Red light on intensification in established neighbourhoods; focus on downtown, GO stations, Plains/Fairview, aging plazas

Streetscape in Roseland, showing abundance of mature trees.
Streetscape in Roseland, showing abundance of mature trees.

Intensification will be directed away from established neighbourhoods and toward the Plains Rd/Fairview corridor, GO stations, the downtown and aging plazas, after council approved an urban structure and intensification policy directions report. This fall, staff will take the report (which is draft only) to the community for further consultation.

The urban policy directions indicate where the city wants growth and expects significant increase in population and jobs over time, and inversely, identifies where growth is not planned within established neighbourhoods. The policy directions will also serve as a framework in the city’s evaluation of requests to convert employment lands to residential or mixed use areas.

The report outlines Primary Intensification Areas, where intensification will be directed (“green light” on intensification); Secondary Intensification Areas, where increases in density will be considered subject to a number of criteria such as impact on existing infrastructure – including community infrastructure (“yellow light” on intensification); Established Neighbourhoods, where intensification beyond existing permissions in the Official Plan will be disallowed (“red light” on intensification); and Employment Areas, that will promote significant intensification of jobs. These areas are summarized in more detail below.

As of March 2016, 72% of proposed residential units since 2006 were  located outside the intensification areas identified in the Official Plan. This includes units that are either currently under review by city staff, under appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, or have been approved by city staff but for which a Building Permit has not yet been issued. Given current development trends since the development of the 2008 intensification strategy, staff believe that action must be taken to establish a comprehensive vision for intensification in the city through the Official Plan.

Purple and blue indicate growth areas for people & jobs.
Draft Urban Structure map: Purple and blue indicate growth areas for people & jobs.

Staff recommended, and council approved (July 18), that population and job growth/intensification directed away from established neighbourhoods and toward four key  areas in the city, including downtown, at GO Stations, along the Fairview/Plains corridor and on employment lands. Staff further outlined eight policy directions to make it happen, including designating primary and secondary areas and neighbourhood districts. Those areas and policies are outlined in more detail below. Read the full report by clicking on the July 7 Committee of the Whole meeting in the city of Burlington’s new online calendar.

The policy directions will form the bulk of changes to the city’s Official Plan. The city is required to review and update our OP every five years, called an Official Plan Amendment (OPA). The urban structure policies will form Part A of the OPA. Part B of the OPA focuses on rural and natural heritage, agricultural and mineral aggregates policies. Part B is expected to commence in 2017.

Four Growth and Intensification Areas:

  1. Urban Growth Centres (Downtown Burlington, already designated an UGC):
    • Planned to achieve 200 people and jobs
    • An area for investment in institutional and region wide public services as well as commercial, recreational and cultural uses
    • Transit
    • High density and major employment centre
    • Accommodate a significant share of population and employment growth
  2. Major Transit Station Areas, and
  3. Intensification Corridors
    • Both 2 & 3 expected to accommodate higher residential and employment densities to support existing or planned transit service
    • Both 2 & 3 will incorporate a mix uses including office, institutional, commercial and residential wherever appropriate.
  4. Employment Lands
    • Provide for an appropriate mix of employment uses
    • Support a wide range of economic activities and ancillary uses with any necessary infrastructure
    • Plan for, protect and preserve employment areas.

Eight Policy Directions (A-H)

Council approved eight policy directions that will comprise the Part A Official Plan Amendment. They are listed below with brief descriptions:

A. Update the OP Guiding Principles and Land Use Vision

Guiding principles for growth/intensification will address the following:

  • complete communities;
  • maintaining the urban boundary;
  • targeted intensification;
  • established neighbourhoods, rural areas, natural areas, and employment lands;
  • design excellence;
  • financial sustainability;
  • infrastructure and community infrastructure;
  • economic development;
  • mobility choice;
  • aligning land use, density and transit/active transportation;
  • healthy environment and natural resources;
  • climate change and sustainable building and community design;
  • health, safety and social well-being for all ages and abilities;
  • engagement;
  • culture and arts; and
  • community identity and character

B. Establish a new City System and Urban Structure Framework, including associated policies and mapping

The Urban Structure Framework promotes compact, transit-supportive, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods and densities in a series of centres and corridors, while protecting established neighbourhoods and environmental and employment areas over time. Several maps indicate where growth will occur, and include downtown Burlington, Brant Street connector from downtown to the Burlington GO station, along Plains Road/Fairview corridor, on employment lands and at aging commercial plazas.

