Staff propose changes to the downtown; more needed

To Planning & Development Committee Jan. 23, 1pm & 6:30pm

Existing heights and heritage downtown

Analysis & Opinion: As a result of your advocacy and concerns raised by several members of council, planning staff have introduced some options to change the downtown plan introduced November 30. The changes, along with additional information, are outlined in a staff report on the agenda for the Jan. 23 Planning & Development (P&D) Committee meeting at 1pm, continuing at 6:30pm.

However, much more change is still needed.

To that end, the Jan. 23 agenda also includes a memo and powerpoint outlining eight motions I will be bringing to the P&D to ensure balanced development, rather than overintensification. Read more about the motions here: Eight motions for balanced growth, not overintensification downtown.

Recent changes to downtown plan

New options for managing growth downtown have emerged since staff’s Nov. 30 report, which are outlined in the staff report that will be discussed Jan. 23:

  •  The City’s existing Tall Building Guidelines contain a recommended tower separation of 25 metres between buildings, and a 750 sq m floor plate; both of these could be established as a policy requirement (rather than a guideline) for all tall buildings in the downtown through the proposed New Official Plan
  • Include a height maximum in the Official Plan for the proposed Downtown Tall Residential Precinct. Staff are proposing exploring height maximums during the area specific plan for the downtown, which is still to come.
  • Proceed with the incorporation of the Downtown Mobility Hub Precinct Plan, as proposed, into the New Official Plan, with the exception of the proposed Downtown Core precinct. For this precinct, the proposed maximum building height would be removed and temporarily replaced with a maximum building height permission equal to the existing as-built building height which currently exists on properties within the proposed Downtown Core precinct area. In this option, staff would continue to develop new and refined policies to address community and Council comments, including undertaking further review for the purposes of establishing a proposed maximum building height for the precinct. These refined policies would be brought forward as part of the final Downtown Area Specific Plan.

Of the three options above, the most significant is removing the downtown core precinct and giving it further study. I am bringing several motions to modify that precinct (4a, b, c) but would support deferring any changes to the precinct until detailed area specific plans are ready.

That said, changes are also required to other precincts, detailed in my motions. Read the motions and supporting rationale in a separate post here: “Motions proposed for balanced growth downtown, not overintensification”

Read my earlier summary of proposed changes to the downtown, with detailed mapping here: Changes needed to downtown plan

The most significant motion is to delay council approval of the Official Plan till after the election, as well as work with the Region when they update their Official Plan in 2019 to remove the downtown designation as an Urban Growth Centre and Mobility Hub. Read my related post here: “No need to rush approval of Burlington’s Official Plan”

We also have an opportunity to include the downtown as an innovation district, and strategic employment area. I brought two motions to the Jan. 16 committee meeting discussing employment policies in the new Official Plan. One failed (innovation district) and one passed (strategic employment area). These will come to council Jan. 29 for a final vote. You can speak in support at the council meeting, or add support for these motions to you delegation Jan. 23. Read more here: Innovation district, strategic employment area proposed for downtown

Additional analysis of overall changes to the downtown:

It was clear at the Nov. 30 meeting that even city councillors didn’t have a good handle on what is changing downtown. In the Jan. 23 report staff provided additional analysis, outlined below with some additional context.

Staff have said about 11% of the downtown will see change, with 4.5% of that increasing by 4-10 storeys, and 2% increasing by 11+ storeys. (See graphic)

To put that in perspective, Spencer Smith Park is only 3.7% of the downtown; a small percent but a big impact if that ever changed. The new 23 storey building at 421 Brant St is only .1% of the downtown – but has a significant impact on the streetscape, resulting in opposition from a majority of residents who have spoken out from across the city.

In land use planning what goes where is more important than what percent of land we’re talking about.

Location and size matter, and that’s why residents are speaking out.

New precinct system.

What’s changing by precinct

The downtown has a “precinct” system, outlining different development, height and density permissions in each precinct (a geographical area downtown). There used to be 8 precincts; there are now 11. Staff provided a chart in the Jan. 23 staff report (PB-11-18, pg10) of what is changing by precinct, and a separate chart of whether the size of the precinct is increasing (pg 10). The charts have to be read with the colour map that outlines where the precincts are.

Block by block analysis

Appendix F and G (pg 30-31) of the report provides a block by block summary of what is changing, as well as detailed heights and site layout. The most significant changes are as follows:

  • Block 1,2: North West/North East corner of Brant & Ghent, to Brant & Prospect: currently 6 storeys; proposed up to 25
  • Block 5: Brant, West side from Olga to Blairholm: currently 6 storeys, proposed up to 17 facing Brant scaling back to 3 storeys  backing on to Alfred Cresc.
  • Block 7: Acura dealership, North east corner of Brant/Victoria: currently 6 storeys, proposed up to 17.
  • Proposed heights, site layout.

    Block 8: No Frills Plaza: currently 6 storeys; proposed up to 17 with a new public park.

