What's the rush - slow down and let the public decide what should be done during the next municipal.election

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

November 9th, 2017



What is the rush?

Official-Plan-Binder_ImageThe Draft of the Official Plan will be public on Friday – it runs close to 1000 pages. Those with a major interest in the contents of that document are going to have less than 20 days to respond to it.

Suzanne Mammel, the Halton Hamilton Home Builders Association (HHHBA) Executive Officer explains that Official Plans usually go through at least half a dozen versions. The current document is in its second version.

Burlingtonians complain loudly and frequently about how city council fails to uphold there Official Plan.

There are four Mobility Hub studies taking place. The city wants to get the Downtown Core Mobility Hub approved before the end of the year.

Emerging Preferred conceptThere are the plans for the redevelopment of the Waterfront Hotel property that the city is pushing with their Emerging Preferred Concept. There are citizens who don’t like what they are seeing.

What’s the rush?

The word is that James Ridge the city manager wants as much of this as possible approved by city council before they all move into major election mode.

There are citizens who want to suggest to the city manager that he lighten up and let these issues become election issues.

Related news stories:
The HHHBA has issues with the draft Official Plan.

What the HHHBA had to say with the first version of the Official Plan

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16 comments to What’s the rush – slow down and let the public decide what should be done during the next municipal.election

  • David Fenton

    Watched a science show once, it entailed a city made of plastic tubes with a number of white lab rats running around inside all getting on very well.
    They kept increasing the rat count until eventually the rats became stressed and violent to one another.
    I guess when a place is full….Its full.

  • Stu Parr

    I couldn’t agree more with the posted comments and the need for change at City Hall. However, I’m not very hopeful, with the possible exception of the Mayor’s chair, that there will be different bums (pun intended) in the seats. To replace the existing Council, there needs to be credible, recognized candidates running against them and, to date, there have been few rumblings in the wards. Usually, prospective candidates running against incumbents try to get their names and faces out there early and often – particularly when there’s a provincial election occurring in the same window. But, it’s been very quiet. Can we organize a ‘write-in’ campaign for Tom Muir in Ward 1 and Gary Scobie in Ward 3!

  • Joe Gaetan

    Totally agree the tail is now wagging the dog. Gary Scobie and his ilk are the ones we should really thank for their tireless efforts.

  • Stephen White

    Great summary Pepper! I agree wholeheartedly.

    I attended Paul Sharman’s Ward 5 Town Hall meeting last night, and I put the question directly to Mary Lou Tanner on why the Official Plan and the Mobility Hubs issue couldn’t wait until after the October 2018 to be approved. The answer that came back was that City staff had conducted extensive consultations and that the plan reflected community input. I also heard that the existing Official Plan is outdated and needs to be revised. I also mentioned that as of yesterday nearly 900 people had signed the online petition opposing the 23 storey development on Brant Street. That didn’t sway her opinion either.

    There are three important points that should be noted about this issue. First, the Planning Department, the Mayor, and Council, are fixated on characterizing this discussion as two competing visions between those who support development and those who don’t. This is utter nonsense. There are people like me who believe we need revitalization, and support the need for growth. The issue for us is the amount, location and type of growth. I have no issue with a maximum 12 storeys downtown, and 4 storeys elsewhere. But I absolutely do not want 20+ storeys that will aggravate an already congested traffic problem and are aesthetically bland. As for Mobility Hubs, the locations make better sense as office complexes rather than residential.

    The second is that in the Mayor and Council’s view developers can only make a profit and provide affordable housing if there are developments that are 20+ storeys. This too is absurd. I see many great 4-6 storey developments on Upper Middle, Plains Road, etc. The people living in them don’t look to me like millionaires. I haven’t heard of developers going bankrupt. If developers keep pushing this fairy tale then it is incumbent to open up their books and provide us with specifics.

    The third is that while the Planning Department will state on one hand that only about 5% of land in Burlington will be subject to intensification and redevelopment what they very conveniently don’t tell us is that the Official Plan will do absolutely nothing to stop large scale, multi-level developments on other properties throughout the City. One attendee last night asked if the Official Plan, either the present or proposed version, would stop the proposed high rise development planned on Appleby Mall (Pinedale and Timber Lane) or on Bateman High School (assuming the school closes). The answer that came back was “no”.

    The fairest, most honest, and most democratic approach would be to demand that the Mobility Hubs issue and the Official Plan become part of a plebiscite that is incorporated into the 2018 municipal election. Let candidates run on whether they support or oppose it, and let voters cast their ballots accordingly.

    • William

      adding in the mobility hubs as a ballot question is an excellent idea. However, the city’s planning experts would not be willing to hand this over to the public who they believe are unable to grasp the nuances of “good planning”.

      You are right about the planning department now building in the developer’s profit margin as part of their consideration on height. This ‘economic analysis’ is another insidious practice brought in by James Ridge. He fails to understand the role of government is to focus first on the public interest. When municipal government gets fixates on the developer’s profit margin it only leads to height giveaway and land speculation. The high-rise developers are not suffering – they drive around Burlington’s downtown hin very nice high-end automobiles.

      • Tom Muir


        Where can I see that economic analysis is now being done by planning?

        They don’t have a clue is my experience. All we are doing is making a speculative real estate play out of Burlington, and making millionaire developers into billionaires.

        Please direct me to answer my question.

        • William

          See the Planning and Development Committee meeting on November 6th (at about 2:40 on the time stamp), talking about the Brock building. Staff admitted they consider economic viability as part of their planning criteria. They assume no viable building can be built downtown under current planning rules, but offer no proof. Ridge mentions they are planning a land economics workshop for council.

