Categories: DevelopmentDowntown & Waterfront

Ideas flowing as 100+ join first workshop on development downtown

Workshop #2: Wed. May 27, Burlington Performing Arts Centre, 7pm

Workshop #3: Wed. June 10, Burlington Lions Club, 7pm


More than 100 people packed Burlington Lions Club Hall on Pearl Street May 13 – developers, residents, businesses, city staff – to work together to find consensus on development downtown for our future. In a future post, I’ll provide some analysis of the feedback. But first, some background on the vision behind the workshop series.

The impetus for the workshop was a question: What if everyone worked together on development  – finding common ground instead of fighting?

We are currently reviewing our Official Plan, so what better time to ask – and answer – this question. The review provides an opportunity to discuss our goals for development downtown, outline some principles of what we are trying to achieve, see where there are areas of agreement, and then reflect that vision in our updated Official Plan.

The workshop looks at the downtown and surrounding communities as a whole, instead of piece-meal on a site by site basis as applications come in. Bringing everyone together gives residents a voice in planning; gives developers and residents more certainty about how the downtown will be developed, and hopefully will lead to a shared vision for development that is implemented with each new development application, and reflected in the updated Official Plan.

That’s the vision behind a series of workshops that each build on each other, leading to recommendations for staff as part of their Official Plan update. Don’t worry if you miss one – we’ll provide a recap of the previous work at each workshop, and details will be posted online so you can participate and comment even if you can’t attend.

Workshop #1: Where we are, and principles for planning

Workshop #1 was jointly sponsored with our Planning Department as part of the Official Plan review. The focus was to review how we got here, review existing planning and zoning policies, and begin to identify shared principles of what we’d like to achieve going forward on a number of topics including parking, heritage, design, height, density, and more.

How we got here:

The Greater Toronto Area is one of the fastest growing regions in the country. People want to live and work here. But suburban planning has proven inefficient and costly, as it separates where people live from where they work, shop and recreate, necessitating a car to get from A to B with ever wider, longer, and more congested roads in between. In an effort to curb unrelenting sprawl, the provincial government introduced Places to Grow, mandating more compact, mixed use, transit friendly development. This has also been called “intensification.”

Places to Grow had four key goals, one of which is commonly cited (protecting our rural area) but there are three other less well known but equally important goals:

  1. protect urban development from eating into farmland, so we can continue to support local food and agriculture.
  2. reduce infrastructure and keep taxes down. Building and maintaining news roads, sewers, sidewalks, street lights and other “infrastructure” to service suburban developments is costly – and we aren’t keeping up with the maintenance of the infrastructure we do have. Burlington, like most municipalities across the country, has an “infrastructure deficit” – meaning property taxes don’t cover the upkeep of existing infrastructure. In Burlington that deficit is $40 million annually, with an accumulated backlog of infrastructure needs of $150 million. We are increasing taxes each year with a special infrastructure levy to catch up. So one of the goals of intensification is to make better use of existing infrastructure, with more people using the same roads and sidewalks.

  3. promote mixed uses. Downtown developed before the car – so what has emerged is a walkable community with a range of services, shops and jobs within walking distance. It’s one of the key reasons people want to live here. Mixed use neighbourhoods reduce reliance on the car and save money on costly infrastructure, like large parking lots surrounding single storey big box stores. If we can bring more jobs to Burlington, fewer people would need to commute outside the city for work – reducing congestion, pollution and time lost in traffic. Currently, more than 60% of residents commute outside of Burlington for work. Through targetted intensification we can focus on bringing more jobs downtown – not just residential units.

  4. revitalize downtowns. The province also wanted to revitalize vacant crumbling downtowns, so Places to Grow designated several areas as Urban Growth Centres targetted for increased intensification. Downtown Burlington is one of the Urban Growth Centres, and it is required to plan for 200 people or jobs by 2031, or about 20,000. Subsequent to Places to Grow, the province also developed “mobility hubs” – areas around key transit hubs that are also slated for increased intensification. Ward 2 has two mobility hubs – the Burlington GO station, and the Downtown Transit Terminal on John Street.

So how are we doing so far? We are currently at roughly 16,000 people and jobs, with approximately 5,000 of that jobs and the balance residential units. We’re well on our way to meeting the 2031 target of 20,000, and can do so within our existing Official Plan, which was approved after Places to Grow and takes our growth targets into account.


