Your Questions Asked

June 20, 2012

I recently attended a Young Members Networking event hosted by the Burlington Chamber of Commerce where I talked with members about what’s happening at City Hall, future plans and major projects. These are some of the questions that members asked during a Q&A session, I’ve posted here to share with you.

Does the City have any incentive programs for businesses looking to redevelop aging retail areas or have you considered this type of incentive program?

Prosperity is identified in our Strategic Plan as a key objective of Council. We’re striving to nurture an innovative business community, and encourage a vibrant, and healthy mixed-use downtown by redeveloping vacant or under-used properties and mix local retail and services in the downtown.

Council has not yet defined a retail redevelopment incentive program. Through the Official Plan Review process we will identify areas for potential redevelopment and areas for mixed use or increased density. It will be important to educate the business community about these opportunities. I see an important role for the Burlington Economic Development Corporation in this – to promote potential redevelopment opportunities in the community and connect with investors.

What’s happening with the proposed hotel downtown on the waterfront? There have been stories about the location and position of the hotel, and I like how it is open to the lake now. How will this development impact public access to the waterfront downtown?

An application for a hotel and condo complex on the waterfront was approved by City Council 2006. The plan includes a 22 story condo, and 7 story hotel on the waterfront in. The plans for the new hotel and condo development include plenty of open public space on the water and will add valuable amenities to the waterfront.

I’ve spoken with the developers on this project about the need to move it forward before the approval is expired and before changes to Conservation Halton policy take effect that could impact plans as they are approved now.

How will density look in the downtown core? Will there be more condo towers built downtown?

The downtown is made up of a number of different precincts and each have their own character and zoning guidelines. Zoning along Brant Street currently permits zoning up to four stories, and applications over four stories may apply for re-zoning. Council considers these amendments to the Official Plan when the development or proposal makes sense for the neighbourhood, and fits well with surrounding properties and growth plans.

In the downtown area we will consider taller developments that are tiered with a lower level along the street front, and rise gradually away from the street front. We will prevent the canyon effect of a downtown of condo towers.

Downtown Burlington is identified as an Urban Growth Centre in the provincial Places to Grow Act. This means that according to provincial planning, the downtown will grow. Our municipal Official Plan will ensure that this growth is reasonable, well-planned, and maintains the character of existing downtown precincts. Condos or high rise buildings will not pop up in areas zoned for single family homes downtown.

It is important to note that Provincial plans identify the downtown as an Urban Growth Centre, but City Council has also defined downtown Burlington as an urban development centre on our own. This is a Council decision – it is not only because the province has directed this development. As far back as the 1960s, Burlington City Council has had a vision for a dense and developed downtown. I’ve shared these plans for downtown Burlington from 1967 to demonstrate that.

How will City Council encourage more “green” development downtown?

There are some great examples of green development across the city, including in the downtown. We currently have approved +4 new developments that meet “green” criteria.

The City has constructed new buildings that demonstrate environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and sustainable development. The Burlington Performing Arts Centre, the new Transit Operations Centre, and Fire Station #8 are all targeted for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver. The new Alton High School, Library and Community Park under construction will include a rooftop solar system, energy saving HVAC system and building automation controls to reduce energy and environmental costs.

The City is taking a leadership role to demonstrate the benefits of green development and to encourage sustainable development.

Staff is working on the Sustainable Building and Development Guidelines that will be incorporated into the Official Plan. The proposed guidelines are open for comment now. A report will come to Council later this year with recommendations for implementation and incentives for businesses and private developers to incorporate sustainable building elements into their construction plans. The plan is not to mandate, but to encourage green building in the city by highlighting the benefits and providing guidelines.

Staff is also working on creating a Community Energy Plan for the city. This is another key objective identified in the Strategic Plan. Work has started and a report is expected to come before Council in 2013. Together the Community Energy Plan and Sustainable Building and Development Guidelines will help to make Burlington a more “green”,  prosperous, and sustainable city.

With intensification comes more traffic. How will we deal with traffic and congestion?

Burlington was designed as a suburban, car-friendly city. We have challenges of cut-through traffic and congestion at peak periods of the day. These challenges are not simple to overcome. I also see that traffic and congestion are a sign of prosperity and success in our city. Most people drive a car and many families have more than one. That being said, transit planning will be a big part of plans for intensification. The Official Plan Review will look at transportation needs and incorporate transit planning. Effective and efficient public transit will help to deal with traffic and congestion in some parts of the city. We are planning to integrate public transit planning with plans for growth and intensification, and that will hopefully address some of these problems.

How can we attract more jobs downtown?

Council recognizes the need to bring more jobs downtown to increase the effectiveness of transit and density. Provincial plans define the Urban Growth Centre for Burlington with a target of 200 people and jobs per hectare. Council is currently considering options for the development of downtown parking lots 4&5 with the potential to use this land to generate employment land and development including options for parking.

