While the city figures out which lawyers will represent them at the OMB hearing on the Adi development in Alton, a citizen reflects on how we got into this mess.

opinionandcommentBy Pepper Parr

January 15th, 2017



The development that council voted not to go forward with in the Alton Village got punted to the Ontario Municipal Board faster than the lawyers could lick the envelope and get the postage on it.

The city now has to go looking for legal talent to represent them on what is going to be a difficult case.
The city planner did her job – she asked council for specific direction – got it and set out working with the developer.

The project gets brought back, the community delegates against the project and council votes it down

The developer says he is “shocked” and notes that he never did like the Mayor; we now have personalities introduced to a sticky legal case.


Planning department and council talked past each other on this project. Did the city manager not see the disconnection? Apparently not.

How did this mess happen?
A regular reader, who is not identified for good reasons, wrote some comments that are strong enough to be passed along.

The writer is well qualified to make the comments:

“It’s obvious the city has a monumental challenge at the OMB, having to hire outside planners against the staff recommendation.

“I found watching the meetings on video revealing and alarming at how decisions are made at city hall. What struck me is how the planning department and council talked past each other, not understanding what the other was saying and what they were agreeing to. The planning department was presenting a new approach to handle the application – yet no one seems to have a hand on the tiller, guiding the process so ensure good decision making and mitigate the city’s risk.


Director of Planning Mary Lou Tanner

“Back at the July 11, 2016 meeting, the Planning Director was clear what she was asking for. Her focus was on seven design principles she identified and pointed out that she did not yet have agreement with Adi because two of these principles were not yet met:

Principle 5 – Implement tall building best practices. The modified design recommendations from staff (below) achieve this principle.

Principle 6 – Provide appropriate transitions between buildings. This is achieved with the modified design recommendations.

“She was asking council members to endorse the design approach and recommendations and direct staff to prepare an official plan and zoning bylaw amendment subject to these design recommendations (i.e. the remaining two principles) being met.

“When the majority of council voted in favour of the Planning Director’s requests, she thought she had their support to negotiate with ADI to make these design changes and develop recommendations based on the outcome of these negotiations.

Lots of talking; not enough listening.

“Back at the July 11, 2016 meeting, a few council members, including the Ward 6 councillor, expressed concern about the tower height. However, the report they approved never committed to reviewing the number of storeys, only “to optimize building placement and ensure an appropriate fit and transition in scale.”


Is this city council so deeply into a group think that they no longer know ho to listen?

“People were talking around the horseshoe, but seems like there was not enough listening. With no amendments to the report, it’s surprising that council would be surprised that the December report contained no changes to the number of storeys.

“Most of council didn’t seem to know what they were voting for, given the comments that this was just “going forward for discussion”. It wasn’t – the planning director was asking for approval to negotiate several design changes – but nothing to do with height – and in fact she did just that and brought back the file for approval. Their approval set off the chain of events that directly lead to Adi appealing to the OMB. We’re now in the soup we’re in because of that ill-considered decision and poorly thought through process.

“The director of planning never corrected the statements that this report was “just to continue discussions:” She should have been very clear about what she was asking. That lulled everyone, including the public, into thinking substantive changes were coming when clearly they were not – only the two design tweaks staff mentioned in the report. So the public didn’t show up in force till the 11th hour, and then council flips because as Tom Muir said, “it’s politics stupid”.

“Meanwhile, the public was ignored for months – with many council members waking up to their firm opposition only at the December meeting.

The lesson here is to:

a) know what you’re voting on;

b) get the public involved EARLY not at the end. I suspect (hope) this is the first and last time this process will be followed on a planning file given the mess it has created.

Chasing the shiny new object:

“The Planning Director’s recommendations were based on the Tall Building Guidelines – not the Official Plan or public input.

“The influence of outside consultants like Brent Toderian are obvious. From a professional perspective, city planners are captivated by the Vancouverism urban form, which they regard as the exciting, fresh approach to planning. They’re keen to import his thinking to Burlington.

