Proposed Community Benefits for 421 Brant Street

A report outlining the proposed Section 37 Community Benefits for 421 Brant Street has been released by the Planning Department. This will be presented at the Planning and Development meeting on Tuesday, April 10th.

On November 13, 2017, Council approved applications to amend the Official Plan and Zoning By-law, as modified by staff, to permit a mixed-use development with a height up to 23 storeys at the north-east corner of Brant and James Street across from City Hall.

I did not support the approval as I believe the height is excessive for this location.

Section 37 of the Planning Act is a planning tool which allows municipalities to accept “community benefits” when granting increased density and/or height through a change in zoning or official plan policy.

The report heading to the committee next week outlines the recommended direct and indirect community benefits that Planning staff is recommending for approval, as noted below.

Direct benefit vs Indirect benefit

  • A direct community benefit is a monetary contribution.
  • An indirect community benefit has a public interest but doesn’t involve a direct monetary contribution.

The direct benefits listed below have been negotiated under Section 37 by Planning staff. The indirect benefits were identified as part of the development proposal outlined in the November Planning report in support of the approved 23 storey development.

Here is the list of community benefits that Planning staff are recommending for approval:

• To assist in the pursuit of long-term affordable housing, the Developer agrees to a discount of $300,000 to be used against the purchase price of up to 10 dwelling units within the subject development, or in the event that a purchase(s) is/are not to occur within the subject development, the Developer agrees to provide the City with a cash contribution of $300,000 prior to condominium registration. [Direct benefit]

• The Developer agrees to provide a direct community benefit of $150,000 towards the public art reserve fund to be used within the publicly accessible privately owned easement area referred to in subsection (v) and/or in the future Civic Square expansion area. [Direct benefit]

• The Developer agrees to provide a direct community benefit of a $50,000 contribution towards the future expansion of Civic Square. [Direct benefit]

• The Developer agrees to provide one (1) publicly accessible car share parking space (indirect community benefit assessed at $50,000) and contribute to the City’s emerging car-share network by accommodating a car-share vehicle for a minimum of two years starting from the first occupancy (indirect community benefit assessed at $50,000), or equivalent.

• The Developer agrees to provide public access by way of an easement to be registered on title for lands located at the northeast corner of Brant Street and James Streets, the minimum dimensions of which are in the form of a triangle measured at 16m by 16m (an indirect community benefit assessed at $75,000).

• The Developer agrees to provide eight (8) visitor parking spaces (indirect community benefit accessed at $400,000).

• The Developer agrees, and it is enshrined within the amending zoning by-law, that increased building setbacks, including widened sidewalks on Brant Street, James Street, and John Street, and view corridors on Brant Street and James Street to City Hall and the Cenotaph (indirect community benefit accessed at $250,000).

• The Developer agrees to implement green technology and sustainable architecture elements into the subject property in accordance with either LEED certification standards and/or compliance with the City’s Sustainable Building and Development guidelines (indirect community benefit accessed at $300,000).

• The Developer agrees to implement City of Burlington Streetscape Guidelines Standards within the Brant Street, James Street, and John Street public realm areas, including the expanded building setback areas at-grade and the publicly accessible open space easement area outlined in (v) above (an indirect community benefit accessed at $150,000).

You are invited to attend the April 10th Planning and Development Committee meeting where this report will be discussed by Committee.

Why I Voted Against the 23-Storey Development Proposal

421-431 Brant Street Development Rendering

On November 1st, the Planning and Development Committee approved a Planning staff recommendation to allow the development of a 23-storey building right across from City Hall at the North East corner of James and Brant Street.

The building would include 169 residential units, office space on the second floor and ground floor retail.

The Committee voted 5-2 in favour of this recommendation. I voted against this proposal.

Downtown Burlington is a very desirable area to live and work for obvious reasons.  There are great restaurants, unique shops and amenities including the Performing Arts Centre and proximity to the waterfront.

There are also great places to live, in existing modern high-rise buildings that were built over the last 20 years including 360 on Pearl, the Pearl and Pine Retirement Residence and the Baxter. None of these buildings exceeds 18 storeys.

In my view, our downtown has an appropriate scale of current development that provides an urban intimacy. The proposed 23-storey building across from the City Hall is not consistent with the present scale, and we should not approve it.

The development proposal is not consistent with the new Downtown Mobility Hub Draft Precinct Plan that was presented to council by Planning staff in October.

The Draft Precinct Plan called for a Special Policy Area at the corner of James and Brant that would allow building height of 17 storeys, assuming that certain public benefits could be achieved. I supported that plan and believe that this site is appropriate for a well-designed building that is either mid-rise or up to 17 storeys, not 23.

I understand the rationale for taller and more slender buildings, but a well-developed mid-rise or lower high-rise will fit the scale and form the character of our downtown that many residents have asked us to maintain. Planning staff have stated that a larger, wider and shorter 12-storey building can house the same amount of residential, office and retail space that the proposed 23-storey building would contain.

Our downtown, South of Caroline, can be shaped with well-thought-out buildings that are 17-storeys or lower that provide an inviting, pedestrian-friendly and attractive street.

Brant Street can improve without dramatically changing it.  The focus in our downtown should be distinctive and attractive design, not excessive height.

I am concerned about the negative consequences of this decision. We cannot look at this decision in isolation as there is reasonable planning rationale to mirror the same height and density on the opposite side of James Street.

I am concerned that this proposed development will have a considerable impact on the Draft Downtown Plan and undermine the confidence that residents are being asked to have for the City’s vision for future growth in the downtown.

Burlington City Council will make the final decision at our next meeting in the council chambers at City Hall on Monday, November 13th at 6:30 p.m.

If you’d like to have your voices heard, I encourage you to email the members of the council and me.  You can also register to delegate at the council meeting, which allows you to state your perspective publicly.