When I held my Reverse Town Hall on January 18th, I received many questions from residents about the draft New Official Plan.
Some I answered at the meeting and some I decided to answer on my blog because I didn’t want to take away the time that was dedicated to resident speakers.
It has taken longer than I had hoped to get this out, so thank you for your patience.
Q & A
Can the citizens of Burlington count on the city planning department to support present regulations of the Official City Master Plan?
There is a perception with some people that once an Official Plan is in place, there should be no changes to the plan.
The Ontario Planning Act outlines a specific process to amend the official plan.
The Planning Department has to professionally consider all Official Plan amendments that are brought forward.
Each official plan amendment is unique, and the planning department must consider the effect of a proposed amendment in terms of:
• Consistency with the Provincial Policy
• Achieve intent of the goals and objectives of the Official Plan
• Impact on the neighbouring properties and overall compatibility and
• The fiscal and functional impact on infrastructure, services and transportation.
In September 2017, Edward Keenan of the Toronto Star wrote a column for the paper about this specific issue regarding the Zoning Bylaw. He contrasts the view that Official Plans and Zoning Bylaws should never be changed versus the need for change to achieve specific city objectives and to be consistent with Provincial Policy.
One of the challenges we have in Burlington is that our Official Plan is over 20 years old and the last major review of the downtown portion of the Official Plan was over ten years ago. There has been much change in the city over this time which suggests the need for a new Official Plan. The Official Plan must be up to date for it to be more defensible with the Ontario Municipal Board and the new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal which replaces the Ontario Municipal Board.
I live at 360 on Pearl. I currently have one parking spot but two cars. I’m already struggling to find parking. With new developments coming, where are we all going to park?
I heard many comments about parking at the Reverse Town Hall meeting. Parking in downtown Burlington always creates discussion.
Public parking in downtown Burlington was never intended to be for downtown residents. The spots are meant to be for customers and employees of the businesses.
People that live downtown have to consider their parking requirements the same way one would consider the need for a certain number of bedrooms. I am aware of some people who moved out of downtown Burlington because the development they lived in only provided one parking space and they needed two.
Any thoughts on moving the City Hall along the QEW corridor?
There are no thoughts to do this. Moving City Hall would remove about 400 jobs out of the downtown core and would take the economic impact of those jobs out of downtown. The cost of a new city hall would dissuade me from supporting a move.
If we have already satisfied the province’s growth for Burlington to date, why do we need to continue to grow?
Although the province’s minimum growth target will be met, the Greater Toronto Hamilton area that Burlington is part of is expected to grow from 7 million people to 10 million over the next 23 years primarily as a result of the national trend of immigration.
Halton Region (Burlington, Oakville, Milton and Halton Hills) which is part of the GTHA is currently 550,000 and is targeting to grow to 1,000,000 people in 23 years.
Growth is happening all over the GTHA, and we are expected to accept our share. Our target for 2031 is 193,000 people, and our 2041 target will be defined by Halton Region in 2019.
Let’s assume that we were in a position to say no to growth. What would be the impact?
• Our real estate prices would increase at a greater rate than currently simply as a result of supply and demand. This would make it even more challenging for younger people to get a toehold in the Burlington real estate market.
• The percentage of people over 65 in Burlington is 19.3% which is near the highest in the GTHA. Without increasing the amount and variety of housing stock, ageing seniors would stay in their traditional homes longer than might be the case not allowing for more renewal or older neighbourhoods with younger families.
• Some stores would likely close as the percentage of the population that are seniors grows. Seniors spend less money than the family formation years of 25-55.
• School enrollment will be negatively affected if we are not attracting or keeping younger families in our city.
• Taxes could increase at higher rates than they might normally as growth in the number of housing units spread the costs of operating a city.
Why is Downtown designated as an Anchor Mobility Hub?
I will do my best to provide some history on this.
Back in 2006, when the Places to Grow Act was passed in the Provincial Legislature, a Downtown Urban Growth Centre was defined for Burlington
Below is text from the Metrolinx website defining Anchor Hubs.
