The timeline is a sad tale - no one was in charge of the Waterfront Hotel study.

By Pepper Parr

January 20th, 2022



This report sets out the very awkward situation in which the Planning department finds itself.

If you love your city and you care about what it is going to look like in five years, read on.  The report is lengthy.

The city has had a Waterfront Planning Study in the works since 2015.  At one point the Planning Department advised that they did not have a planner assigned to the file.

Most people thought progress was being made – turns out everyone was wrong.  Nothing (at best very little) was being done.

The boundary for the Waterfront Study area was clear. The study was paid for by the developer who got tired of waiting and decided to move on with his long term plans

While city planners were asleep at the switch the owner of the property wasn’t.

Darko Vranich, has significant property interests in Hamilton and Burlington which include the adult entertainment site Solid Gold in Aldershot and that small motel immediately east of Bridgewater and doors away from Emma’s Back Porch.

The Waterfront Hotel is owned by Darko Vranich, who owns Burlington 2020 Lakeshore Road Inc., the site of the hotel he wants to demolish and put up a two tower development – one at 35 storeys, the other at 30 storeys – both would sit atop a five level podium.

Back in April 28, 2021, the consulting firm, Bousfields (leading the development application team), met with staff in the Planning Department  to determine the requirements for a complete development application.

The developer wanted to amend the City’s Official Plan and Zoning By-law to facilitate the owner’s proposal to redevelop the site with a mixed-use development that does not conform to in-effect Official Plan policies or Zoning By-law regulations.

That meeting should have triggered some action on completing the Waterfront Study – apparently it didn’t.

The city provided the developer and their representatives with a preconsultation package (by email – May 5, 2021).

The preconsultation package outlines the following;

Types of applications required (Official Plan Amendment and Zoning By-law Amendment);
Application fees required;
Requirement to hold a Pre-Application Public Consultation Meeting prior to submitting an application;
Required Information for Complete Application.

In accordance with the requirements set out in the preconsultation package, the applicant consulted the Burlington Urban Design (BUD) Panel regarding their proposed development on August 19, 2021.  At a meeting less than a week ago the Director of Community Planning, Mark Simeone, was not aware that a meeting with BUD had taken place.

Another example of senior city staff not being fully briefed on everything which was now in play.  Staff were fully aware of the scale, size and scope of what the developer had in mind.  The public didn’t have a clue until a virtual Pre-Application Consultation Meeting was held via via Zoom September 8, 2021.

Lisa Kearns, the Ward Councillor and Mayor Meed Ward attended and took part – the news was not new to them.

Years before the pre-consultation meeting at which the public got to see what the developer had in mind, a group of citizens believed there was a better way to develop the Waterfront Hotel site and they formed Plan B and created the idea of a thin red line beyond which there would be no development.

The city, in the meantime, had hired a group to hold public meetings at which different concepts were developed.  The Plan B people were never really sure if they were being heard by the city planners.  When the graphic below became public it was pretty close to what the Plan B people were prepared to settle for.  Was it close enough to the three concepts the city made public?  And, by the way, what are the current concepts the city planners have for the site?  Nothing anywhere that sets out the city’s position.

You can bet real money that the developer knows what they want – at this point all we have is what they presented last September – and that wasn’t a pretty sight.

The green area is what Plan B wants left open allowing a clear view to the lake from Brant Street. 

On October 22, 2021, City staff received a submission package from the applicant requesting amendments to the City’s Official Plan and Zoning By-law to permit the proposed development at 2020 Lakeshore Road.

On October 26, 2021 the City received the application fees set out in the preconsultation package. City staff confirmed receipt of these materials and fees as of October 26 and initiated a completeness review to determine whether the required information and material, as identified in the preconsultation package, had been provided.

The Planning Department, at first, took the position that the development application was not complete but sometime after the January 13 council meeting at which the development application was deemed incomplete the matter was on the January 18th council meeting as an Urgent Business matter.  At that time the application was deemed to be complete.

