This morning (Thursday, March 28), we held the first of our events to support the Red Tape Red Carpet Task Force: The Town Hall.
The Red Tape Red Carpet Task Force is an initiative I announced at the State of the City address on January 30th. Its purpose is to use a series of events (town hall, focus groups, and task force sessions) along with other studies, surveys and anecdotal feedback to identify the challenges and obstacles facing growth and relocation of businesses in Burlington, and develop actionable solutions that can be presented to City Council for approval and implementation as soon as possible.
This event was open to all business owners in Burlington, with postcard invitations mailed out in February to all those who are registered as local businesses with Canada Post, along with the event being promoted on both the Mayor’s and City’s website and social media.
Tickets were free although seating was limited in the venue we chose as our host location: The Waterfront Hotel. We were a few seats shy of capacity, with approximately 85 attendees from various industries, business sizes, and backgrounds. It was a diverse crowd ranging from local lawyers and award-winning architects to creative bakery proprietors to entrepreneurs in the health and wellness space and beyond.
Along with my co-chair, Councillor Kelvin Galbraith, I was pleased to welcome everyone and thank them for making time in their day to join us. I then further clarified the purpose, goals and agenda for the 90-minute session.
Staff from the City of Burlington acted as table facilitators and guided attendees through a series of questions aimed at collecting stories, ideas, and insights to better identify what’s working and what’s not when it comes to doing business in Burlington.
- Question 1: What challenges or obstacles have you faced doing business in Burlington?
- Question 2: What are some of the successes you have had?
- Question 3: What are some ideas, solutions or suggestions that can be considered to remove the obstacles?
The group of attendees got off to a quick start brainstorming for a minute on their own, and then began sharing with their table of peers to generate discussion and awareness and build on one another’s comments.
Common themes arose throughout the session, and we were glad to hear that there are some things that are already working well for you. As I said in person to the crowd, we heard you loud and clear that many of you felt you have given the City feedback about your challenges in the past and are frustrated that it did not result in action or improvement. We hear you – and we are committed to doing better. That’s the whole purpose of this initiative.
While it is a lot to digest…in order to keep you fully informed and be transparent about what we are hearing, I’d like to provide a summary of the common themes and feedback we heard this morning and share them with you. Those in bold were the most commonly shared.
Question 1: What challenges or obstacles have you faced doing business in Burlington?
We definitely saw some common themes here, and I’d like to mention that although we had some developers in the room today, we parked the recent Interim Control Bylaw that pauses development in the downtown area and near the Burlington Go station for a future focus group to better explore that with a targeted audience.
- Construction during high season impacts my business
- Being part of a BIA for easier cross-promotion would be helpful
- Transit limitations
- Challenges with other agencies (ex: Conservation Halton)
- Dump Site/Transfer Station
- Lack of affordable housing to help attract staff
- Downtown traffic during the rush hour / traffic volume / traffic signals and timing
- Bylaws: responses to changes take a long time and are hard to plan
- Not enough parking – especially in December – deliveries are also hard
- Cost of parking passes, pass renewals/tickets (especially downtown for staff of businesses)
- Lack of incentives for sustainable business practices
- BIA events – not great return for services businesses
- Bylaws don’t feel like they are “common sense”
- Lack of vision
- Outdated Official Plan – not reflective of market
- Too many approval agencies
- Sign bylaw – permitting too complex / unclear and costly for businesses – inconsistent too
- Development approvals process is too long – shorter in other municipalities
- Connection to businesses from Go stations aren’t timely enough to get people to work
- Talent attraction
- Lack of community spaces / public spaces
- High fees combined with lower levels of service
- Snow removal and how it impacts accessibility
- City staff interference with consultants
- Spent too much time looking for office space / lack of affordable or big enough office space
- Need better staff knowledge
- Lack of street visibility – need better tree clean-up, trimming
- Railroad noise at night / Road noise / Go Train noise
- Lack of amenities in Aldershot
- Neighborhood redevelopment and reno rule enforcement
- Tax audits
- Locations available for expansion are not suitable – don’t know where new development lands are
- Challenge to get word out about new businesses
- Land conveyance for site plan approval
- Newcomers – not knowing where to start and how to find information
- Need more collaboration with other businesses and networking events
- Erosion of property rights
- One window for development applicants
- Small home development processes very flawed / mess
- Inconsistent application of zoning bylaws by staff
- Conservation authority should not be able to expand their restricted areas w/o notice
- Special interest directing City Hall / Cronyism
- Sign permit request denied with no explanation
- Development Charges
Question 2: What are some of the successes you have had?
