Burlington’s Official Plan Adopted in 6 to 1 vote.

It will deliver a future city that erodes what makes Burlington unique and special

Burlington downtown parksBurlington’s new official plan was adopted by council today by a 6-1 vote. Though council supported over two dozen motions I brought or co-sponsored to make the plan better, the plan as it stands represents overintensification: in the downtown, the GO stations and established neighbourhoods. It will deliver a future city that erodes what makes Burlington unique and special, what we love about our city, and why we live, work, play here and welcome new residents who come every year, drawn by our great city to join us.

In the focus on quantity of people (which goes well beyond our growth requirements from the province), our quality of life is at stake.

What’s next? The plan goes to the Region of Halton for approval. Amendments can still be made to the plan by this council – or the next – to scale it back.

More to come.

Written by 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.

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  1. I agree with Dave. Why can’t we vote for all council as they each have a vote in all wards.
    I think that would be more balanced. Marianne?

    • Mozelle, Certainly open to this; it would make each council member accountable to every resident. There is a process a new council could follow in the next term to make this happen, should the public support this.

  2. What I find very frustrating is the fact that I can vote for mayor and only one councillor. The other five councillors do not represent me. I would like to all councillors on the ballot as well as mayor. That would be more democratic than what we have now.

  3. As opposed to the enlightened, educated and visionary corporate city-builders, I belong to the masses, therefore I am “frightened”, I am “misinformed”, I am “uneducated”, and I suffer for some kind of “metropolisofobia”.

    As such an uneducated person I read the Plan to educate myself and I found it as a boring lecture. It is full of slogans and abstract thinking serving the profitable acceleration of overdevelopment only, without specific planning for infrastructure, public transportation, job creation, health services, education faculties, recreation, aging population needs, just to mention the most important items of an “uneducated” plan. If somebody would say that it is the next stage of planning, so in my “frightened” world, this would be really frightening. All of it should be an integral part of an Official Plan.

    But why to bother much about this document.

    We all; the “frightened” masses know, that all the public meetings, organized to express the voice of the people (known in past literature as “vox populi”), all the official documents like i.e. the Official Plan, all the baylaws, even all the democratically elected City representatives; all that is only a facade.

    As an example: The last Official Plan allowed for 4-8 storey at the downtown area, the just so quickly approved OP designates the area for 17 storey, but the OMB was even more “enlightened”, “visionary” and “avangarde” before: they approved 26 storey building at Lakeshore and Martha.

    The real power is money. And this is really, seriously very frightening.

    It is actually very fortunate that the approval process of the OP and the 6-1 voting happened before fall elections. Now it will be time for the “misinformed” to vote.

    Thank you 100 times Marianne, for your passion for our City!

  4. We, as citizens of Burlington, are been ignored by the councillors (except Marianne). We will remember in this upcoming election. Thanks Marianne for your dedication and honesty.

  5. Thanks to the efforts of Marianne, other Council members and building on countless feedback from citizens all over Burlington, a plan which has taken 7 years of studies, analysis and reports is finally moving forward. This new Official Plan follows in the directions set out in the Strategic Plan which Council passed unanimously in 2016. It sets up Burlington for significant transformation, changing from a suburb to a real urban place. As City Manager James Ridge put it, “This is the first post-sprawl 905 OP”.

    While it’s understandable that that change is frightening to many citizens, It provides a building block which enables us to meet the city’s key challenges of the 21st century.

    Meeting our obligations when it comes to climate change.

    Enabling the compact growth that will keep our future infrastructure costs in line and help us to keep our infrastructure maintained over the long term.

    Putting us on the path to sufficient density to support a transit system that is a real alternative for citizens.

    Supporting a variety of housing choices which will enable us to address our demographic challenges and strengthening our local businesses.

    Enabling us to get up to date with the significant changes impacting the financial and real estate markets.

    This is a milestone we citizens can be proud of, but the work’s doesn’t end here. We need to complete the plans which reimagine transit and transportation. We need to figure out how the Mobility Hubs will evolve in much more detail. We need to work on bringing not just more people, but more jobs to downtown. We need to plan for taking care of the needs of our seniors as they advance in age. And we need zoning and bylaws updated to meet the directions of the Strategic Plan and the Official Plan. It’s a long road, which doesn’t end here. The OP is a big step forward on that road and Burlington citizens should be proud of all the efforts made to improve and refine this plan.

    • Chris,

      You’ve provided an accurate articulation of the city’s talking points. You’ve even captured – I’m sure without intention – their condescending tone. Those for the plan are enlightened city-builders; those opposed are frightened of change.

      The seven year argument has been deconstructed so many times – I’m not sure why you repeat it. The downtown plan for 27 highrises was only made public in November. It was only the Ward 2 councillor who brought it to our attention. Council then speedily moved to approve it in early February, keeping the November submission largely intact despite widespread objections.