Anchor Hubs have strategic importance due to their relationship with urban growth centres and/or their role as major international gateways.
Anchor Hubs contain current or planned major regional destinations such as major institutions, employment centres, town centres or regional shopping centres, and they have significant potential to attract and accommodate new growth and development. Anchor Hubs have the potential to transform the regional urban structure and act as anchors of the regional transportation system.
In 2006 and 2008, it was clearly expected that downtown had the potential for more residents and more jobs which would require better and more frequent transit than exists now.
The last page of the document that you can access from the link below states that the Downtown Burlington Mobility Hub would have the lowest amount of transit activity when compared to other Anchor Hubs.
Even if the Anchor Mobility Hub designation were removed, it would not lessen the pressure for growth as the overarching designation is the fact the Downtown Burlington is defined as an Urban Growth Centre in the Places to Grow Plan.
How do you grow without a solid transit plan?
The bottom line is you don’t.
The City of Burlington has underinvested in transit for many years and the time to change that is now.
The first step is to stabilize the current service we have and address the operational deficiencies that were outlined in a very detailed report in 2017. Council supported an increase in the 2018 budget to do this.
Transit staff is working with external consultants on a longer-term transit plan, and we will see their preliminary work in the spring. I suspect it will take another 18 months before there is a meaningful increase in the level of service Burlington Transit is providing.
The City needs to make transit more attractive for more people and the way to do that is to improve the quality and quantity of service as well as market the service better than we have done in the past. You can have great service, but it needs the confidence of riders to be encouraged to use it.
Is the City doing enough to defend Zoning and Official Plan limits? Why are the rules changing and why are developers forcing special considerations – profitability?
The City is legally obligated to accept Planning applications when they are deemed complete.
This means that applicants can apply for whatever they decide. Developers, however, do not force the requested changes. Planning staff review applications and make recommendations that are based on good planning.
These recommendations can lead to amendments to the Zoning By-law and Official Plan. This is common planning practice in all municipalities and is a result when planners view changes to be in the public interest.
Planning staff make professional recommendations to Committee for a decision. Concerning defending limits, I would refer to Council’s refusal (staff report PB-100-16) in December 2016 of the applications for Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments for two-19 storey apartment buildings and 612 residential units at 4853 Thomas Alton Boulevard. This development is now before the OMB.
What are we gaining in a rush for intensification and what tools are available to keep it under control?
I heard from the concern/question that the Official Plan should be deferred until after the municipal election. Committee did not agree to this proposal.
There are significant benefits to having a decision sooner rather than later. This will better address the significant public concern and interest for establishing greater certainty in the planning process and is noted in the above question.
A new Official Plan means we can move away from the site by site negotiations and instead, bring clear expectations to our planning. This is what residents have been telling us, delaying the Official Plan approval would only create more instances where unexpected outcomes can occur, similar to the reaction which led to 421 Brant Street (Council approved 23-storey building across from City Hall).
The staff has also confirmed that the City will be in a better position to plan within a clearly defined policy framework with an updated Official Plan that can be defendable by today’s current standards.
Staff will be able to use the new Official Plan when working with developers even though the Official Plan won’t be approved by the Halton Region until some time in the next 12-18 months. While it will be informative and not determinative, clearly we heard from staff that, with the Committee amendments, we are better off proceeding with the approval rather than delaying.
By moving forward and not delaying, it also means staff can start now begin to work on the detailed Downtown Area Specific Plan which is a more detailed plan that will include matters such as transportation, transit, cycling, parking and servicing. Many of the concerns that residents had will be addressed. The only way to get to this step is to adopt the draft Official Plan.
I believe that it is not only an important decision for the entire city but a responsibility of this Council to bring certainty to our downtown planning without unnecessary delays. Our current council has the critical knowledge and understanding of the draft Official Plan and Strategic Plan. It’s important that we complete this critical work.