Sometime on the Friday between the 13th and the 18th meetings new information from someone (either the city planning staff or the consultant for the developer or the city’s outside legal counsel) was provided resulted in the application being deemed complete.

The development application that was deemed incomplete did not have the the following required information:

1. Phase Two Environmental Site Assessment;
2. Park Concept Plan;
3. Angular Plane Study.

Staff notified the applicant that their application had been deemed incomplete.

Subsequently the applicant submitted a request to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) for a motion date to determine if the application was in fact in complete. The OLT never did schedule a date for such a motion to be heard.

On December 17, 2021, the applicant provided the following additional materials to the City in relation to their applications:

1. Phase Two Environmental Site Assessment;
2. Park Concept Plan;
3. Angular Plane Study.

Sometime before January 18th, City staff reviewed the additional materials provided and determined that with the receipt of additional materials described the development application was deemed to be complete December 17, 2021.

The clock was now ticking – starting December 17th, 2021 the city had 120 days to produce a Staff report on the development.

The immediate impact was the loss of about 30 days that could have been used to review the development application to be in a position to complete a review of a very big and a very complex file dumped on a department that was understaffed and had very recently added 15+ planners to staff who had to work in an office environment dictated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sometime in February, 2022 the city will hold a required statutory public meeting at Council Committee to consider the development applications.  It is expected that the statutory meeting will be virtual, which will crimp the number of delegations made at Council.

Sometime in April, 2022 a Staff recommendation report will be sent to Committee followed by a special Council meeting.

The city has three options:

Approve the application

Approve the application with required changes

Refuse the application setting out the reasons for the refusal

If refused the developer will take the case to the Ontario Land Tribunal

That is not the whole story.

The night Marianne Meed Ward was elected Mayor of Burlington.

When Marianne Meed Ward ran for Mayor in 2018 she told the citizens of Burlington that she wanted the Urban Growth Centre (UGC) to be moved north – to where the Burlington GO station was located.

It took a lot of energy and political guts to take that position but as Mayor, Marianne Meed Ward pushed and pushed and pushed.

And the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing eventually agreed and the UGC boundary was moved north with the southern boundary pushed north from Lakeshore Road to about Prospect.

Unfortunately, in the same decision, the Minister grandfathered a number of development sites and said they would fall under the rules of the old UGC – which ran right to the lake.  Right where the Waterfront Hotel development is to take place.

The decision didn’t help.

Council passed a motion last week that included an amendment.

Deem, in accordance with sections 22.1, 22(5) and 34(10.2) of the Planning Act, that applications submitted by Burlington 2020 Lakeshore Inc. to amend the Official Plan and Zoning By-law for lands at 2020 Lakeshore Road as made and complete on December 17, 2021, as the required information and materials were provided on that date; and

Direct the Director of Community Planning to notify Burlington 2020 Lakeshore Inc. that the required information and material have been provided for the applications to amend the Official Plan and Zoning By-law for lands at 2020 Lakeshore Road, in accordance with sections 22(6.1) and 34(10.4) of the Planning Act.

The amendment:

Direct the Director of Community Planning to complete the processing of the application to amend the Official Plan and Zoning By-law for lands at 2020 Lakeshore Road within the statutory time frames, and bring forward a recommendation to Council and the Community to provide input and a decision before the statutory review period expires.

So what now?

There is a very senior planner on the file and an all hands on deck attitude is infusing staff – many who are working remotely.  Not the best situation to create the sense of team needed to get the very best out of people who have been pushed to the limit for more than 20 months.

To add to the troubled situation, Heather MacDonald, the chief planner as well as an Executive Director with the city, advised the city manager that she was going to retire.  This apparently was not a surprise to the city manager.

Members of Council are limited on what they can say about a development that has yet to be put before Council with a Staff recommendation.   As a result there hasn’t been as much as a peep from any of them.

What was Councillor Galbraith opposed to?

We do know that Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith was not very excited about what took place in those Closed sessions.  He didn’t vote for the decision to direct Burlington’s legal counsel to proceed that came out of the Closed session.  Because it was a Closed session the public will never know what Galbraith was opposed to.