C. Establish a new Intensification Framework, including associated policies and mapping

The proposed framework will achieve its objectives by establishing four key areas: Primary Intensification Areas, Secondary Intensification Areas, Employment Intensification Areas and Established Neighbourhood Areas. Policies will be developed for each that establish clear expectations for the scale and type of intensification that is expected within each area and provide greater direction when evaluating proponent-driven Official Plan amendments for increased density.

The key areas are summarized below:

Urban corridor redevelopment.
Urban corridor redevelopment visualization.

Primary Intensification Areas will accommodate the majority of the city’s intensification and forecasted growth to 2031 and beyond. These are “green-lighted” for development and include the city’s downtown Urban Growth Centre (UGC); mixed use areas of the Uptown Urban Centre; the Aldershot, Burlington and Appleby Mobility Hubs (GO Stations); the Plains Road/Fairview Street Urban Corridor; the Brant Street Urban Corridor (from downtown to the Burlington GO station); and aging Neighbourhood Centres located south of the QEW.

Commercial plaza potential redevelopment
Commercial plaza potential redevelopment

Secondary Intensification Areas may accommodate limited, site specific intensification opportunities to 2031 and beyond. These areas will be “yellow-lighted” for development, and include commercial/mixed use designated areas and generally vacant sites which are not located within a Primary or Employment Intensification Area and which are located immediately adjacent to an arterial street. Staff also propose that sites containing publicly-funded schools be generally identified as forming part of the Secondary Intensification Area in order to recognize potential redevelopment/intensification needs on these sites over the long-term which may not conform to the traditional residential land use designations applied to these sites.

Criteria for evaluating requests for increased density in Secondary Intensification Areas will focus on the proposed scale and intensity of the proposed development to ensure that the proposal will not result in significant unplanned population growth beyond that currently permitted under a site’s existing Official Plan permissions and that the proposal will not require infrastructure/community infrastructure investments/upgrades in order to be accommodated. This will provide staff and Council with greater control and predictability that development proposals involving significant population and employment growth will be focused/directed towards the Primary Intensification Areas.

In addition, this will ensure that financial resources for potential infrastructure investment/upgrades required to accommodate growth are not being redirected to areas outside of the Primary Intensification Areas.

Established Neighbourhood Areas  may experience forms of intensification in accordance with Official Plan permissions only, and will not be considered essential towards achieving population/employment growth to 2031 and beyond. These areas will still change through tear-down/infill projects, consents to sever, plans of subdivision, and accessory dwelling units, but major intensification projects would be “red-lighted” here.  In order to maintain the stability of the Established Neighbourhood Areas and limit the potential for the introduction of significant and unplanned intensification proposals into these areas, policies will be introduced that prohibit privately initiated Official Plan amendments for increased density beyond that permitted through the underlying land use designation.

Potential employment area intensification.
Potential employment area intensification.

Employment Intensification Areas will support a majority of future job growth on employment lands to 2031 and beyond. A new policy is proposed that will promote significant employment intensification proposals to be located in areas which are in close proximity to transit routes and/or major, multi-purpose or minor arterial streets to ensure these proposals are adequately served by the city’s transportation network. In addition, staff may review the need for any additional policies pending the outcome of the city’s current Municipal Comprehensive Review for employment lands.

Intensification Framework Map (draft):

Draft intensification framework map.
Draft intensification framework map.

Red is primary, orange is secondary, blue is employment and light green is established neighbourhoods.

In conjunction with a new schedule that outlines the intensification areas above, staff also propose to introduce policy that will prohibit privately-initiated Official Plan Amendment applications that propose to modify the Intensification Framework schedule on a site or development-specific basis outside of a broader comprehensive city-initiated review of an area or the Official Plan as a whole. The intent of this policy would be to ensure that the city’s vision for intensification is implemented with a reasonable amount of consistency and predictability over time for the benefit of Council and the public and not altered through site specific amendments which collectively may erode or jeopardize the city’s broader vision for intensification and other related city-building objectives over time.