Snapshot of development downtown:

Development is happening downtown, and will continue to happen, that’s why bringing stakeholders together to discuss how we move forward is crucial. During the workshop, we presented a map that includes all developments that have been approved (but not yet built), approved but under review, appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, proposed but not yet filed as a formal application, and areas where land is being assembled so development is expected to occur. In total, there are currently 21 areas where development will occur. The map is available in the Workshop #1 powerpoint below. That’s a lot of development, and residents want a say. Workshop #2 will provide an opportunity for residents  alongside developers and staff to shape the development that does occur on these parcels.

In addition, the city owns 13 surface parking lots downtown, some of which present an opportunity for redevelopment to attract office or mixed commercial/residential projects. A key lot is the one across from Village Square which was originally slated to house McMaster University before it located on the South Service Road. Residents want a say in the future of these lots, and developers have an opportunity to partner with the city on the right project. A map of the downtown lots is available in the Workshop #1 powerpoint.

Official Plan Amendments

In the course of development downtown, there have been 14 privately initiated Official Plan Amendments since 1997. The complete list is below. These OPAs – some of them granting 2, 3, or 4 times the Official Plan height or density, have caused anxiety for residents in terms of what the future holds for their community. It’s also created uncertainty in the development industry about what can be negotiated and built. What if we could develop an Official Plan that reflected the interests of both residents and developers – that we could stick to in between review periods? It’s one of my goals.

However, I recognize that there are other ways to approach planning.

At a recent City Council workshop on intensification, our planning department shared that they take a “conservative/protective” approach to the Official Plan, and note that the plan is “expected to be revised.” There are several reasons for this including:

  • difficult to perfectly predict the best development on a site
  • amendments provide an opportunity to refine the plan
  • amendments provide an opportunity to request appropriate studies to justify the changes
  • in some cases Section 37 Community Benefits can be secured (the city has collected over $2 million using this tool
  • amendments provide additional opportunities for public engagement

My preference is for the Official Plan to reflect with a high degree of accuracy what actually gets developed rather than create an environment where revisions “are expected.” We can commission studies and public engagement outside of OPA amendments, and Section 37 benefits are fraught with risk – they are voluntary and can be revoked or revised, as we saw with the reduction in the proposed affordable housing component of the Carriage Gate development at Elizabeth/Caroline/John/Maria streets.

That said, I see the value in a continued dialogue on the pros and cons of various approaches to planning. What’s your approach? Leave a  comment below.

Dotted line is the Urban Growth Centre boundary; coloured areas indicate boundaries of different precincts

Existing Planning: precinct system

It’s critical to note that intensification doesn’t mean “anything goes. ” Places to Grow, and our own Official Plan, set out certain criteria for determining where growth should go – and shouldn’t go – alongside conditions that should be considered before approving development. Places to Grow also reinforced that development must be compatible with and enhance the character of existing neighbourhoods.

With that in mind, Burlington’s Official Plan divides the downtown into 7 “precincts” – five of these relevant to development (we excluded the hospital site in Ward 1, and Spencer Smith Park) These are specific areas in the downtown, and they all have different policies and protections, from the St. Luke’s/Emerald precincts which are considered stable single-family home neighbourhoods where minimal growth will occur, to the Wellington precinct where highrise development is encouraged.

Table Group Exercises & Your Feedback

During the workshop, we provided participants with a chart of each of the precincts and a summary of their planning policies, available below here: Downtown Meeting No 1 – Precinct Reference Sheet May 13 2015

We asked participants to review the existing policies for the precincts, and answer one question: What do you want to see more of, less of, or the same?

We asked people to keep in mind some key themes as they answered the question, including: parking, heritage preservation, greenspace, urban parks, design.

You can read the feedback from the evening below. You can also provide your own by downloading the attached Downtown Meeting No 1 – Comment Form May 13 2015 and returning it to my assistant

We also recognize that there are a number of policies and documents that influence planning downtown beyond the Official Plan including: the Core Commitment vision for downtown (which developed 40 recommendations approved by council last term for enhancing the downtown), Streetscaping Guidelines (being updated this year), Urban Design Guidelines, Zoning Bylaw, Strategic Plan, Transportation Master Plan (being updated this year), Sustainable Development Guidelines (being updated this year) and more. Working with staff, we will ensure that all the feedback we receive at the workshops is funnelled into one of these areas, if it isn’t directly applicable to the Official Plan. Links to these documents are available in the resources section below.

