Burlington Election 2014: Neighbourhood intensification & development

How we can ensure development reflects your vision for our city

You’ve been told that we must allow increases to height and density, beyond that allowed in our own Official Plan and Zoning, in order to meet growth targets set by the province. But those targets have already been taken into account in our Official Plan & Zoning. And we have the opportunity to update those documents every five years if needed – rather than make site-by-site changes midstream.

Burlington downtown intensification developmentYou’ve been told that we must intensify in the urban area, to protect the rural area from development. But this pits rural and urban communities against each other, and sacrifices greenspace in the urban area, which is needed more than ever.  Our urban area got an “F” grade in a recent Conservation Halton report for the health of our watershed because of overdevelopment. It’s not going to get better until we take urban greenspace seriously, and require development to preserve trees and greenspace.

You’ve also been told that the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) will just approve the developments anyway, so we’re best to do it and avoid a costly legal fight. However, Oakville has recently won a string of challenges at the OMB because they have a track record of consistently defending their Official Plan. We don’t. By approving developments beyond what’s in the Official Plan and Zoning, we weaken our hand at the OMB and lose our ability to defend our Plan when we want to, thereby surrendering our city planning to developers and the OMB.  We may think we’ve retained control through our votes, but in reality we simply end up doing the work of the OMB. And residents who appeal city decisions must defend the city’s Plan on their own dime.

Branthaven development on ghent burlingtonWorse, any concessions for extra height and density negotiated through Section 37 benefits aren’t worth the paper they are written on. As we’ve seen on the Carriage Gate project on Caroline/John/Maria/Elizabeth, developers can later back out – the agreements are “voluntary.” But by then the development has already been approved and the city can’t take back the height and density. We get the mega-project, without the corresponding mega-community benefits.

Hits & Misses: The Molinaro project on Brock, Carriage Gate on Caroline, Branthaven on Ghent are all examples of intensification that didn’t meet either the city’s Official Plan or Zoning, or both. This weakens our city plans and sacrifices greenspace. Further, residential development causes tax increases, unless it’s matched by economic growth.

On the upside, a number of developers have agreed to meet with residents before submitting development proposals, and in several cases they’ve modified their plans based on your input, most notably the Molinaro “Paradigm” project on Fairview. More than a dozen changes were made to that project after two public design workshops, all voluntary since the project has already been approved by the OMB.

On Section 37, I’ve spearheaded a community conversation about the risks and benefits of using this tool, and secured a review of our Section 37 protocol which was changed to require consultation with the ward councillor to ensure public input on any benefits negotiated in your name.

On development, I championed a new two-step decision-making process: staff bring an information report to council and the public have an opportunity for input before staff bring their recommendation report to council.

Burlington development and section 37On community character: Residents have alerted me to a relatively new tool available to all municipalities since 2007 called a Development Permit System that would embed a community vision for development and streamline those proposals that met that vision. Toronto is using this approach to “reset” the planning process to focus on area-based plans that reflect local character and distinctiveness. This is what Burlington residents have been asking for.

More information is available at the city of Toronto here and at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing here .

The Road Ahead: We need a council that will defend the city’s Official Plan and Zoning, and rethink how we use Section 37 benefits. We need more security for residents that you will actually get the Section 37 benefits negotiated for extra height and density.  We don’t need to allow increases in height or density to meet our residential intensification targets, though growth is often argued that way. Those growth targets are already taken into account in the existing Plan.

Further, we can meet our intensification targets through residential units or jobs. Jobs are preferable. Focusing on economic development takes the pressure off our neighbourhoods for out-of-character residential intensification, and helps the city’s bottom line. Residential units cost more to serve than they contribute in tax revenue. The opposite is true for economic growth. And we have hundreds of acres of vacant employment land to fill. We need to slow down residential intensification, and focus on meeting our growth targets through jobs.