Categories: Downtown & WaterfrontEconomic DevelopmentOfficial Plan & Zoning

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

Analysis & Opinion – We have an opportinuty to designate the downtown as an innovation district, and a strategic employment area of the city  as part of our new Official Plan.

The new OP includes a chapter on economic activity – Chapter FIve – which details innovation districts, strategic employment areas and other policies.

Council recently discussed employment policies during the Jan. 16 Planning & Development Committee. I brought two motions to committee:

  • Expand innovation districts to other parts of the city, including the downtown (Section 5.3, Schedule B). (Failed 5-2)
  • Add the downtown and three mobility hubs to the Strategic Employment Areas (Section 5.4). (Approved)

Strategic Employment Area

Chapter 5.4 of the Official Plan lists four strategic employment areas, which are mostly on lands designated employment lands (which don’t permit residential and retail, with some exceptions). These are the QEW Corridor, Bronte Creek Meadows, 403 West Corridor, and 407 Corridor. The downtown was entirely missing from the list in the April 2017 draft, but I advocated to include it, so it was added to the November draft under a catch-all category of “existing and emerging mixed-use intensification areas”, alongside the three GO station mobility hubs.

The downtown was a stand-alone economic area, deserving of its own strategy in earlier commercial studies that were commissioned as part of the Official Plan, including urbanMetrics Commercial Market Supply and Demand Analysis 2013 and the Mobility Hubs Opportunities and Constraints study.

The latter calls for a strategy to attract office development within mobility hubs, major transit station areas and the urban growth centre noting “The market on its own is unlikely to bring these desired uses to these important areas of the city. There is potential for the city to take the role of incentivizing and/or regulating these desired uses.” (Briefing note, page 6)

But the downtown somehow dropped off the economic activity section in Chapter 5 in the April draft, and was included in a catch-all section in the November draft, without specific politcies to address the unique conditions in the downtown that were detailed in these earlier studies.

Committee supported my motion for a stand-alone section on the downtown as a strategic employment area, as well as stand alone sections on the mobility hubs.

Innovation DIstrict:

Currently, the new Official Plan recognizes only one innovation district: the area around the Ron Joyce Centre/DeGroote School of Business, on the South Service Road. This area meets one of the criteria for an innovation district: near a post-secondary institution (Section 5.3.2). It is not near housing, major transit, or retail and service commercial, among other criteria. It’s off the beaten path, an unfortunate location for a school that was originally planned for the downtown; so why chase the first mistake of location with an innovation district that would be better more centrally located elsewhere in the city?

By contrast, the downtown meets almost all the criteria of an innovation district. A 269 page report by Dillon Consulting for the Official Plan commercial strategy specifically mentions the downtown as an innovation district. Section 2.2, pg 6, notes:

There are at least two distinct physical forms of innovation areas: urban districts which tend to have a smaller footprint and are situated in a densely populated, mixed use area which is accessible by public transit (e.g. downtown, near the downtown or waterfront area); and campus style parks which tend to be located in suburban areas…”

Proximity to a major institution, such as a hospital (pg 20) is also a key ingredient; Joseph Brant Hospital is within the downtown area.

The Dillon Report analyzes successful incubators in Ontario, Canada and other parts of the world, and almost every one of them is in an urban area, close to housing, transit, retail and other amenities – just like the downtown.

Read the Dillon Report: Dillon Employment Lands PB-30-16 Appendix B

It would be a missed economic opportunity in our Official Plan not to expand innovation districts beyond the DeGroote centre, to the downtown and elsewhere, including the three GO station mobility hubs.

Though my motion failed 5-2 at committee (with Councillor Dennison in support), I will bring it to council on Jan. 29 and hope to get two more votes. You can help by delegating at council or writing to members of council in support.

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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