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Walking Tour and workshop for tall building guidelines

Saturday, Jan. 28

City staff will hold a public meeting to gather feedback about the interim Tall Building Design Guidelines. The meeting will include a walking tour of tall buildings in the downtown.

Meeting details:

Date:               Saturday, Jan. 28
Location:        Art Gallery of Burlington (AGB), 1333 Lakeshore Rd.

  • 11 a.m. – meet at AGB for walking tour (please dress for the weather)
  • 12 p.m. – return to AGB for light refreshements and snacks
  • 12:30 to 3 p.m. – workshop

Please RSVP by Jan. 24, 2017 to to confirm your attendance for this event.

I will be attending the walking tour and workshop and look forward to seeing you there. To view my take on the tall building guidelines, read my previous article at

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:


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  1. I don’t want to see a race for the sky by developers anywhere in Burlington. But, what bothers me the very most is – “who gets to decide height and density?”

    Right now we have an existing OP that is being basically ignored, the Planning Director seems feckless to discourage such applications at the pre-proposal stage, and so we have a string of OMB hearings in waiting because the developers proposals are testing the waters.

    I want to see the new OP brought forth with urgency so that the people of this city can weigh in, and be heard, to indicate what they want and what they will buy into.

    They want and are legally entitled to have a say in my, “who gets to decide” question.

    The tall building guidelines don’t mandate height, but are about spatial design criteria for heights above 15 stories, as I recall. They mean that you can’t stick any arbitrarily tall building just anywhere. It has to fit, and that means height too.

    Given what has already been approved, and as a compromise, I can see 15 stories as something negotiable, with the Berkeley 17 stories as something already approved, acceptable to me in suitable blocks behind, but not right on Brant St.

    Brant St. defines the Main street of downtown and needs exceptional protection so we can recognize it. That doesn’t mean nothing changes, but we have to be able to recognize our heritage in the low-rise street form.

    I bumped into Oakville Mayor Burton a couple of months ago and asked him about the zoning on his downtown Lakeshore Rd. area. He told me that on that “Main” street, the height limit is 4 stories, but on either side of it, north and south, there is no limit.

    He also told me that the North Oakville greenfield lands are pretty much all in the pipeline for development, but build-out is some time off. Remember, nothing of this happens quickly.

    So it appears that he and Oakville Council want to protect the character of their “Main” street, and are directing height elsewhere, as I noted.

    We all know that there is a tremendous financial incentive for developers to officially propose a push for more and more height because there are literally a billion dollars in the pot of 2000, $500,000 condos all around town, if you can get it. And that’s just for starters, and you can do other math.

    So what we are seeing is what these dollars naturally lead to. The on staff or hired planners and lawyers already have more or less canned planning justifications and opinion, that can be tweaked and just moved around from place to place. Other hires fill in other needed reports that are always supportive.

    Of course, it’s always justified by them, and called “good planning”. But it’s a nothing more than a narrative, leading to a foregone conclusion, and seeking a favorable decision. Lately, the opinions involve what “intensification” and “Places to Grow” mean.

    Listen when I say that “good planning” is what the “planners” say it is. And no more than that. The developers buy these opinions in several forms. The stakes of the planning game make the relatively small cost of the proposal preparation worth the risk.

    No matter what the city says, the OMB still acts as a placeholder for yet another narrative argument, seeking another “opinion”, by a likely single person Board Chair, but this one happens to be irrevocable.

    Any extra cost for the OMB hearing is a cheap price for another final opinion compared to giving up if the city says no.

    This happened recently in east Burlington, on a significant lakefront abutting property. The staff said no, city Council agreed, but the developer went off to the OMB on some drowning man straw argument about a past city decision about Lakefront lands.

    Again, the stakes have been upped so high, by all these proposals for tall buildings, and higher density, that have an OMB backup for a second chance, that it has become seemingly irresistible.

    This backdrop of the development reality that is unfolding is not going to change soon or until the province revises the OMB so this can’t happen. As we know, some changes are underway, but I don’t know if these proposals on the table now will be grandfathered under the old rules.

    But aside from the OMB wild card, a development process that respects the wishes and consultation of the residents, as reflected in the present OP and zoning, is, as I said, not my primary concern. There are practical realities that are part of the normal planning operation.

    My primary concern, again, is who gets to decide; who’s in charge?

    Right now, to repeat, the present OP and zoning, reflecting residents opinions and buy-in, is being basically ignored by these proposals.

    Instead, we see the OP being assaulted so that the developers, and unfortunately too many planners, can make it what they want it to be.

    Certainly, in this environment I described, the residents are not in charge.

    And worse, residents have not even been given the say and consultation process that they are legally entitled to in the formation of a new OP.

    If we are going to have tall buildings, and much more density, then let the people have a say. That’s what I see as missing, and want.

    To me, the planners seem to be sliding into that urban form with no public consultation on the locations, and the specifics of proposed heights and densities, that they have in mind.

    This must stop. Something has got to be done about this before what decides is anarchy.

  2. I attended the walking tour and workshop last weekend, while it was a good idea I have some grave concerns about what the city’s Brant Street tall building overall strategy is. When speaking with our mayor I really didn’t get an answer just the usual political rhetoric about affordable housing.
    Over the past 60 years I have seen the downtown slowly eroded of it’s small town/city charm , if it keeps up at this rate we will lose it all together giving way to the benefit of the developers and not the citizens who chose to live here.
    If this keeps up we will turn Burlington onto another Mississauga.

  3. Thanks Marianne for your persistence re: public consultation. I plan to attend.
    On a somewhat related matter, can anything be shared from the City of Burlington – ADI mediation meetings on the Martha & Lakeshore proposed developments, prior to the impending OMB hearings in February? I’m quite sure the answer is “no”, and that the residents of Burlington will just have to wait for the OMB hearing to hear if a “deal” has been struck, but what’s the harm of me asking now?

    • Glad you are able to join us Don. Re the Martha/Lakeshore mediation, I have asked staff whether an update can be provided to the community and will let you know what I find out! Even though the OMB is the ultimate decision-maker, I expect something would come to council before the hearing In February so our input whatever it might be could be conveyed to the board. If mediation was successful, the board would still have to formally approve any agreement reached, so the Feb hearing dates remain in the calendar. If mediation is unsuccessful, the board will determine the outcome. Two weeks are set aside for such a hearing.

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