed flawed and reacted appropriately by revising that timeline, we ask that the decision on the zoning amendment for 421/423 Brant Street be revisited and any revisions of that zoning be included as an integral part of the fresh review of the New Official Plan. The parallels between the two issues, Intensification in General, and Specific Downtown Zoning are so similar it seems logical to consider one as part of the other bigger issue.

Jim Young

Jim Young speaking up for his community.

3. Citizens accept that council are elected and staff employed to provide the best possible planning for our city’s future. We will not always agree on what that planning may look like so we rely on two things to limit city power in such disagreements.

First: The professionalism and qualification of city staff to provide guidance to council.

Second: The underlying accountability that our representative democracy gives us to hold our elected officials to.

So we ask again: Why the rush to pass this Plan? If it truly is the basis on which our city will be built over the coming decades, and if our city fathers truly believe in the plan they have created, why not let council make this New Official Plan the core issue in the 2018 election? Why not let the people speak?

Be assured that citizen groups are paying very careful attention to this issue and council’s responses to their voices. A failure to listen to your citizens now will not go unnoticed in October.

Jim YoungJim Young is one of the founding members of ECoB –  Engaged Citizens of Burlington. He lives in Aldershot.



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13 comments to The Official Plan being developed is the bedrock on which future growth is being based – let it be the core issue in the October 2018 election.

  • Chris Ariens

    @Jim…question for you…do you believe that the Strategic Plan reflects the way citizens see Burlington’s future?

    I personally don’t believe that there are a lot of citizens who wish to fight over or even get hung up on the details of the OP, or who disagree with its general direction. Sure we can name a few who get regular coverage here, but the plan itself is not the problem with the large majority of citizens.

    The major public grievance has largely arisen over one decision that is seemingly inconsistent with that plan – the decision to approve 421 Brant. That some are pushing that as an opportunity to torpedo the whole OP process is not surprising. It’s my view that good planning requires continuity. Holding it hostage to the election process, which is usually more about personality and emotion than about facts, would be harmful to all of us as citizens, regardless of what our stances are.

  • Jim Barnett


    Excellent work and reporting. I hope Chris will soon realize that the council and staff are there to define Burlington the way the citizens see it not the way the council and staff envisions it.

  • Sue Cooley

    Thank you Jim. I moved to Burlington in 2010 and chose this beautiful city for the uniqueness of a city that has a family and community feel about it but also has everything a big metropolitan city has. I hear all the time how city council asks for our feedback and suggestions but as far as I’m concerned,it means nothing to them. We need to protect the downtown core and support our local small businesses , not destroy and tear everything down so we can have a monstrosity of a high rise right on Brant St. I’m all for growth and future development but not when it takes away the things that make Burlington the number 1 mid size city in Canada. When I decided to move from the northern part of Ontario, I studied several different citys ,especially the downtown areas, and knew that Burlington was the best and most beautiful ,well cared for city in Ontario. I don’t want to be pushed out because Burlington has become another Mississauga or Toronto.

  • Jim Barnett

    Chris’s writing is what doesn’t make sense. Staff are” going rogue” when they turn a plan limiting height to 12 stories into 23!

    ” A new staff will likely fail” Are City personnel people going to hire failures?

    What is his foundation for estimating it would take 8 years for only a resemblance of a plan?

    If transportation transit etc. are so important, why not do it first?

    It look like you are drinking Jack Dennison’s cycling committee cool aide.

    We need a plan now with measurable goals, not an essay.

    • Chris Ariens

      Jim & Stephen…I was painting the picture of what may happen should those opposed to the OP end up contesting and winning an election. A new Council comes in and cleans house. However the Strategic Plan would still serve as the basis for this new staff to rebuild a comprehensive OP from.

      It would seem that that document is itself at odds with the views of those who have expressed opposition to the OP. So if the new staff try to build a plan on that basis, ‘engaged citizens’ are likely to reject any such plan just as they appear to be rejecting the current one. So back to the drawing board on the strategic plan as well?

