Last week, your Burlington City Council voted to revise the Adopted Official Plan approved in 2018 by the previous city council. That plan would have seen more than 30 new high rise towers in the downtown area – including one in the middle of Village Square. The community soundly rejected that plan in the last municipal election, returning a new mayor and five new members of council to work on a more reasonable plan for downtown.
Your new council delivered. Council retained independent consultant, SGL Planning & Design Inc., to review the Adopted Official Plan for the downtown. After a year of review and consultation, and public input on two concepts for downtown, the consultant and staff recommended a preferred concept for the downtown.
Council debated the concept Jan. 16 and approved the new concept on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. City planning staff, working with SGL Planning and Design, will now begin developing detailed policies to implement the endorsed land use vision and built form concept for the downtown.
PUBLIC FEEDBACK ON DETAILED POLICIES
These will be presented to Council in April 2020. Members of the public can still provide comments that will inform the project. Comments must be submitted no later than Friday, Feb. 14, 2020:
- By email to email@example.com
- By mail or in person to “Taking a Closer Look at the Downtown”, care of Thomas Douglas, Planner, Community Planning Department, 426 Brant St, L7R 3Z6.
Once adopted by council, the policies will go to Halton Region for review, modifications (if any) and approval, expected some time in the Spring.
The new concept significantly reduces overdevelopment in the Adopted Plan and even improves on the existing, in force, Official Plan. Among the changes:
- Village Square, where the Adopted Official Plan called for a 17 storey tower, and the existing Official Plan provided for four to eight storeys, now has it’s own “precinct” limited to three storeys.
- The foot of Burlington Avenue and Lakeshore Road, which was a highrise “apartment” district in the existing Official Plan, and up to six storeys in the Adopted Official Plan, is now three storeys, to better transition to the low density, historic St. Luke’s neighbourhood in behind.
- Brant Street, which was up to 17 storeys in the Adopted Official Plan, and 4 to 8 storeys in the existing Official Plan, is now three storeys along Brant, to retain the small-town character at street level, rising to 11 storeys, 20 metres back from Brant.
- Highrises are directed further North on Brant, to Brant and Ghent where there are existing 19 storey buildings. The current Official Plan calls for six here, and both the Adopted Official Plan and new concept upzones this area to 25 storeys, scaling down to existing low density neighbourhoods to the South and East.
There is one area where additional work is required, and that’s the Downtown East Side, roughly bounded by John St. East to Martha St., and Caroline St. South to James St. (Pink area on the map). In the new concept, this area calls for 17 storeys, same as the Adopted Official Plan. The current Official Plan provides for four to eight storeys.
I question the need to significantly upzone this area (more than double in height!). The consultant’s report says that mid-rise can work here, and deliver office development.
In addition, there is much to potentially lose with such a significant upzoning. This area contains heritage buildings that are not protected from demolition by being designated under the Ontario Heritage Act; a community park; and public service uses (two churches, Sea Cadet hall, Reach Out Centre for Kids) which may be lost or reduced if a highrise takes their place. In addition, there is a historic streetscape that is worth protecting.
Even much larger cities than Burlington recognize there are areas within their communities worth protecting and preserving with a small town feel. In Toronto, Liberty Village, the Distillery District, or Cabbagtown come to mind. Protected historic districts within growing urban centres are essential, and reflect good planning. Land use planning is all about what goes where, and how much of what goes where. And that’s the conversation we’re having about downtown.
That’s why it so important to direct new growth to the best places while also protecting areas of the city, like downtown, where we want to preserve history and small town character. The downtown is less than 1% of our land area. There are plenty of other places to accommodate population and job growth, particularly around our GO stations, that won’t destroy our heritage. Read more about these areas below.
So I’ve asked staff to further examine the Downtown East Side and consider ways to protect the park, heritage, streetscape and public service assets when they bring policies back in April. For more information, see my video here: Update on Official Plan
Further, we don’t need to upzone areas to meet growth targets for the downtown, which is designated an Urban Growth Centre. Provincial policy requires a minimum of 200 people or jobs per hectare in the UGC by 2031. According to a Growth Analysis Study, the current, in force Official Plan will deliver 258 people or jobs per hectare, and according to a market assessment of what is likely to be built by 2031, we will achieve 213 people or jobs. We are at roughly 188 now.
There is no need to overdevelop downtown; with what is already approved and under construction, we will surpass the UGC target in provincial policy.
The UGC designation and density target, along with the Major Transit Station Area designation, have both been used to justify overdevelopment downtown. That’s why one of our steps is to review these designations.
We have come a long way in regaining a community vision for downtown and managing overdevelopment. This is much better than what was previously in the adopted Official Plan and in some cases, the existing Official Plan. The downtown is a walkable, dense, complete community. We don’t want to wreck it, we want to export it — take what we have and bring it to our GO stations where we know the next wave of population and job growth will and should be. The work we’ve gone through positions us well for our next step to review the Downtown Major Transit Station Area and Urban Growth Centre designations.
- Burlington’s Path to Controlling Overdevelopment, Enshrining a Community Vision for Downtown & our City
- Video Update: Progress on Burlington’s Downtown Official Plan Policies
- Findings recommendations from Interim Control Bylaw Land (ICBL) Use Study Approved by Burlington Council
*Posted by John Bkila, Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist.