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City Wants Feedback to Help Refine Downtown Policies in Burlington’s Adopted Official Plan

LOGO_Taking_a_Closer_Look_at_the_Downtown

Please see below a media release from the City of Burlington.

Burlington, Ont. – Aug. 12, 2019 — Earlier this year, Burlington City Council directed City staff to re-examine the downtown policies in Burlington’s adopted Official Plan, including the height and density of buildings. A vote to endorse any changes to the policies that will guide development in the downtown until 2031 will be made by City Council by March 2020.

To include as many voices as possible in this important conversation about the future of the downtown, the City will host a series of public engagement opportunities designed to give the community the chance to provide meaningful input, both online and in person.

“The City is committed to engaging people on issues that affect their lives and their city, and this commitment is reflected in publicly releasing the engagement and communication plan that will guide the conversation about the downtown policies in the adopted Official Plan. We know the planning structure is complex when it comes to long-term planning for the downtown. The engagement plan is designed to not only provide a roadmap of the engagement activities that will take place over the next few months but also highlight and clearly define which aspects of the downtown policies the City and public can influence, so that we can have productive dialogue and provide meaningful input about changes to the downtown policies. The downtown is the core of our city and we would really like to hear from as many different voices as possible, from right across the city, to help us identify what matters most about downtown Burlington.” — Heather MacDonald, Director and Chief Planner, Department of City Building

How to Participate

Residents and others interested in the re-examination of the downtown policies in the adopted Official Plan are encouraged to:

1. Visit www.getinvolvedburlington.ca to:

  • Learn more about the re-examination of the downtown policies in the adopted Official Plan;
  • Read the engagement and communications plan supporting this project; and
  • Sign up to receive project updates.

2. Lend Your Voice

To help identify what matters most about downtown Burlington, the City will host two Citizen Action Labs on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019.

At these in-person, public sessions, participants will work in small groups to discuss and identify what is most important to them about downtown Burlington. The feedback gathered will be used to inform the creation of two concepts of what the downtown could look like in the future. These concepts will be shared with the public in October for further review and input.

WHAT: Citizen Action Labs: Taking a Closer Look at the Downtown
WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 22

1-3 p.m.

or

7-9 p.m.

WHERE: Art Gallery of Burlington, 1333 Lakeshore Rd.

3. Participate online
An online survey will be available until Aug. 30 at www.getinvolvedburlington.ca to share input about what matters most about downtown Burlington.

4. Drop by a pop-up event

Throughout the month of August, City staff will be visiting a variety of locations and events in the community to talk with residents and identify what is most important to them about downtown Burlington. A full list of locations and times will be available on www.getinvolvedburlington.ca.

A copy of the engagement and communications plan that will be used to guide the community conversation about the re-examination of the downtown policies in the adopted Official Plan will be available to the public at www.getinvolvedburlington.ca.

Quick Facts

  • An Official Plan (OP) is a statutory document that describes the city’s long-term land use and infrastructure strategy, dealing with issues such as the form and location of new housing, industries, offices, shops and elements of complete communities like parks and open space. In April 2018, City Council adopted a new Official Plan for Burlington.
  • On Feb. 7, 2019, Burlington City Council voted to re-examine the policies in Burlington’s Official Plan, adopted in April 2018.
  • On Monday, March 18, 2019, City staff and members of Burlington City Council discussed the scope of the work for further study at a Committee of the Whole workshop. Through the discussion, it was identified that while Council supports many of the policies in the adopted Official Plan, an area that requires targeted reconsideration is the Downtown Precinct Plan.
  • On May 27, 2019 Council approved the work plan report and the terms of reference for the scoped re-examination of the adopted Official Plan.
  • On June 11, 2019, A Committee of the Whole workshop was held to assist in the creation of a community engagement plan for the re-examination of the adopted Official Plan.

MY TAKE:

Burlington residents have consistently raised concerns about over-intensification and development in our City, particularly the downtown. During the 2018 election, they made their voices heard and clearly indicated the need to review the scale and intensity of planned development, especially in the new Official Plan (OP). The review of our adopted OP is the start of getting back on track to building the future Burlington our residents want and getting feedback and input straight from our residents through these engagement events and the online survey will ensure we create policies that we can be proud of and are truly reflective of a community-based vision for our city.