      The rhetoric does appear to be opposed to height simply out of an aversion to height, without considering the benefits of wider sidewalks, providing street trees and additional public space that come along with the increase in height.

      While on its own, I agree that 23 stories is too much, and I have zero desire to see something looming over the city like Montparnasse, there are benefits that offset the impacts and if the economic situation demands we build a little bit taller than what is there now to make it work, it’s a well-considered tradeoff. The demand for walkable downtown living all across the GTA is intense – and real estate prices reflect that. So intense that cities like Vaughan are trying to build “walkable downtowns” around transit hubs from scratch, investing $billions in the process. This explains why developers are proposing things that are way out of line with the current OP. It is no longer relevant.

      Does anyone really think that by putting in a 6 story condo instead of a 23 story one, that we’d be able to get the commercial rents lower on a brand new building? All that means is they have to go a lot more upscale to recoup their costs. The Saxony was offered at a price point of $600K to $1.5M, and even it needs more height to pay off – and that’s a block away from Brant. That price point is going to attract the empty nesters who spend half their time in Florida or Muskoka, not the families we need to bring in to keep our businesses above water.

      As for some of us needing to drive a car…that’s obvious. Equally obvious should be the fact that giving our residents more choices with respect to transportation has a lot of benefits, even for those who may not themselves use those choices. Cities need to be multi-modal to compete for entrepreneurs, jobs and skilled workers.

      • Stephen White

        Surprisingly I actually agree with much of what you write Chris! I’m pleased we both agree 23 storeys is too much. I actually don’t object to a bit taller downtown…12 storeys should be the max. I agree we should have a walkable city. I also agree that much of the planned development downtown will attract the wealthy and not newer or younger residents. And no disagreement that we need to attract entrepreneurs, jobs and skilled workers.

        Here’s where we depart. Your argument, if I interpret it correctly, is that the process isn’t foolproof, but let’s stick with the OP and let the Planning officials work out the bugs. My argument is that the process has been so flawed from the start because Planning officials really didn’t listen to what citizens were telling them. I attended a downtown Mobility Hub meeting at the BAC in June. 9 of the 12 tables in the room told Planning officials they didn’t like the options presented, that the options were too “black and white”, and that attendees preferred a blended approach without concentrations of high and low rise developments. What came back subsequently wasn’t a blended approach. Similarly, at the Appleby Mobility Hubs meeting later in the summer questions arose regarding schools and transportation, questions that were summarily ignored. As one lady said to me as I left the meeting that night “We’ll give our input for as much good as it will do, but in the end the City will just do what they want anyway”.

        The City, the Planning Department, and Council, have totally lost control and credibility of this issue. They have squandered public trust, and in their zealousness to push this through and meet their arbitrary deadline they have confused, angered and embittered residents. Personally, that’s not what I would call “engagement”. That’s what I call a mess! And tomorrow, Council and the Planning staff will get an earful and find out first-hand just how deep resentment and frustration on this issue runs.

  • Chris Ariens

    Waging an election or having a referendum on the basis of the specifics contained within a legalese document like the OP just doesn’t make sense.

    Citizens would end up much poorer for all the efforts, and we continue to lack the ability to make the kind of land use changes that are necessary to bring the growth we need to be able to afford our infrastructure while maintaining the ability for people to move throughout the city and attract talent & jobs. Developers will continue to push their own wants, and without cohesive guidance from a current OP, approval/disapproval of amendments would be the only tool we have to shape the growth that is coming regardless of who we elect.

    In drafting the OP, Burlington city staff leaned on a number of previous pieces of work, most notably the Strategic Plan.

    It is that document, which was the result of over a year of consultations with citizens, unanimously approved by Council in 2016, which forms the basis for many of the decisions in the OP. Staff aren’t ‘going rogue’ as some suggest, they are merely implementing what they believe that citizens want through the Strategic Plan. That Strategic Plan calls for the redevelopment of aging commercial plazas and for the downtown to support intensification – the very things that ECOB is standing in opposition against.