There is little land left for new development. It is expected that this will continue to increase housing prices and make housing too expensive for young people to live here.  Many young people who work in Burlington cannot afford to live here.  How can we attract more young people if they cannot find affordable or suitable housing in Burlington?

This is a big problem and the answers are not easy. We have a legislated urban growth boundary, and that means that we have very little greenfield space left to develop in our city. Council is committed to maintaining the Dundas-407 urban growth boundary and the 50/50 urban/rural split. The Alton community will be one of the last major greenfield developments in the city. The focus of future development will be on intensification and in-fill development.

We do face some housing challenges of variety and affordability for the demographic changes facing our city. I see the increasing prices of housing as a problem of supply and demand. As the supply of land and housing decreases, the price goes up. I believe that a more robust development pattern downtown will increase the supply of housing and create some competitive pricing and more options. Downtown development has slowed, and this has contributed to prices rising. We need a stronger supply of housing to keep prices competitive.

We need more single-person housing for single young people and for single seniors. Intensification will help to deal with some of these challenges by creating smaller and more affordable units for singles and seniors.  By integrating new residential development within existing communities, with retail, commercial and entertainment areas, we hope that this will attract the lifestyle and convenience that young people are looking for and will choose to work and live in the city.

Are there any plans for a local incubator organization for small business and technology?

I’ve met with several local groups including HalTech and Silicon Halton recently, to talk about this idea. I do believe that for local business incubator organizations to be effective, we need to take a more regional approach and leverage the other institutions around us: McMaster University, Mohawk College, and other incubator programs in Hamilton. Based on some of these discussions, and with local business leaders, I really believe that we need greater density for an incubator organization to work. I think that a more regional approach and working with organizations in Hamilton would be an effective approach and I’m working towards this.

Do you see any industries to target for growth in Burlington?

Based on our GTA location, manufacturing potential, and post-secondary resources, I see the potential for Burlington to attract more green technology and medical technology.  I also see the potential for growth in the financial services sector.

Census data shows us that more people are leaving the workforce, our population is aging and the percentage of young workers is declining. What are we doing to attract young people to work in Burlington?

This is an area that we need to do some more work on. We need to do more to attract youth to create jobs for young people and to retain our youth. We need to leverage our relationships with local post-secondary institutions – with McMaster, Mohawk, Sheraton College. I am working with my colleagues and staff now about potential ways that we can make those connections with local education institutions. Your ideas and feedback are more than welcome.

Youth retention and job creation is an important goal of the new innovateBurlington partnership with the Burlington Economic Development Corporation, the City, the Burlington Chamber of Commerce, the Centre for Skills Development and Training, and McMaster University. The aim of the program is to showcase job opportunities to recent McMaster graduates with local companies. The goal for 2012 is to place 20 new graduates with Burlington companies through innovateBurlington

By pairing new graduates with local businesses we are giving new graduates real experience and mentorship opportunities with local businesses. We are showcasing local job opportunities and exposing young graduates to the local job opportunities. This program is really about creating an innovative and entrepreneurial business community by connecting young graduates with local companies.

I encourage you to look at the innovateBurlington program. It is a great way to utilize professional expertise, to utilize new local talent and to get some projects off the ground at your business. Visit the website for more information www.innovateburlington.ca

From your perspective as Mayor do you think that the people of Burlington want the city to change, to grow, or stay the same – to “coast”?  What do you hear when you are out in the community and meeting with residents?

In some areas of the city there is a strong aversion to change. One example is in Aldershot where many families have lived in the community for a long time and do not want to see change. We recently approved a new development in Aldershot for a 4-storey condominium along Plains Road. Throughout the process I heard from a small group of residents with very strong opposition to this development. I met with some of them in my office to understand their perspective and hear their concerns. In some areas of the city there is an aversion to change and I understand that.

Council is committed to enhancing neighbourhoods and development that fits the nature of different communities in the city. This includes “infill” development where suitable.  Our goals in the Strategic Plan are to create vibrant and inclusive neighbourhoods and we are committed to those goals. This will help to improve the affordability and accessibility of our city to young people, seniors and newcomers.

I truly believe that the citizens of Burlington are very proud of their city; where we have come from and where we are headed. Burlington is consistently recognized as a great place to live. This year MoneySense magazine rated Burlington as the best place to live in the GTA and the 2nd Best Place to Live in all of Canada. As Mayor, I’m very proud of what we have accomplished, but we do have some room to improve. If we do not take action now on a number of these challenges our city will become a gated community. By that I mean that it will be out of reach and not affordable for many. We need to ensure that we have a variety of affordable housing and options for all lifestyles.

I’m always happy to hear from constituents. You can send your questions and comments to mayor@burlington.ca or call my office at City Hall, 905-335-7607 .

Rick Goldring, Mayor