Focus of Workshop #2:

During Workshop #2, we will have an opportunity to start to brainstorm what we’d like to see on some of the assembled undeveloped parcels and city parking lots downtown. In addition, two developers have asked for specific feedback on land they have assembled:

  1. the Molinaros, for land at Brant & Ghent on the North and South east corners (currently, there is a vacant parking lot on the north side, a medical building and an apartment on the south side.)
  2. the Welwyn Interests, for land they have assembled on the North East side of Lakeshore and Burlington Ave (currently, there are three homes along Lakeshore, and several multi-dwelling units up Burlington Avenue, including a designated heritage home).

Workshop #2 will also include a review of the feedback from Workshop #1, and opportunity for further refinement.

Focus of Workshop #3:

We will condense the feedback from the first two workshops – and comments via email or web – into some common topics, and refine it further at Workshop #3 into a draft set of recommended updates to the Official Plan. This draft will then be forwarded to Staff during their OP review work. A final workshop, Workshop #4, will be scheduled for the fall to review staff’s draft recommended updates to the Official Plan.

What developers, residents, and staff want others to know about them

One of my key goals in bringing everyone together was to break down some of the myths and stereotypes people have of “the other side” – stereotypes that prevent us listening to each other with an open mind, finding areas of consensus and working together. In advance of Workshop #1, I asked developers, residents and city staff to share something they wish others knew about them. All of the feedback will be posted below, but here’s a snapshot of what they said:

Residents wanted staff to know “we believe in the public process,” and wanted developers to know “our interests and goals can be compatible.”

City staff wanted residents to know “we plan with the public interest in mind,” and wanted developers to know  “when we ask for studies, it’s so we can help you build a better project.”

Developers wanted staff and residents to know “we support a collaborative approach to development, we’re willing to work together to achieve the best outcome for all parties involved.”

There’s a lot of hope in those words, and a commitment from everyone to working together.

My Take:

I’d like to thank everyone who participated in making this workshop a huge success – city staff from planning, transportation, culture and more; The Core Residents and St. Luke’s Precinct residents’ groups; developers including Molinaro, Mayrose-Tycon, Emshih, Carriage Gate, and Wellwyn Interests; and you, all the residents who came.

I’m encouraged by the overwheming spirit of wanting to work together. It doesn’t mean there won’t be areas of disagreement – there will be. But so long as debate is respectful, it can enhance our understanding and lead to better outcomes. When you read through the comments, you’ll also find a lot of common themes emerging. We’re off to a great start.

In future posts, I’ll provide an analysis of the feedback, in preparation for our work in Workshop #2 and #3.

Your Take:

What’s your view of the workshops? What would you like to see more of, less of, or the same downtown? Fill in the worksheet or leave a comment below.


  1. View the powerpoint presentation from Workshop #1 here:

DESTINATION DOWNTOWN FINAL May 13 Workshop Feedback Official Plan Precinct Feedback – May 13 2015

  1. Read the Table Group feedback – what do you want more of, less of, same, by precinct:

Official Plan Precinct Feedback – May 13 2015

  1. Read feedback on the workshop format:

May 13 Workshop Feedback

  1. Core Commitment: Core Commitment: A Vision for Downtown Burlington

A document two years in the making that spelled out a series of 40 recommendations for the downtown, including several that impact the Official Plan/Zoning.


Downtown Parking Lots:

Of note: these are city-owned surface lots that present future opportunities for redevelopment, with underground parking.






Urban Growth Centre Boundaries:

Of note: the growth target for this area is 200 jobs or people per hectare (20,000 total) by 2031. We are currently at roughly 16,000 (of that, jobs represent 5000) and are on track to meet these targets with existing planning provisions.





Burlington Downtown Business Association Boundaries:

Of note: businesses within the boundaries are not required to provide on-site parking but instead pay a parking levy to build a future above or underground parking (with the exception of those in the newly expanded BDBA areas in purple, north of Victoria, east to Smith, and West to Maple). In most of this district, commercial uses are required at grade.







Approved and potential development downtown:

Of note: This map shows projects that have been approved, but not built; approved but under review; OMB hearing; those that have been discussed with the public but no application yet submitted; and areas where land assembly is occurring thus development is likely to occur. In total, this represents 21 projects.




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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