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5 thoughts on “City Wants Feedback to Help Refine Downtown Policies in Burlington’s Adopted Official Plan”

  1. Sharon Hutchinson

    My comment is: what are we trying to establish our downtown to be? Do we want it to be a business “Wall Street”, do we want our main street downtown to be a “WOW” now how great does this look, great planning! Do we want our downtown Brant Street and particular the shops, restaurants, jewellers, stores and businesses with interest to the walking in public, or do we want massive hi-rises accommodating more people that the roads, etc. can’t handle causing angry unhappy people meeting at the coffee shops with nothing but negativeness to the development of our new downtown? Online there are, The 30 Most Beautiful Main Streets Across America. I would think, and probably speaking for all but the City or the Developers that this is what the majority people of Burington want to see for their downtown main street. History, Happiness, Health and great memories going forward is what the downtown should be! Resident hi-rises to be developed in the further out residential areas, and the business aspect of all this should be put near the Convention Center, Hotel, Restaurants, etc. located in the Burlock area near the QEW. We have been told that The City Fathers (Mothers) have the final say as to what actually goes where in our city – they were all voted in to make this a reality. (Our density numbers have been met!)

    1. Hi Sharon,
      This is John Bkila, the Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist. Thank you for commenting on the Mayor’s website and on this particular topic. I encourage to share your comments by participating in the online survey the City of Burlington has set up to hear feedback from citizens at http://www.getinvolvedburlington.ca and/or one of the two Citizen Action Labs the City is hosting on Thursday, Aug. 22 at the Art Gallery of Burlington from 1-3 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., regarding the re-examination of the downtown policies in the adopted Official Plan and to help identify what matters most about downtown Burlington.

      1. Sharon Hutchinson

        Thank you John for your reply. I would appreciate you forwarding my comments to all those involved/concerned as to the thoughts/concerns of citizens giving input into sites such as yours. My thanks!

  2. I have concerns about the consequences for policy changes that arise from the need for the OP having to conform with provincial policy. The primary problem with this arises of course from the key focus on the provincial policies around intensification.

    Staff said above: “In order to achieve success the project team must transparently:– educate and communicate the givens – the plan must conform to provincial policy.”

    Okay, that’s been the problem all along and the previous Council went with this and always told us that the province was making them do what they were doing in the OP. Now, Planning is telling us again that this is true, but the province doesn’t specify exactly what that means.

    However, these provincial policy documents also acknowledge that local official plans are the most important vehicle for implementation of provincial policy.

    Intensification is defined in the City’s OP as:
    “Development or re-development of a property or site within an existing developed area which is proposed to be undertaken at a higher density or intensity than permitted under the existing zoning, and which may include re-development, (including the re-use of brownfield sites), development on vacant and/or underutilized lands, expansion or conversion of existing buildings, addition of dwelling units, or creation of new lots.”

    I think that this definition with no height limit is one part of the city OP policy frame that needs a very close look, especially along with other policies that facilitate intensification, and that are feeding the loss of control and over-development applications that have led to where we are.

    These facilitating policies can be easily seen in the OP as it is riddled with “notwithstanding clauses”, and “site specific exception” clauses, defining policies that every application in Ward 1, and for that matter, everywhere in the city that I am aware of, comes forward with in the planning and policy justification documents submitted with applications.

    Nobody asks for nominal permissions any more, but there is no limiting policy for control.These appear to be the source of the over-development applications.

    I think that this entails serious pitfalls, and needs to be reviewed closely, and revised to remove developer incentives to use it to try and get innumerable variances, amendments, and non-compliance specifications with the base OP and zoning by-law permissions that normally pertain to the development application.

    In the specific examples in Ward 1, this allows the applicant to ask for many amendments to change (decrease or increase as relevant) many permissions for heights, FAR, density, setbacks, parking standards, amenity areas, green-space, and so on, that are not in compliance with the OP and bylaws as nominally written.

    I am concerned that this device allows developers to turn every application into an argument, and an arbitrary negotiation, attempting to get more than what the OP permissions are as written and intended to apply.

    To me, this means that the OP is turned into an outright bargaining instrument, and not in keeping with an objective rules document intended to control and plan how the city develops.

    In the only conversation I had with former City Manager Ridge, he told me that the settlement at 421 Brant St was the result of a “negotiation”, and that the existing OP designed by former Director of Planning Bruce Krushelnicki was intended by him to be just such a negotiation instrument.

    Mr. Ridges lengthy lead delegation on this application was an unusual endorsement of the negotiated settlement, and the following staff recommendation report left many wondering who in planning really wrote and endorsed it.

    The approved application went far and above any written OP, either existing or proposed. It has set a dangerous precedent, with another appeal at 409 Brant St to get the same and/or more approval.

    I think that this is the kind of thinking that everything is negotiable, taken beyond its time, context and compatibility, is what has got us into the situation we are in now. It seems now that anything goes, or there is always the LPAT, as some think.