    Supposing a new council did get elected on a “rewrite the OP” mandate. Then what? First we have to find new planning staff to do the work, assuming that the new Council feels that the existing staff are not acting according to our wishes. A new staff will take a crack at it, follow the guidance in the Strategic Plan, and again likely fail. So there we go through another 2 year exercise in the second mandate of the new Council to come up with another strategic plan. It will be probably at least 8 years before citizens even see anything resembling a plan.

    Our current OP is long overdue, and completely out of step with the economic realities in Burlington, which is in part why every development application comes in asking for changes to the OP. It’s also out of step with the Strategic Plan, with the Regional plan and the Places to Grow legislation. It’s not being ‘rushed’, more than 10 years of studies and reports on nearly every issue from land use, transportation, parking, downtown business, to sustainability, went into it. It’s long past due for it to be revised – OP reviews are supposed to be every 5 years and Burlington’s turns 10 this year.

    What we have is on the whole a good plan, largely consistent with the Strategic Plan our Council and citizens applauded nearly 2 years ago. While it is true that there are some areas which are incomplete, there will be ample opportunities for citizens to shape the outcomes of pieces like the Transportation, Transit, Cycling and Heritage plans this year. I would greatly prefer to work on getting those pieces right and updating the plan than in fighting an election on the contents of an OP that is without a doubt going to be outdated before it is approved.

    • Stephen White

      Where does it say that ECoB is against re-developing aging commercial plazas? Sorry, but I’ve never heard this mentioned or expressed at any ECoB event I’ve attended.

      I live near an older commercial plaza (i.e. Lakeside Plaza). It was a thriving, vibrant place in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, but no more. There were meetings hosted earlier by Councillor Sharman and well attended by local residents to discuss re-development proposals. Citizens are very much engaged and interested in seeing this mall return to a vibrant state. A number of useful comments and ideas were proposed. Many of us patronize this mall, and would like nothing better than seeing new stores and businesses.

      Most nearby residents would willingly accept 4-6 storey residential townhouse developments or something similar. What we don’t want is a 20+ storey high rise development with business rents for stores on the main level at $45 a square foot and no place to park. In what universe can a small business owner make a profit with rental space that high? And yes, sorry… but some of us will need to drive a car because we haven’t quite mastered the art of carrying home three or four bags of groceries while riding a bike; ergo.

      No…the OP isn’t a good plan, and it also hasn’t been a good process. It’s been flawed from the start, and it hasn’t been helped by politicians and public servants who can’t, don’t or won’t listen. Once again, those who oppose this aren’t anti-development. The devil is in the details.

  • Denise McKay

    Such a relief to find this write-up! The suggested actions you propose really appeal to me. No rushing on anything so important. Congratulations on this new(?) Gazette! It can really fill a vacancy.
    Denise McKay

    Editor’s note: The Gazette has been publishing for six years – best kept secret in the city.
    Help us grow the readership – tell ten people what you discovered and ask them to tell ten people.
    Thanks for finding us.

  • Blair Smith

    Well said Jim! Quite simply,the Official Plan is too important to Burlington’s future to be rushed to approval. There are still too many pieces that are incomplete or in conceptual form for “The Plan” to be finalized. Regardless of where one stands on the many issues that the new OP raises, I think that it is fair for the people to speak at the polls in October. Although legally it is within the mandate of the current Council to approve a new Official Plan, it would be ethically and morally wrong to do so. In 2014 the people of Burlington did not give the current Council a clear mandate to determine the City’s landscape for the next 50 to 100 years. In fact, given a 34% voter turnout in 2014, the people barely gave Council a mandate to exist. I hope that Council will do the “right thing” and defer approval of the Official Plan and establish a clear and unambiguous referendum around the OP as part of the election in October 2018. Then the people can truly speak and be heard.

  • Lynn Crosby

    Well said Jim!

  • steve

    Thank you Mr. Young, and thank you Gazette for giving those fighting, a wider voice.

  • Great work Jim!

    I’m glad that more people are engaging in this issue. When I ran in the 2014 election I could barely get people to believe what the city has planned. Now that people are realizing what is going on – it’s our Burlington to protect!