While this proposal will not eliminate potential Official Plan Amendments for increased density, it will ensure that such proposals are located in areas that are in keeping with the vision for intensification as outlined in the framework.

D. Amend the OP’s definition of ‘intensification’ to conform with the Province and Region of Halton’s definition and undertake consequential amendments throughout the OP

The Official Plan currently defines intensification as being development “at a higher density or intensity than permitted under existing zoning“. This definition was developed prior to the introduction of the Province’s growth plan, which defines intensification as development “at a higher density than currently exists.” Staff propose adopting the Province’s definition of intensification as development occurring at a higher density than that which currently exists on a site, without reference to the existing zoning permissions. This will result in more developments being considered intensification within the city, particularly those which had previously been identified as “infill” under the current Official Plan’s definitions. These developments will now become subject to the applicable intensification related policies of the Plan, including related evaluation criteria, further ensuring that developments are compatible with their surrounding areas.

E. Update the OP’s current evaluation criteria for intensification proposals to better address a range of uses, built-form and urban design

Intensification evaluation criteria would include:

  • enhanced criteria that promotes urban design excellence and increased compatibility for mid- and high-rise developments, including enhanced sun shadowing and wind impact considerations;
  • consideration of site layout/building orientation to facilitate future opportunities to achieve grid networks, short blocks, access to the street and active transportation connections across multiple properties (both public and private), where appropriate;
  • consideration of Transportation Demand Management (TDM) measures when evaluating adequacy of on-site parking;
  • introduce grading as an element for consideration;
  • ensure intensification proposals contribute towards a high quality public realm;
  • apply development evaluation criteria to all intensification proposals, regardless of whether the proposal contains residential uses.

F. Introduce policy that enables the identification of Strategic Investment Areas within Primary Intensification Areas by City Council

A Strategic Investment Area (SIA) would receive a range of special attention measures to overcome an identified constraint to intensification, and facilitate population and/or employment growth in accordance with Council’s strategic priorities. Tools which may be considered in a SIA include:

  1. Development Related Fee Incentives;
  2. Capital investments;
  3. Community Improvement Plans;
  4. Community Benefits (Section 37 of the Planning Act);
  5. Public/private infrastructure agreements;
  6. Area Specific Plans;
  7. City-initiated land acquisition/development;
  8. City-initiated Official Plan and/or Zoning By-Law amendments; and/or
  9. Economic development strategies.
Mobility Hub - Aldershot GO visualization
Mobility Hub – Aldershot GO visualization

G. Establish a new Mobility Hubs policy framework, including associated policies and mapping

The current Official Plan does not identify the city’s four Mobility Hubs, which include two provincially designated Mobility Hubs (Burlington GO Gateway Hub, and the Downtown Urban Growth Centre and Anchor Mobility hub) and two city-identified Mobility Hubs (Aldershot GO and Appleby GO). These Mobility Hubs are critical locations to direct intensification, achieve transit supportive densities and develop pedestrian and transit-oriented mixed use areas. Staff are proposing to create a vision and policies for each of the mobility hubs. Significant background research has already been done on mobility hubs. Council recently approved $2.5 million to hire additional staff to complete this work by June 2017. (See related story here: TO COME).

Policy recommendations for employment lands within Mobility Hubs will be presented with the Municipal Comprehensive Review/Employment Conversions recommendations in Q3 of 2016.

H. Update the policies and schedules in the Official Plan and Transportation Plan to recognize and integrate Mobility Hubs and Connectors in the city-wide transportation system

The current Official Plan includes extensive transportation policies which support all modes of transportation, however the policies are predominately focused on the road network. Existing land use policy also supports pedestrian and transit-supportive development; however policies can be strengthened to achieve improved modal splits and the vision for Mobility Hubs. New policies will support mobility hubs and “connectors” between them, classified as primary, secondary or tertiary connectors. Proposed connectors are as follows:

Primary Connectors (Brant Street, Plains Road/Fairview Street): Major thoroughfares with the ability to provide direct connections between hubs and act as strong pedestrian destinations

Secondary Connectors (Maple Avenue, New Street, Appleby Line): Other important roadways in the city that provide a viable alternative for linking hubs and have the potential to be strong pedestrian, cycling and transit corridors in the future.

