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All neighbourhoods could change under new Official Plan: Semis, towns, apartment walk-ups allowed in single family home neighbourhoods

To council March 19

Streetscape of St Lukes Precinct

Analysis & Insight: Think your single family, low density residential neighbourhood is protected from intensification under the proposed new Official Plan? Think again.

A clause in the new OP would permit semi-detached units and “other forms of attached, ground-oriented dwellings” – such as townhouses and apartment walkups – in residential low density neighbourhoods. [Clause 8.3.3(1)b)]. The caveat is the density must be less than “25 units per hectare.”

This is a carry-over clause that was also present in the previous Official Plan [Clause 2.2.2c)]. So what’s the big deal?

A lot has changed since that clause was put in the Official Plan. First, we are under increasing pressure for intensification everywhere; and second, the zoning – which used to restrict built form – has to conform to the permissions in the Official Plan. These points a further elaborated below, along with planned motions for the April 24 committee meeting to discuss the Official Plan.

The bottom line is that this changes everything. Without the ability for further restrictions of built form under zoning, this clause has the potential to dramatically alter our neighbourhoods, allowing land assembly and semi-detached, townhouses, and walkups next to single family homes. This is contrary to the spirit of the new OP which is to direct intensification away from stable neighbourhoods towards mobility corridors with frequent transit and access to shops and jobs close by.


Pressure to intensify

We are under increasing pressure of intensification, including in low density residential neighbourhoods. A prime example is the Blue Water/Avondale townhouse application in a low density area of single family homes south of Lakeshore, east of Walkers Line. The developer assembled two lots, and under a revised plan  is seeking to build 21 three-storey town houses, and seven two-storey townhouses. The density on the initial proposal was 24 units per hectare (Staff report page 5), just under the OP limit of 25. A rezoning was required to allow town houses; but under the new implementation, zoning can’t conflict or be more restrictive with the Official Plan built form permissions (see below).

The majority of the community as well as staff and council rejected this proposal, and it’s now at the Ontario Municipal Board (under the old rules) with a hearing scheduled to begin May 14.

We can expect to see more of these applications come forward. With this clause remaining in the OP it will be hard to guide development away from these areas toward where we want it. This clause goes against the guiding principle of the new OP which is to direct density away from stable neighbourhoods, and towards mobility corridors with access to frequent transit, shops and jobs.

Zoning can’t “conflict” with the Official Plan

In addition, staff have advised me that zoning “implements” the Official Plan and can’t conflict with it. So, for example, the zoning can’t restrict the built form in low density areas if that built form is already allowed in the Official Plan. The exception is if the OP says a rezoning is required to achieve a particular built form, for example townhouses. No such launguage is currently written into the new OP.

Under the old Official Plan, zoning was used to provide further restrictions on Official Plan permissions; for example in the Blue Water case above (the OP allowed townhouses; the zoning did not), and recently on Brant Street backing on to Rambo Creek (the OP allows for six storeys here, but the zoning further limited height to 3 storeys).  We’re now advised that zoning can’t restrict the OP in this manner. So, if we want a particular height or built form in an area, it has to be specifically written into the Official Plan. We can’t fix it later under zoning..


Slide from Jan. 16, 2018 staff presentation

This changes everything.

Throughout the OP process, we’ve been told the new Plan “protects established residential neighbourhoods by directing growth to other areas of the city” , that only “5%” of Burlington is changing, mainly in the downtown, around the three GO stations, and at older retail plazas. Including townhouses, apartment walkups and semi-detached units in residential low density neighbourhoods in the Official Plan – without the ability to restrict this built form through the Zoning By-Law – fundamentally changes that. Every neighbourhood could see significant change, through land assembly and tear downs on large lots.

Indian Point & Roseland Character Areas protected

The only exception is in Neighbourhood Character Areas, which permit only single detached homes [Clause 8.3.6(2)c)]. There are two Neighbourhood Character Areas identified in the new Official Plan – Indian Point and Roseland [Clause 8.3.6(3)]. A Neighbourhood Character Area study was also conducted for Shoreacres, but this isn’t listed in the new OP as a protected area.

At the request of delegates who attended the Feb. 28 P&D meeting, I brought a motion to undertake a character area study for St. Luke’s and Emerald precincts downtown. That was defeated 6-1 and will come to council March 19.


At an earlier committee meeting, I brought a motion to defer adding semis to the Official Plan and consider them during the zoning bylaw review when lot coverage, setbacks and other matters to protect greenspace and neighbourhood character are determined. That motion was originally supported, then on reconsideration defeated 6-1 and can only be reintroduced with a 5-2 reconsideration vote, or by the next council after the election.