      Over-intensifying neighbourhoods with reduced development setbacks and the reduction of our natural environment is hardly a good response to climate change – flooding will be a regular feature of our lives.

      Housing will not be more affordable in Burlington with more housing choices – new condo and townhouse developments are selling for $900,000. The land speculation frenzy means we’ll have much more high-priced housing packed in the same space

      Transit, parkland access and community amenities should have been a part of the planning from the beginning but was not considered. Our sage city builders created a plan that only measured quantity of people because intensification is their only measurable goal. Transit, transportation, jobs, seniors needs are only dreamy notions you and they promise will one day come.

      • Steve, if I’ve echoed the city’s talking points, it’s because I believe that these are important things to consider when it comes to defining the future of our city.

        Look, the OP is not perfect, and as Marianne states, there will still be opportunities to both enhance and add the more detailed elements (including transit) before the Region approves the plan in 2019.

        But it does build on the framework of the 25 year Strategic Plan that the city adopted in 2016.

        I believe residents want to make the OP better, not throw it away. And to a large extent we’ve done that and we should be proud of those efforts. Did everyone get everything they want? No. But by and large we have a comprehensive plan that puts us in good stead to make the transformation of Burlington that was envisioned in our Strategic Plan, happen. While it’s about so much more than height, it is clear that more tall buildings are going to be part of that process. The unwanted OMB decision on Martha St. being the notable exception. The tall buildings we have already (and have had since the 60’s) in the Downtown haven’t ruined Burlington, and some of the residents who don’t want intensification now call those buildings home.

        And we absolutely do need a variety of housing choices in this city to enable young people to move here, start lives, support our local businesses and add their entreprenurial spirit to create more jobs. We aren’t making more single-family homes, nor are young people in the market for them. Apartments (both rental and owned), semis, duplex/triplex and towns are going to have to be available as options, convenient to transit so residents have the ability to choose not to be car dependent. Right now the developers are focusing on the well-off and established 55+, which means not only higher prices, but declining population, declining wealth and declining jobs if we can’t get out front of the trend.

        I’m not promising or suggesting that there’s a promise of anything. Reducing our CO2 emissions, providing better transit, building downtown jobs and meeting the needs of seniors all require a lot more hard work on the part of the community, and on the part of the city’s staff. That’s why I’m eager to put this chapter behind and say that it is time for us to get on with that equally-important work.

        • Chris,

          Your thoughts clearly show your enchantment with city hall thinking, repeating their planning abstractions which have no connection with citizen’s lived experiences. The smell of “Le Corbusier” rational condescension is in the air, violently re-defining our city with technocratic planning methods built through computer-generated tools, all while ignoring the masses because we are misinformed and “frightened”.

          Offering the argument that the Official Plan “puts us in good stead” because it conforms with the Strategic Plan says everything about how removed city hall and its acolytes are from the daily life of the people.

          The rapid acceleration of development because of the increased profitability for developers leads to neighbourhood gentrification that rips out the character of community, while increasing housing costs as newer developments will be much more expensive than existing housing stock.

          The end-point for the Official Plan should have been about how we create a greater community for its citizens through improved transit, parks, community amenities, environmental sustainability, support for families and seniors, etc. Then we determine how intensification supports that. Sadly, you and the planning department have it backwards, with the watered down promise these goals will be met later. It will be hard to undo the damage given how deep the the developers pockets are.

          Nevertheless, there have been citizen movements against the soul-destroying efforts of the planning technocrats. The time is now for Burlington to take up the fight.

          • Steve…what do you think of the Strategic Plan? Our city’s goals are well-stated in that document, which was passed unanimously by Council, and by my recollection, it came about as a result of staff asking us citizens what mattered to us over the course of 2015 and 2016. Not removed from the daily life of the people, but informed and guided by it. They’re not some soul-destroying borg…they’re executing the will expressed by the people. People who will continue to shape and evolve the OP and the plans to feed into it.

            It’s a two-way street, they need to respect our wishes, our needs and our experiences, and we need to respect their professional insight and knowledge of how to deliver what we’ve said we want.

          • Chris,

            With each of your posts, I am astonished at how faithful you are to the city hall’s messages – word for word. You seem sincere but unable to express ideas apart from the city’s position.

            I don’t think much of the Strategic Plan. If staff were listening to its citizens (which I doubt given their track record of tuning us out on the downtown plan and the 23 storey building approval), our ideas and aspirations were turned into vague platitudes and unaccountable outcomes. The plan with a 25 horizon reflects incremental thinking and existing city hall agendas.