“The Planning Director rushed through these guidelines earlier in the year, with most of council supporting her request, with only an “interim” proviso slapped on it.

“However, no effort was expended to get public input. Planning staff calls them “best practices”, but the guidelines have never been evaluated or debated to determine if Vancouver’s urban form is right for Burlington neighborhoods.

“An honest discussion on intensification desperately needed. This slipshod decision-making process is in the context of never having a healthy public discussion and getting broader buy-in on the right kind of intensification for Burlington.


Consultant Brent Toderian – the chief evangelist for the tall narrow buildings on a podium-planning model.

“The mayor had a “rah-rah” presentation at his Inspire Series – leaning heavily on Brent Toderian – the chief evangelist for the tall narrow buildings on a podium-planning model.

“We should be asking if intensification is the city’s highest ambition, or is it simply a means to a higher goal. Instead all we get are the empty “Grow Bold” platitudes.

“The lack of clarity on the meaning and limits of intensification, the disregard for the Official Plan and the embrace of the Tall Building Guidelines, coupled with the public being bypassed raises concerns about the nature of the relationship between the city’s planning department and the development industry.

“These factors breed uncertainty in our community for who decides what gets developed where.

“Once again, I wonder whose city is it?”


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5 comments to While the city figures out which lawyers will represent them at the OMB hearing on the Adi development in Alton, a citizen reflects on how we got into this mess.

  • I'm alright now

    To paraphrase the old adage; “Those who can, build. Those who can’t, become city planners and the the ones who can do neither become City Councillors.”

    There is a very clear message underlying all the credentials on Council. All the councillors seem to be well educated but poorly learned. Unfortunately because of their credentials and experience they are entirely unprepared or unwilling to learn on basis they believe that they know it all.

    Burlington goes to the OMB and loses more often that the Toronto Maple Leafs, but right next door in Oakville they can and do often win their cases defending their plan, perhaps we should recruit from Oakville some much needed talent as our bench is weak to say the least on every front.

  • C Jester

    It’s bad enough that city councillors can’t play nice in the sandbox with their castles. Looks like the planners want to add their own castles. Will the Ontario Municipal Bully come and kick sand in all their faces?

  • Ken

    I would agree with most or at least a large part of this article.

    However, being on the ground here in Alton Village and have done extensive reading of the Official Plan, the Strategic Plan and all the supporting documents including Grow Bold and the COB intensification documents I have a number of meaningful differences to express.

    First and foremost there is no way this project in its “negotiated” form would ever pass a “gut check” with any reasonable Burlington suburbanite. The proposed development adds 600 units to a community of 2800 homes. The intensification is double the original planning in a community where resources and infrastructure are already stretched. The proposal goes from single family homes across the street to twin 19 storey towers. There was never a good explanation as to why this was considered “good planning”. I’m outraged (no the community is outraged) by this complete lack of judgement. I’m personally going to support with money and door knocking/campaigning any candidate who will support the removal of Head of Planning Mary Lou Tanner and City Manager James Ridge.

    Secondly, I would have to conclude that no one except Mead Ward likes their job on Council. The current council got us into this mess and we in Alton Village are likely going to suffer and suffer a lot. Council has vigorously accepted the recommendations of the Planning department including Intensification the Mobility Hubs and Secondary Intensification all lending itself to fiascos like this.

    I’m not anti-growth or anti-intensification. Like a hammer you can build a house (good) or nail your thumb (bad). In either case it’s not the hammer that’s at fault but the execution. The COB Planning department is supposedly taking its cue from the Provincial government. This is a laughable excuse as the Liberals are dangling from a thread and anyone can see ignoring these Metrolinx fools and their political chums would be wise.

    Oh? Unless of course your initials are M.L.T. or J.R.

  • The “disconnect” is that the council more or less it trying to react to the sentiment of the people in Burlington.

    The city planners are executing “place to grow” over the objections of the people in Burlington.

  • Jane

    I sure hope “the regular reader” that submitted their thoughts and observations will consider running for Council next term. The plot thickens…