Way back in 2010 Marianne Meed Ward ran for Council as the ward 2 candidate running on a platform to Save the Waterfront.  Burlington may be about to see shovels in the ground by the end of the year putting a dagger in the heart of what Meed Ward set out to do

The Plan B group that wanted the western edge of any development on the hotel site to be limited by what they called a “thin red line.

At one point the Planning department appeared to be onside – no one is sure at this point if the thin red line concept will be applied.

What we do know is that the Planning department is working hard at completing their report that will go to city council and that sometime before it goes to Council there will be a required Statutory meeting at which the developer can tell their story (they are not required to take part) and citizens can delegate on what they don’t like.

It will be quite a meeting.

Lovely design with great architectural features – but is this what the citizens of the city want in the downtown core?


Is this the new look of the city skyline?

Is this what the entrance to Spencer Smith Park going to look like?




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12 comments to The timeline is a sad tale – no one was in charge of the Waterfront Hotel study.

  • Penny Hersh

    Mr. Leigh, I am well aware that Councillors are not permitted to share information that is discussed ‘In Camera”.

    The point I was trying to make that the “in camera” usage that seems to be very popular at this point in time prevents residents from knowing just what is happening in our city.

    Plan B,,,,yes I am aware that the city deemed this proposed development complete in December. I have not seen your group discuss the “Publicly accessible, privately owned connection” portion of this application( if you have please accept my apology).

    Does your group feel it is appropriate for potential owners to be responsible for in this case “An outdoor mid-block connection from Lakeshore Road to Spencer Smith Park, in line with John Street”? Can you imagine the insurance liability that would fall to the owners of the condominium?

    This is a very slippery slope that places the onus on unit owners to maintain what the city should be responsible for. Once the developer turns over the control of the building to the owners is it possible for their board/owners to decide not to continue maintaining this space?

    Public spaces should be maintained by the City ( through taxpayer dollars). Why should the private sector be responsible when this area is accessible by the public 24/7?

    This application is more than an appropriate height issue.

  • Diane Knox

    This Waterfront Hotel issue has been an Epic Journey from the 1970’s for me beginning with many Councils & Mayors MPPs from the days of “Save the Lakeshore”- Mary Monroe. Many on that original group remembered the Brant Inn/ Estaminet , and Burlington Beach- This precious gift of our Lake – not blocked and hoped to keep it.
    But this vision got lost in Property tax issues and “City Planning?”(-Short term decisions- no Long term consequences-traffic, paving the flood plan with malls, Industry and condos etc…)–
    Now 2022
    Yes Our years of Voter choices– For–MPP & Councils have left us with:
    a Lake we cannot see,– a Condo neither we nor the next generation, can afford, a Downtown that has encouraged cars – (no full Grocery Shopping Hub)- several streams with issues from paved parking lots on flood plane and a Hospital we can’t get to in busy times in Emergencies from wards 4&5.South East of New St…Of course the budget is as is in a Pandemic

    The Citizen Focus1970 was – make the shore accessible/available to All the Citizens of Burlington to enjoy and visit, to expand the park at this proposed hotel site and when other properties South of Lakeshore Road East of Brant St, were available, – make them parkland- or” Windows on the Lake”. We Lost many, made some- Palletta Park thanks to their donation to preserve the basin of at least one flood stream-Shore acres.

    To quote the Bard- ‘The die is cast–What has been done cannot be undone.’
    Condo Alley–Lakeshore- is and will be forever.

    So, I wish this current 2022 Council well in their attempts curb the past decisions and pay for the mistakes, missteps, of ignoring of Long term ‘Planning’, and still appease the taxpayers.
    Please, Mayor and all, think beyond the box of your wards,

    For now I drive East to Oakville to enjoy a view of the lake at one of their many parks and downtown shops and a quick drive to OTHS for any timely visits.
    Election time: Please Vote for for Local, and Provincial candidates for. their ideas and forward thinking for Burlington and their past track history of “accessibility” for local issues after they get your vote..