    The purpose of objectivity in the OP rules is to restrict and limit arbitrariness, and argument, in any development application the developer chooses to apply this site specific exception provision to.

    For example, the adopted but now not Regionally approved OP states that height variances under “Site Specific“ and ”Exception“ variances ”are to be discouraged”. In fact, at present the existing OP and zoning bylaws are in force, and recent applications and approvals have requested amendments such as these, with variances requested to practically everything, and many go beyond permissions contained in the unapproved OP.

    So in fact, rather than “discouraged”, such application specific requests are being “encouraged”, and in some cases have been approved – 421 Brant St, 35 Plains Rd. E,, 92 Plains Rd. E (application), 484 Plains Rd (application), and 2100 Brant St (application).

    As an example of where this can lead, the approval at 35 Plains Rd is an example of the speculative plays that are being encouraged. This 35 Plains Rd site has never seen the approved application built.

    Right now it is a still vacant lot, but with a 72 condo unit approval, it was advertised for sale for $6 million. This was another application approved by planning based on the language of a non-existent and now non-compliant OP, and a still non-existent Mobility Hub concept.

    The former Ward Councilor and Mayor Goldring both spoke highly in favor of this application despite not having an OP to support it, going so far as to approve 9 stories instead of 6 permitted. Only our new Mayor did not support this application, and was the only one that understood what was happening.

    The clearest example of the shaky ground this kind of thinking in the planning documents rests on, is the recent OMB decision on the ADI development on Martha St. This decision overrides both the existing OP and the proposed, unapproved OP.

    In my opinion City planning got it self caught between the languages of the existing OP and the non-existent non-conforming OP and could not come up with a proposal and planning argument to get the OMB chair to consider worthy. This was another indication of the loss of control.

    This shows the subjective and arbitrary way in which both OPs are being systematically ignored and undermined, and how Planning is complicit in this.

    I think that if this OP and Planning matter is left as big an intensification facilitating mess as it is, in the future it will be subject to this continued abuse and will result in over-development, over-intensification and a lack of objective compatibility that planning rules are supposed to achieve.

    If each application is considered on a site specific basis, with exceptions especially, then the planning control intentions of the OP are lost in a sort of arbitrary interpretation, redundant argumentation, and chaos.

    If the developers choose to apply under this basis, the objectivity goes out the window, as the developers can easily find a consultant to write a planning justification biased to support the applications. This is their standard operating procedure and why I don’t trust the planners.

    II don’t have confidence that the city Planning Dept. is equipped or capable of dealing with this situation in an objective, enforce the OP rules way.

    The big question is whether the OP is a substantive, in force and effect document, or is it just a fake, a feckless tool, that allows shortcuts through loopholes that allow the circumvention of the underlying document provisions and permissions.

    This is the kind of thing that undermines public confidence in the integrity of the way that planning decisions based on the existing or proposed OPs are being upheld. If they are not upheld, then that’s why people are asking – why bother having an OP?

    The City cannot allow itself to consistently enter into negotiations for ever more than OP permissions on every application, that then chews up all the timeline to an appeal to LPAT.

    There is far too much money on the table these days, caused by the Grow Bold inflationary expectations created by the last Council and Planning in the development and adoption of a proposed over-development biased OP that is not in compliance with serious practical matters at the Region as we just learned. And not to mention the election results that decisively rejected this very planning and OP model.

    If you read the planning justifications you invariably see references to the language of the unapproved proposed OP and saying these amendments requested reflect where the City is going with respect to development.

    So following where this mentality leads, we see the speculation that feeds the inflationary expectations driven by more and more height and density that creates overwhelming economic forces and pressures that drives out everything in its path. This is what is happening right now.

    In trying to make everything fit, the practical matters of transportation, transit, employment, commercial and retail, necessities of life nearby, traffic, parking and so on cannot just be fixed by reducing all the standards and bylaws to make it look like it will happen.

    We cannot just imagine away practical reality with assumptions.

    The fix is in drafting an OP that has controlling policies that do not lose control in showing how decisions conform with provincial policies.

    Revisions to the definition of intensification and the open-ended entry into site specific exceptions and notwithstanding clauses are the place to start.

    1. Hi Tom,
      This is John Bkila, the Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist. Thank you for commenting on the Mayor’s website and on this particular topic. I encourage to share your comments by participating in the online survey the City of Burlington has set up to hear feedback from citizens at http://www.getinvolvedburlington.ca and/or one of the two Citizen Action Labs the City is hosting on Thursday, Aug. 22 at the Art Gallery of Burlington from 1-3 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., regarding the re-examination of the downtown policies in the adopted Official Plan and to help identify what matters most about downtown Burlington.

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