Tertiary Connectors (Centennial Bike Trail, Waterfront Trail, Hydro Corridors/Channels): Pedestrian trails and bike paths in the city that connect hub sites.

Coordination among departments/agencies:

In preparing the urban update to the Official Plan, staff will work with Halton Region, to ensure our goals are incorporated into the Regional Official Plan Amendment (ROPA) work that is also underway; stormwater, transportation and transit management, as well as links to the community energy plan will be key elements of staff’s work on urban intensification planning.

Staff will integrate accessibility, affordability, and transportation demand management measures such as bicycle and car share facilities into intensification planning.

The city’s finance department will undertake a Fiscal Impact analysis to analyze the costs and revenues of varying forms of development. Due this year, the analysis will inform the city’s land use decisions to ensure a full planning analysis which considers social, economic, financial, physical and environmental factors.

The changing development patterns of Burlington will require changes to how the city plans for future capital works and parks and open space needs within the city, particularly in intensification areas. Changes to current practices regarding the planned size, location and function of new parks spaces and/or required enhancements to existing parks will be required to ensure that future parks and open space planning can serve the long-term needs of residents and workers in the city’s intensification areas.

My Take:

The urban structure and intensification policy directions were approved unanimously at council, on a recorded vote at my request. It was an eyeopener to read that 72% of intensification in Burlington has essentially occurred outside of where we want it. This explains and helps validate resident concerns over the years about site specific redevelopments in their neighbourhoods. The proposed policies will help city council and residents to gain more control and predictability over intensification by identifying where it should go (primary areas), may go subject to considerations (secondary areas) and should not go (established neighbourhoods).

The proposal to forbid Official Plan amendments in established neighbourhoods will be welcome to residents, who understand we need to accommodate growth where it makes sense, but intensification doesn’t mean “anything goes, anywhere.”

I support the focus to ensure “community infrastructure” – not just hard infrastructure like sewers and hydro – exists to support population growth. I believe the fiscal impact work being done by finance staff will help identify the true cost of development, and guide us on when we reach a “tipping point” of new development in an area that may require new investments in community amenities – such as a new community centre or library. That fiscal analysis will help us decide whether to proceed with development proposals, and if so, how.

I’m pleased at the emphasis on preserving parks and open space in urban areas, and as part of urban redevelopment. Intensification has at times been a war on urban greenspace; we can correct that by ensuring increased setbacks, tree preservation and onsite greenspace in large redevelopments. It’s good for the residents who will move in; it’s also good for the whole community.

Despite this good work, we retain limited control over development as long as the Ontario Municipal Board exists. All of the above policies can be appealed; applications for growth outside the primary areas can still proceed and be appealed to the Board if council rejects them.

I continue to believe that the best planning system is one without the right of appeal to the OMB, a system where the best opportunity for everyone to influence development in their communities is to get involved in shaping an Official Plan, elect representatives who will support it, and advocate to council on specific developments. This is accountable, transparent, free of charge, equally fair to residents and developers alike, and accessible to all – no need to have deep pockets to fund a costly OMB appeal.

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.

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  1. Initially I thought that this seemed to be a fantastic idea and was very encouraged, after being involved in discussion and attending council meetings around development in established neighbourhoods, that intensification would be redlighted in established neighbourhoods.

    Two days later I came across a proposal to rezone and develop two lots, previously hosting one standalone house each, with 39 two storey townhomes at 143 Blue Water Place and 105 Avondale Court. This area is south of Lakeshore at or around Goodram Drive and is firmly placed in an established neighbourhood.

    • Thanks Charles. A couple of thoughts – the city’s goal is to direct intensification like this away from established neighbourhoods. However, that doesn’t prevent applications from developers for whatever they’d like to do. They can apply, and the city is legally obligated to process the application. Mere processing of an application does not convey or infer support for it. A recommendation from staff and a decision by council around an application comes much later. Also, the proposals are still in draft form; redirecting intensification toward primary areas, and under restrictions secondary areas, and away from established neighbourhoods is the future direction and it should inform current discussions and decisions, but it is not officially embedded into our Official Plan yet.

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