  • Citizens' PLAN B

    We acknowledge & appreciate the tenacity of those commenting on this article as to whether the Burlington 2020 Lakeshore application was grandfathered in Steve Clark’s signing of ROPA 48 on November 10th, It is a critical determinant of whether a downtown MTSA or UGC can be used to argue for ever greater intensification at the Waterfront Hotel redevelopment, as so many other developers have successfully argued in the past before the OLT, or not. Does application “made” imply that it is also complete? We at PLAN B believe that it must to simply pass the “rational person test”, and that if it doesn’t Burlington deserves to know why.

    • Bruce Leigh

      Well if the very sensible rationale that you and I agree should be used is not accepted by the OLT, would then a submitted document which only has details of the proponents name and address and say the address of the subject site also be deemed to be an application. If that logic is accepted we are living in dolalleeland.

  • Penny Hersh


    Information that I received recently has indicated that this development proposal is now considered to be complete, and falls under the date necessary to be considered as being “grandfathered”. This could account for what you consider to be inconsistencies.

    As for the Councillors having to stay quiet on this as well as many other issues. This is a result of the “in camera” discussions that are a constant part of Council meetings. There is so much happening at the City that residents are not aware of.

    Don’t you find it interesting that the last municipal campaign whose mantra was more transparency has become just the opposite?

    • Citizens' PLAN B

      Actually Penny, the application was deemed complete as of December 17th, 2021 by the City, when the property owner submitted the three missing pieces.

    • Bruce Leigh

      Councilors are required to stay quiet until they receive the staff report do as not to give any appearance of bias or predetermined positions, allowing the proponent a fair and balanced process. I’m surprised Ms Hersh you were unaware of this requirement 0laced upon councilors

  • Tom Muir

    Penny, On January 13, you wrote a comment here on this project where you said, among other things;

    “The reality unfortunately is that this site could be one that was grandfathered by the Province when the Urban Growth Centre and the un-designation of the Bus Terminal on John Street was signed off on.”

    “I would suggest that any group involved in helping with the redevelopment of this site, do their due diligence in determining if this is the case.”

    Then 3 days later, January 17, on this same project, you contradict yourself commenting that; “How much can be said about a proposed development that has been grandfathered by the Province?”

    And now, in your comment here you say; “What else could Councillor Kearns say? In the first ward 2 walk about,Councillor Kearns failed to mention or include the fact that this property was grandfathered”.

    “I have great empathy for all the councillors. Most everything is considered to be confidential. Meetings are held “in camera” and they have to remain silent.”

    In this paragraph, You contradict your assertion and question about Councilor Kearns not saying anything about this at the first Ward 2 walk. You answered your own question – she couldn’t say anything as she had to remain silent, as you put it.

    I won’t go back further to provide more examples of your insistent assertions that this project is in fact grandfathered. The problem is you just say this without any evidence or reasoned argument, like we have to take your word for it.

    My point here is that on January 13 you said it “could be” grandfathered, and advised any other group opinion that they needed due diligence to determine if in fact the project was grandfathered. Then 3 days later, you state again, that it is grandfathered, but again with no evidence, or a show of due diligence, to determine that this grandfathering is a true fact, as you stated was necessary to do on January 13.

    Compounding my perplexity, is that there now is evidence and argument from the City, formalized in a reasoned evidence-based decision by Council, and directions to Staff that the application is not grandfathered because it was not submitted as a complete application in the mandated timeline signed off on by the Minister. This Council position follows a previous staff report, supported by Council vote, in October 2021, that the application was not complete.

    The essence of this Council position and decision is presented here by the Gazette story, and by comment by Bruce Leigh. I have added to this argument several times recently in other stories on this application and related City matters.And yet, with all this evidence and City decisions, you ignore it all, presenting only political based statements that have not yet appeared, although in our dictatorial planning regime OLT is always in play, and in this I do agree.

    This evidence and the process is how this planning process works. The applicant has filed for an appeal decision by OLT to overturn this decision on grandfathering, but there has been no appeal movement by OLT.

    Since that appeal filing, the City has surely considered it in it’s Council decision to proceed with a staff review and report to Council, with the basis that the application is not grandfathered, and not part of the UGC. Despite your continued position advising that the City just give up all the appeals, and the costs, this one is absolutely needed to defend as giving in on the grandfathering will, as I have argued here, be a calamity for the City.

    If you have evidence that this is not so, please provide it.

    All this said, I do agree that this outcome will likely go to OLT, but it won’t be on any merits I think, but on the fact that OLT exists and the allowed planning legal process allows the applicant to go all that way if it doesn’t get what it wants.

    • Bruce Leigh

      Mr. Muir. Thank you for your right on point comment. Ms Hersh needs to be called out on her unreasoned commentaries.

      I have a few questions that hopefully you or someone else with clear knowledge can answer.

      1. If the OLT finds for the proponent that the application is grandfathered, I assume the Minister can, if he desires, issue an Order overturning the OLT decision. Is that correct?

      2. If the OLT finds for the proponent that the application is grandfathered, but the Minister declines to overturn the decision by way of ministerial order, does the municipality have the ability to challenge an OLT decision in an Ontario court.

      3. When might the OLT appeal be heard, bearing in mind a provincial election is scheduled for July?

      4. If there is a change in government in July, is it possible for the new government to step in and issue a ministerial order if the former minister had declined to do so.

      I hope the City, with the support all residents including those like Ms Hersh who extol her value, worth and virtue, will vigorously lobby our MPP McKenna to in turn lobby the Minister to clearly state for the record that this specific application is not grandfathered.

  • Penny Hersh

    What else could Councillor Kearns say? In the first ward 2 walk about,Councillor Kearns failed to mention or include the fact that this property was grandfathered.

    I have great empathy for all the councillors. Most everything is considered to be confidential. Meetings are held “in camera” and they have to remain silent.

    Letters sent by the Mayors asking for more Municipal Autonomy with regard to development will go nowhere. It is easy to blame the Ford Government for the OLT, but remember a form of this has been in practice under the Liberal Governments for years.

    Don’t drink the Kool-Aid….chances are the proposed waterfront property will be settled at the OLT. It is out of the hands of the City of Burlington.

  • Bruce Leigh

    I wonder whether the writer of this article, Mr. Parr, listened in to Councilor Kearns’ Ward 2 Up-date meeting last evening. Councilor spoke at length on this topic.

    She alluded to a possibility that this applicant’s application may not qualify for granfathering under terms set by the Minister. She suggested the application may not qualify for grandfathering because the date at which the application was deemed complete was December 17th, 2020 and that the Minister’s grandfathering only applied to complete applications received by the City as of the date of his order. If correct it would mean 2020 Lakeshore Road would not fall within the UGC, because the Minister agreed to its move north of Lakeshore Road as of the date of his order.

    Perhaps someone with a greater and deeper knowledge and understanding of the situation would educate us.

    Editor’s note: The application was deemed complete as of December 17, 2021 – NOT 2020

    • Bruce Leigh

      Thank you Editor for correcting my fat thumbs typo as to the date at which the application relating to 2020 Lakeshore Road site.

      I’ve done a little bit of research and found on the Province of Ontario’s website the verbiage of the Minister’s decision which provides a grandfathering for certain development applications under the previously defined UGC area. That verbiage is:-

      “Sections 80 to 80.2 continue to apply to applications for official plan amendments, zoning by-law amendments and draft plans of subdivision or condominium approvals made prior to the approval by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing of Amendment 48 to this Plan if the lands that are the subject of the application were within an Urban Growth Centre prior to the Minister’s approval of Amendment 48.”

      One will note there was no reference made to specifically named applications. Just the requirement of an application having been made prior to the date of approval of the amendment to the area defined as the UGC. It would seem listening to Councilor Kearns comment, the City will be taking the position with the proponents of the 2020 Lakeshore Road application that the date of its application falls after the date of the Minister’s decision and so the site is not within the defined area of the applicable UGC.

      Well, we see soon enough. Won’t we?