  • Block 13: Northwest corner of Brant/Caroline: currently 4 up to 8 with community benefits; proposed 3
  • Block 15: John to Elizabeth from Maria to James: currently 4-8 storeys; proposed up to 17
  • Block 16: City Hall block from Ontario to Elgin, between Brant/Locust: currently 4-8 storeys; proposed no maximum. Maximum would be established in the Zoning Bylaw.
  • Block 18: John St from James to Pine: currently 4-8 storeys; proposed up to 17 storeys
  • Block 19: Northwest corner of James/Pearl (where Oyster is) currently 4-8 storeys; proposed up to 17 storeys
  • Block 20: Pearl south of James currently 4-8 storeys; proposed 6 storeys at the corner up to 17 storeys where the Poacher is
  • Block 22: South East corner of Martha/James (existing 4 storey apartments); current is 22m (6-7 storeys) proposed up to 11 storeys
  • Block 24: Village Square, currently 4-8 storeys; proposed 17 storeys in the middle of the Square retaining the buildings around the perimeter
  • Block 25: North East side of Pearl/Pine (church block) to Martha: currently split zoning with 4 storey facing Pine, 3 storey facing Martha; proposed up to 17 along Pine, 11 along Martha
  • Block 26: East side of Martha at Pine up to bike path; currently 22m (6-7 storeys), proposed up to 11
  • Block 30: corner of Martha/Lakeshore (subject to OMB ruling; applied for 26 storeys) and corner of Pearl/Lakeshore: current 4-8 storeys; proposed 17 for both corners
  • Block 32: Lion’s Club park (building area only) currently 4-8 storeys; proposed up to 17; park area designated open space
  • Block 33: North East corner of Burlington/Lakeshore; Official Plan is medium/high density; zoning limits to 3 storeys; proposed up to 6 storeys. One of my motions will be to limit height on both sides of Burlington/Lakeshore to 3 storeys.

New and modified precincts:

The waterfront West Public Lands precinct has changed to the downtown parks and promenades precinct, and has increased by 49%. The previous precinct only included Spencer Smith Park; the new precinct has included existing parks throughout the downtown (for example the hydro corridor and park beside Burlington Central High School). There are development rights on some of these lands which will change with the parks designation. The most significant new public park is a proposed 1 hectare park should the No Frills plaza redevelop.

The Downtown Major Institutional precinct has changed to the Downtown Public Service precinct. It has increased by 59% by including existing public buildings that were previously not included (for example, City Hall, Art Gallery of Burlington, Burlington Performing Arts Centre, schools and churches). Development on these lands will require an Official Plan Amendment to trigger public input.

Ontario, north side between Brock, just past Nelson, was mid-rise residential (salmon)…
Same area is now part of St. Luke’s precinct, but also included in Urban Growth Centre boundaries (red dotted line).

The St. Luke’s/Emerald precincts have seen a slight increase in size by including the property on Ontario St east of the hydro corridor (previously mid-rise residential). However, this parcel has now been included in the Urban Growth Centre boundaries; one of my motions will be to exclude this area, in keeping with the general principles of the UGC to exclude stable neighbourhoods.

The existing Downtown Core/Wellington Square Precincts have been combined, with some areas added to new precincts of varying heights.

Source: Staff Report PB-81-17, p10

Public engagement:

The staff report speaks to 108,000 contact points with the community (pg 2). According to information in the Nov. 30 staff report (pg 10), that includes Facebook reach of 83,266, reflecting appearance in someone’s timeline (whether they saw or read the post or not), as well as mailings of 23,531 (whether they read the mail or not) and 720 email notifications (whether they opened their email and read it or not).

More meaningful two-way engagement is people who attended meetings and/or provided comments, which amounts to 1,300 people. The breakdown is below (also included in the Nov. 30 staff report) and likely includes some overlap; some people attended all the public meetings, provided comments, filled out a workbook and shared on their social feeds.

  • attendance at three public meetings (pg 4): 250 total
  • drop in open houses, coffee shop consultations, walking tours (pg 10): 74
  • online surveys (visioning survey and precinct workbook): 251
  • Facebook: Shares 125, comments 107, reactions 493

Have Your Say

You can register as a delegation by noon Jan. 22 to speak at the Jan. 23 Planning & Development committee. Note which session, 1 or 6:30, you wish to speak at.

Additional days are scheduled Wed. Jan. 24, and Thurs. Jan. 25 at 1 and 6:30pm if we are not finished with delegations, questions of staff and motions. All meetings are open to the public to attend, and are live webcast and archived on the city website with the agenda and meetings for the meeting. (Search for the meeting date on the city calendar to see agenda, minutes and webcast).

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. If staff and council are so confident that they are on the right path why rush? This Official Plan should not be passed until the transit, transportation and mobility hub master plans have been complete. No where does it say that this Official Plan needs to be passed now.

  2. But my feelings is they will do it before election, because that way they get it in motion and we can’t do anything about it, except watch everything downtown get torn down and now we are stuck looking. at concrete.

  3. This is an incredible amount of new information to take in and study and IMO it makes it even more important that your motion to wait until after the October election to approve the OP be approved by Council tomorrow. They cannot simply make all these new changes which will be subject to further and possibly different comments and opinions by residents and expect to ram it through in a couple of months.

What's your take?

Burlington Official Plan

No need to rush approval of Burlington’s Official Plan

Innovation district, strategic employment area proposed for downtown, GO stations