Newsletter Signup

Are up to 30 more highrises planned for downtown? Yes. Get the facts here.


The biggest issue in this election is overdevelopment across our city: from Aldershot to Alton, Dynes Road to downtown, Brant Street to BlueWater Place, Orchard to Lakeside Plaza.

Ask every candidate: what’s your platform on development? For incumbents, is their platform matched by their voting record?

Everything in our platform, brochure and online forums are verifiable by evidence. We back our statements up with facts. (Don’t believe the personal attacks out there, including in a recent video by the current mayor.)

So let’s get started.

A key question I hear from residents across Burlington is: “are there really up to 30 more highrises planned for downtown?”


Here are the facts.

Council recently approved a new Official Plan for the city, 6-1. I did not support it.

The new plan would allow up to 30 highrises downtown (anything 12 storeys and higher).

The map is below, with a link to the staff generated plan, along with a background explanation.


Appendix F of the staff report presented to the Jan. 23, 2018 Planning & Development Committee on the new Official Plan provides a site plan layout of what the downtown would look like at full “build out” under this new plan. You can find the map here, labelled “Plan of primary downtown redevelopment sites at build out”:

Appendix F: 2D Plan of primary downtown redevelopment sites at  build out

Count the number of buildings in the plan 12 storeys and over. There are 30. This includes a 17 storey building in the middle of Village Square (so long as the buildings along the street are preserved).

The new downtown plan increases height permissions by 2, 3, 4 times what is permitted now, particularly on Brant St, and east of Brant St. What was permitted for 4 storeys, up to 8 with provision of community benefits, is now 12-17.

In some areas the heights are up to 25 storeys.

What’s Changed?

You can see a breakdown of the plan here, showing changes in heights for different areas of downtown, from the current plan, to the new plan.

Appendix G: Block by Block current vs proposed precincts and maximum building heights

The block diagram notes only the maximum heights available (8 storeys, but only with community benefits) not the range of 4-8 noted in the existing plan. (See the asterix on the block diagram below for further explanation of this.)

I didn’t support this plan as I think it’s overdevelopment.

Doesn’t the province make us do this?

You will have heard throughout the campaign that the province “forced our community to grow” in ways that don’t reflect our values.

In fact, local city councils determine how to implement provincial policy, and the Official Plan is the most important tool for how to do that.

The staff report (page 12) for the 23 storey building approved at Brant and James states that “Comprehensive, integrated and long-term planning is best achieved through official plans. Official plans shall identify provincial interests and set out appropriate land use designations and policies. Official plans shall provide clear, reasonable and attainable policies to protect provincial interests and direct development to suitable areas.”

So, we have the tools to manage our growth and direct it to suitable areas, by majority vote on council. Also we’re meeting our growth targets, so no need for overdevelopment downtown. More on that below.

So our own Official Plan sets the stage for what can be built. It indicates to developers what’s possible. They submit applications based on the plan. Often, based on recent history, the applications are well beyond the plan. If a development application conforms to city permissions as outlined in the Official Plan, we would have difficulty turning it down or winning an appeal.

In fact there have been no recent applications or developments in downtown Burlington for less than what is permitted. As former Burlington mayor Mary Munro noted when she endorsed me for mayor: “City Council treats our Official Plan and Zoning By-Law’s as merely a starting point for negotiations with developers.”

Also, there’s pressure to protect “development rights” when approving applications. We saw that recently with the approval of a 23 storey building across from City Hall (I did not support). The Official Plan here allowed 12 storeys on one of the five assembled properties, 4-8 storeys on the balance. One of the arguments offered for supporting 23 storeys was to have a taller, more slender building that provided the same amount of square footage (development rights) as a 12 storey building over the site.

So the approval in part was to protect the “development rights” as spelled out in the Official Plan permissions.

The new plan contains a lot of potential development rights that we’d be under pressure to protect with submitted future applications.

Meeting and exceeding growth targets

So, the bottom line is this: the new Official Plan sets the stage for the future of downtown Burlington, and that future translates into unnecessary overdevelopment – unnecessary because we are already meeting or exceeding growth forecasts set by the province for downtown, and the whole city. This has been verified in staff analysis of development applications, and by the Census. Our forecast for city growth is 185,000 by 2031; as of the 2016 Census, we were at 183,000.