          They’re already using economic assumptions in their planning recommendations, but it is not transparent as to what weight they give it. It’s not mentioned unless asked.

          Notice how Mary Lou Tanner downplays this, seemingly contradicting what the planner says, which is that the developer’s financial viability is being considered with this proposal.

          What Ridge does not acknowledge, is that when planning gives away height, it feeds the land speculation death spiral.

          • Tom Muir


            I like your land speculation death spiral comment – so true.

            It’s already underway. I heard that the large parcel on Brant St near Havendale, sold too much, the developer claims – about $32 million versus closest other at about $21 million. So they now say they paid too much – likely story – and so they need a crowded 243 or so 3 story towns that are packed in densely. So it’s not just height.

            So does bailing them out become a city obligation?

            This becomes speculative action without risk, so the city really just amplifies the spiral.

            We all know that there is a tremendous financial incentive for developers to officially propose a push for more and more height and/or density because there are literally a billion dollars in the pot of 2000, $500,000 condos all around town, if you can get it. And that’s just for starters, and you can do other math.

            So what we are seeing is what these dollars naturally lead to. The on staff or hired planners and lawyers already have more or less canned planning justifications and opinion, that can be tweaked and just moved around from place to place. Other hires fill in other needed reports that are always supportive.

            Then the city falls in line.

            About 3 years ago I had a couple of meetings with planning staff when Krushelniki was Director, and I raised the subject of speculation and rampant money-grubbing. He told me that his office never considered the dollars and economic involved, as what the developers did financially was not in his purview in that respect.

            I knew at the time that it was a white lie, but now it’s out in the open.

            A while ago in this space I described how the real land values were determined in a healthy market, and that was, as you know, determined by the extent of use allowed, which for residential is number of units and density.

            So allowable or permitted height/density is a licence to print money, so the development process gets corrupted as a source of power.

            Speculating you can get more drives up the price, and so when the planning gets like it is getting in Burlington, the speculation gets as you say.

            And you see that the planners are buying into the land cost crap argument that developers use.

            We need to be informed about how they do this. Krushelniki saw the pitfalls in trying.

    • Phillip

      Stephen, thanks for the insight and the confirmation of our worst fears–decisions are being made–not by Burlington residents, the ones most impacted by the decisions, but by bureaucrats, developers/special interests, lobby groups, and politicians with their own agendas. I’ve been to enough “consultations” to know that they are window-dressing to enable the real decision-makers to falsely claim that the public have been “engaged”. Actually, the public have been marginalized.
      Great damage, perhaps irreversible, will be done to OUR city before the elections in 2018 but the key lesson learned is that candidates who represent Burlington residents need to be elected followed by a house-cleaning of key bureaucrats, two of whom seem to be unable to grasp that this is BURLINGTON, not Vancouver.

    • “The second is that in the Mayor and Council’s view developers can only make a profit and provide affordable housing if there are developments that are 20+ storeys. This too is absurd.”

      See what happens is that if you develop 6 stories the land is worth 2 million if you develop 23 it’s worth 16 million. Thus – to set fire the Burlington as fast as possible you make 8 million jump balls.

      Developers who make 250k off of 6 stores can not overwhelm existing usages. If you are making 200k a year renting commercial spaces then why shut down for a year?

      I consider this a feature – If the developer can not knock down commercial businesses in heavy use – great.

  • steve

    Where will James Ridge go when he’s finished his work in Burlington?

  • Centerline

    The last time I checked, Councillors are elected for a Four year term. Not 3 years plus an election year. Development ism’t going to take a year off while the election campaign is on and Municipal Life should not come to a grinding halt either. Get on with it.

  • craig

    I agree slow down survey all of burlngton not just negative anti-anything downtown folks a lot of whom won’t be around by the time these tall buildings are approved and built we are discussing the future Burlington not the old Burlington some of us want tall buildings and the young blood renters will bring and money to spend downtown

    • Phillip

      Craig, I don’t like the characterization of Burlington residents who are opposed to the creation of concrete-jungle, hi-rise development as being “negative”. We are focused on maintaining the unique character of Burlington that make it such a desirable place to live. Development of buildings within the current bylaw requirements restricts them to 12 stories and allows for growth. Allowing 23 story+ buildings destroys the character of Burlington’s downtown and is unrealistic given our current lack of transportation infrastructure. But in the end it is the residents of Burlington who should decide what type of town we live in–not the developers, not the bureaucrats, not the lobby groups, not the special interests. And not a lame duck mayor and council.

  • Phillip

    You have noted in your report that “James Ridge wants…”. Last I checked this was a democratic government (however they behave) in which what the electorate/residents want is most important. I have noted in previous messages that with the election now less than a year away, this mayor and council have NO MANDATE to create or implement a new Official Plan–they certainly did not run in the last election on a platform of creating a new Official Plan. Since “the writing is on the wall” for this group in next year’s election and many, if not most, will not be reelected, this rush seems to be a clumsy attempt to hamstring the next mayor and council. In fact, it will be an exercise in futility since I would hope the next mayor and council will at least amend or completely rewrite the Official Plan.

    As for Mr. Ridge–a disciple of Brent Toderian, a man who doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that Burlington is not Vancouver, is it a mere coincidence that the ongoing development nightmare and transportation gridlock seems to be worsening since he arrived?

  • William

    James Ridge’s revealed his his hand with his unusually open championing of the 23 storey development at a recent meeting of council. He doesn’t get Burlington – believing it should be another Vancouver with row upon row of joyless tall buildings. This is what he implemented while at North Vancouver, bringing in high-priced people like Vancouver’s Brent Toderian, to advance his agenda. The rush is on because he wants to bypass public input, believing that in the election year, we’ll forget what he and his rubber-stamping council foisted on us this year.