            Here is a sampling of what’s wrong with the plan:

            – Specifically, the prosperity corridors initiative reinforces sprawl through separated land-use;
            – Goals are inconsistently written with many really as initiatives, e.g. “walkability score tool”;
            – The goals are vague: “Recreation and sports programs are widely available to all residents through both the City of Burlington and partners in the community”; “The city’s urban forest and tree canopy has increased and continues to thrive.”;
            – Initiatives are inconsistently written: some describe the “how”, others describe the “what”; some are goals, some are actions (this one stands out as an activity, being vague and making an initiative as an initiative, “The city will develop and put in place initiatives that support and empower community building at the neighbourhood level. An initial report will be provided to Council in the context of the 2016 budget.”);
            – Many of the initiatives are to create “strategic plans” (technocratic thinking love planning for plans);
            – The initiatives are so vague, they meaningless: “Make it easier for businesses to locate in Burlington, attracting more investment”; “The city will encourage better collaboration and co-ordination among existing and new cultural partners”
            – The initiatives reflect unimaginative thinking or about what they’re already doing: “Build one brand for the city”; “The city will continue to implement initiatives in the Cultural Action Plan”
            – Progress indicators are well beyond the city’s control and therefore they’re not accountable (e.g. median household income, median age)
            – Progress indicators make no commitment for what the city is aiming for, (“Population by demographics”, “housing size”, “labour force by industry”, “Percentage of families with low income”, “General measures of volunteerism”, “State of city infrastructure indicators, such as pavement quality index and facility condition index”).
            – As I’ve said before, they’ve treated intensification as a goal; it should never be a goal, it should be a means to a higher aspiration.

            If citizens had written the 25-year plan, it would be bolder and more imaginative than this lifeless plan. It would reflect aspirations for a place where we want to live, not simply reflect senior staffs’ existing workplan.

            I was bored re-reading this document, not at all inspired or hopeful for the future of this city.

          • Steve, I agree with your assessment of the Prosperity Corridor component, there’s still a large degree of reliance on the old highway-centric thinking there that serves to cloud the overall vision.

            And true, many goals are vague and refer to planning efforts that are already or soon to be in flight. Most of the progress indicators cited are self-evident and not specific at this stage. Which, at this high level, I’m perfectly fine with. Setting all of the specific benchmarks require much more in the way of decision-making in consultation with the community.

            With respect to intensification, the crux of the matter is, how we grow. Do we grow the way we’ve been growing since the 50’s, by paving over acres of greenspace at the edge of the city, building more roads, more lanes, more highways? Keep digging ourselves a bigger fiscal and environmental hole? Lose the rural character of North Burlington?

            Not growing is also an option – albeit one that pits us against senior levels of government. One that means we have to raise taxes immensely just to keep up with the maintenance on the infrastructure we have. And watch as opportunities for young people and employment disappear. Let Burlington become the ‘old folks home’, while our schools close and our roads and sewers crumble.

            To avoid both of those unpalatable options, and remain the kind of place where people want to live, we have little choice but to grow within our existing footprint. That’s the why behind intensification. Even ECOB recognizes that we need to intensify. We have to take all of these systems, plans, language and culture which have all been developed and oriented towards the sprawl form of growth, and point them towards growing within our existing footprint and figure out where that growth is most suitable and likely to happen. It’s a herculean task. But without intensification it is clear we are unlikely to meet any of our other goals as a city.

          • Chris,

            Those of us resisting the plan the city wants to foist on us and you are evangelizing for are not opposed to growth. Their/your misunderstanding comes out of living in an echo chamber, incorrectly assigning us labels that we’re frightened of change.

            We have higher aspirations and ambitions for our city than what the city offers. We’re not as fatalistic as you are that we live in a binary world where not accepting the city’s plan inevitably leads to our decay.

            Give people more credit, actively listen to what we’re saying and stop the condescension.

            Over and out.

  6. How many residents knew that this would be voted on today, or that they could have delegated today? The Clerk on Tuesday indicated that April 30th was on the calendar to vote, if it could not be done on April 25th. Did councillors not want to have to deal with perhaps more emails over the weekend or listen to more delegations on the 30th.

    The transparency of how this process evolved needs to be questioned.

    This is not over yet, and also residents will have a final say in October.

  7. Marianne, thank you for your unending efforts. Sitting at the meeting the other night I couldn’t help but wonder how you do that job… I salute you. I’m not surprised at the results.
    Thanks once again.

  8. To you and all those who have worked , researched and delegated on our behalf thank you .
    We will now work hard in our way to reciprocate those efforts as the next election approaches.
    “It ain’t over…..”

  9. Keep up the good work Marianne, I don’t know what polls say, but I would say the majority are behind you and your efforts on the people’s behalf.

  10. Sad result but not unexpected. Thank you councillor for being an unstinting voice for those citizens whom council voted against today.
    “The purpose of debate is not to win or lose but to make progress.”
    Progress is not always linear, but you continue to move the needle in that direction for us. THANK YOU.

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