Our growth forecast for downtown Burlington is 200 people or jobs per hectare by 2031; we are currently at 174 people or jobs.

A detailed analysis of the population forecasts and our progress toward meeting them was provided in the staff report for the 23 storey building (page 23).

The conclusion from staff: “The City only needs roughly 60% of the people and jobs proposed through development applications and development pre-consultations to achieve the minimum density target in the UGC. Further, additional development proposals and applications may come forward in the next 14 years to further contribute to the City’s growth projections. As such, it is staff’s opinion that the City of Burlington is well positioned to achieve a total of 200 residents and jobs per hectares by 2031.”

Conclusions: we are well positioned to meet or exceed population forecasts under the existing plan.

The report notes that the targets are “minimums.” The Official Plan is tied to infrastructure, so if there are significant deviations from the Plan (2, 3, 4, times what’s required), we don’t have the infrastructure in place to support the growth.

Development charges collected on each new unit of housing are also closely tied to population forecasts and are also based on planned infrastructure needed to support growth, which includes community amenities as well as roads and sewers. If we significantly deviate from those population forecasts, we are not collecting enough development charges, and the current taxpayers will get the bill for the difference.

So it’s critical to stick closely to our population forecasts.

Finally, elected officials can’t blame the province for their own decisions related to the Official Plan, or for their own votes in favour of overdevelopment that takes us beyond provincial growth requirements.

So, what can we do?

One of my first priorities as your new mayor is to work with the new council to get the four votes needed to amend the new Official Plan to restore a mid-rise character downtown (4-8 storeys). We have a chance to make this change, with a new mayor and three new members of council: Ward 1 and 3 councillors retiring, my seat vacant. With a new mayor, that’s a potential majority of four out of seven.

There are candidates running in each of the ward races (including against incumbents running for reelection) who have said in their own platform they are also concerned about overdevelopment in the city and downtown, with some pledging to amend the Official Plan.

I am the only candidate for mayor who has said I will work with the new council to try to amend Official Plan.

Choose well this election.

And, always check the facts. Got a question about any part of our platform? Let me know and we’ll send the source material.



5 thoughts on “Are up to 30 more highrises planned for downtown? Yes. Get the facts here.”

  1. Thank you Marianne, for clearly communicating the fundamental problem that Burlington’s current Council (you excepted) & Planning Department has created. I know that this information is focused on our downtown, but we would be naive to think that what happens downtown will not impact most other parts of Burlington (i.e. traffic). If our Official Plan is not significantly scaled back now, a doomsday scenario with traffic gridlock, continuous construction noise/ air pollution, and loss of “community” could unfold, jeopardizing most if not all of Burlington residents’ “quality of life” in the medium term. I hope that a sufficient portion of the electorate understands what’s truly at stake, and joins me in voting for you as Mayor next Monday.

What's your take?

Here are guidelines before you comment, and our expectations before we will post:

  • Be civil. Would you speak this way to a good friend? If not, rewrite.
  • Focus on the issues. Build your argument and make your case in support of your opinion from facts, research or other sources. That way we can all learn. “I disagree with so-and-so because…” is fine; “So-and-so is naïve/stupid  for thinking the way he/she does and here’s why…” is not acceptable.
  • Don’t make personal attacks. Don’t assume motives of those you disagree with, make unfounded allegations, spread rumours, or engage in any other behaviours that would discourage you from participating if someone said this to, or about, you. The Golden Rule applies: Do unto others as you would have done to you. We will edit or not post comments with this type of content.
  • Say it once: When comments from the same individual or individuals become repetitive, going over ground already stated, we reserve the right to close commenting.
  • Use your full, and real, name. If wish to make a comment in public, we expect you will publicly stand behind it with your name. If you don’t want to publicly reveal your name, that’s fine; you are always welcome to share your thoughts with me privately via my email below. I welcome and consider all feedback in making decisions for the community.
  • Have fun, consider and learn. Share your views and read those of others. May we all benefit from a healthy exchange of ideas, and learn a little more about the people in our community, what you think, and what’s important to each of you. You may end up changing your mind about an issue; even if you don’t, we hope everyone will gain a greater understanding of why people have different perspectives.
Marianne Meed Ward

Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made. As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington. The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful. Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:

Newsletter Sign Up

Phone: 905-335-7607

Constituent Assistant: Annemarie Cumber
905-335-7600, ext. 7689