Attendees told us they were happy with some of the following initiatives, practices and processes that either directly or indirectly helped their business launch, grow or thrive:
- Shuttles from the Go station to busy public events
- New Private Tree Bylaw
- Access permits are timely
- Ability to use public spaces
- City staff being accessible and responsive and engaged with us
- Community spirit
- Openness to change
- Events like this – reaching out to businesses – proactive and forward-thinking
- Clean, safe
- Quality of employable people
- Capital $ / Taxes
- Demographics of clientele and its growth
- Connecting with the right people / networking / dealing with other local businesses
- Messages around healthy living
- Public events like Ribfest and Sound of Music and festivals bring business/attention
- Social events are very well organized and engaging
- High amount of people downtown = consumers!
- Longevity and brand recognition downtown
- Intensification downtown brings new customers although issues with parking
- Partnership with City re: “clean up green up”
- Great location for growth – 40min to US, 40 min to Toronto
- TechPlace and Burlington Day at Mohawk and International Student Job Crawl
- Support from BurlingtonGreen
- Councillor support
- Burlington Chamber of Commerce Awards
- Smooth site plan approval process
- Change in leadership – new Mayor
- New license application – fast to process
- There is positive potential here
- The City listens
- Citizen committees that help bring different perspectives of residents to City
- Flexible parking on weekends and holidays
- BIA support
- Good use of social media from Mayor’s office
- Good communication
- Diverse technology culture in Burlington – great for high-tech industry and hub – TechPlace
- Understanding property values vs rent/lease
- Love that our Mayor is looking to improve
- Still affordable (although worried about future rent)
- No problem finding tenants downtown
- Revitalization of Village Square
Question 3: What are some ideas, solutions or suggestions that can be considered to remove the obstacles?
- More frequent transit/Improve transit (intensification will help) + regional connections
- Fire/Ambulance/Police in one building downtown
- Incentives to complete construction on time to minimize disruption to services
- Less steps for approvals / improve flow / speed
- Shuttle buses from core to core and from North Burlington to downtown events
- Help With / Facilitate meetings with other agencies to help with development approvals
- Dedicate a brush site for landscape maintenance companies
- Bus from Go station to downtown when it arrives (timing better)
- Incentives for affordable housing
- Lights timing (to help traffic flow) and more parking
- Need marina at Spencer Smith & more waterfront features/restaurants/shops
- Be open to change – think of solutions to get to “yes” before saying no
- Stop comparing Burlington to Oakville
- More public engagement with all points of view – surveys, etc.
- On-site visits by City staff
- Improve messaging that we’re open for business
- Clarify if taxes will go up if we don’t have significant intensification & what are benefits of development
- Spread events around the whole town
- More interdepartmental cooperation & get all staff on the same page
- Deal with panhandlers
- Provide a directory of consultants to help (ex: in the planning department)
- Concierge for businesses based on size of business and type
- Talent attraction strategies for graduates
- Better distribution of amenities including groceries and hardware esp. around aging pop’s (ex: Aldershot) – perhaps incentives for that
- Maintain employment lands
- Control high-rise development
- Weekend/Friday afternoon permit advice from different departments on application process
- Provide estimation on time needed for processes incl. permits, site plan, zoning, etc.
- Stronger partnership with City, School Boards, other community sports clubs
- One-stop shop for parents looking for a place their kids can play sports
- Grants / incentives
- Online marketplace
- Live weekly streaming show for businesses
- Getting to know our Mayor better
- Online building permits
- Dress code for staff
- Improve website search engine
- Need a mediator to move issues forward
- Mayor should go through building and application process anonymously to audit it & see problems
- More diversity and inclusion in city staff
- More BIAs
- Better snow removal
- Preconsultation meetings
- Expand rezoning for downtown and flexible zoning for senior living
- Business permits for home businesses – they should pay some fees that other businesses pay
- Hire private sector people at City Hall
- Tax holiday for new businesses
As you can see, we got a lot of feedback and brainstormed a lot of ideas in 90 minutes. It was a great opportunity for people to share their frustrations and stories of challenge, as well as work together to come up with ideas that can help.
The next step is a series of focus groups to delve more deeply into some of the key segments and stakeholders in our City. We will be inviting smaller groups of individuals to facilitate more intimate conversations about issues specific to these industries and organizations. For that reason, space is limited, but we will do our best to accommodate everyone we can and get creative if we reach capacity. If you would like to join us and have not yet been informed of a time and place, please reach out to us and let us know.
- Small Businesses – April 8 from 2-3:30 p.m.
- City Staff and Partner Organizations/BIAs – April 9 from 3-4:30 p.m.
- Large Businesses / Manufacturers – April 29 from 2:30-4 p.m.
- Developers and Real Estate Industry – May 1 from 2-3:30 p.m.
After our focus groups have completed, we will take that feedback, along with that from our Town Hall, and review it with our smaller Task Force of local business leaders, myself, and Councillor Galbraith to identify actionable recommendations to bring to Council this June.
Our commitment to you is to continue to listen, engage, and act so that we can ensure Burlington is always a place where every business can grow and thrive.
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