Report coming for March 19 council

Because of concerns from council members when I raised the issue of townhouses and apartments being allowed in residential low density areas, staff are preparing additional information about the types of developments that could be permitted, prior to the March 19 council meeting. I withdrew a motion at P&D committee to delete that clause from the OP until we have the information from staff, but will be prepared to introduce it at the April 24/25 final committee meetings to adopt the new OP. (These dates have been revised from the originally planned dates of April 4 & 23.

What you can do

  • Register as a delegation to the March 19 council meeting to share your views about the motion to conduct character area studies for St. Luke’s and Emerald Precincts – or other neighbourhoods.
  • Register as a delegation to the April 24/25 Planning & Development Committee meetings to share your views about allowing townhouses and apartment walkups in low density neighbourhoods.
  • Provide your feedback to all council members and the OP review team:

Why the rush?

This fundamental change to low-density neighbourhoods is one more reason why the new OP shouldn’t be rushed. We need to take the time to get it right. The best mid-size city in Canada deserves a better plan – one that will steer intensification away from low density neighbourhoods to major mixed-use arterial roads where growth can be better accommodated.


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. I am curious ,How did Oakville miss out on intensification in the core? Why do I feel it was about the city receiving money. If we have met the criteria was is this still going on? I for one am disgusted with all this.

    • Betty, When the province initially designated Oakville downtown as an Urban Growth Centre in early 2000s, the city said they’d rather have it at the GO station, and that’s where the mobility hub is also.
      Province has shown itself to be amenable to working with city councils to get the location of UGC’s and Mobility Hubs right. It may take some time; we need to make the request to remove UGC/Mobility HUB from downtown to relieve pressure for overintensification downtown.
      Province designated two mobility hubs in Burlington – Burlington GO and downtown. City voluntarily added Aldershot and Appleby GO stations – so, now we have four, when the province has only designated two. If we take the downtown away, we’re still one more than the province assigned us. We can take our fair share of growth without overintensification downtown.

    • Maybe Oakville had more foresight to allow intense away from downtown. Ours turned their sights to heavy intensification years ago. Seems our council condones this downtown in every revised “precinct”. Apparently said Oakville downtown failing so Burlington has to move forward and upward??? Because the province and Metrolinx tells us to!!!!!

    • There are many of us who share your disgust. Let the mayor know how you feel and come to city Hall on April 24 when the final discussion on the new plan take place. Show council where you stand.

    • Betty Nardi awesome, thank you. We have to let a majority of council members know we don’t like what they are doing. MM Ward is too often a lone voice for her constituents and the wider city. Let’s show her she is not alone. I live in Aldershot, but still feel the downtown belongs to everyone. We need to convince councilors from other wards that is true. C U there.

  2. This OP process has seemingly endless findings, not to mention actions, revealing deviations from what residents have been told will be, and not be, permitted.

    I agree with what MMW says here has been told to residents about what will and will not be allowed.

    The Mayor, Ward 1 Councilors Craven, Sharman, Dennison, Taylor, Lancaster, and Meed Ward of course, Planning Director Tanner (now Deputy city manager) City Manager Ridge, have over and over, in numerous fora, assured residents that existing single family, low density residential neighbourhoods are protected from intensification under the proposed new Official Plan. And that only 5% of the city would be affected.

    I have heard this so many times that with this belated revelation, I have lost trust in Planners, City Manager, and Council as a whole except for Meed Ward.

    From my personal experience, Craven has told me and other residents, at his Ward 1 meetings, that low density family neighbourhoods are protected more times than I can count.

    The most recent was at a meeting on an application, on the edge of the Aldershot Mobility Hub, that was supported by him because it is on the edge of the Hub, and not in the adjacent Aldershot residential area that is supposed to be protected. He said this adjacent residential is protected, and his support for the application was only based on the inclusion in the Mobility Hub perimeter rationale.

    I`m wondering whether he will support the Meed Ward motion to strike the relevant clause(s) from the OPs.

    I think that overall, the fact that clauses that permit this intensification in single family, low density neighborhoods are in both the existing and proposed OPs, doesn’t really change the point of the original observation reported here, also in the Gazette by a reader, and by the Planners at a Committee, that this permission was a change and addition only in the proposed OP, compared to the existing OP.

    Rather, the truth of the matter reported here only adds to it.

    Like; how was this missed by planning in the first place? This oversight just makes the point even more glaring.

    The function of oversight – to ensure policy consistency with public declarations, information, and assurances – do not work, and are not working, in this management scenario.

    As I have said before – “slowness remembers, and hurry forgets”; and, “patience doesn’t always work, but impatience never does”.

    Regarding the point of the story, it still makes no discernible difference regarding intensification that residents have been repeatedly told will not be allowed to happen. You are correct in saying that this will impact the whole city.

    I should add the question, how many “Notwithstanding” sections, that can act as backdoor, or default, loopholes are there in the draft OP, or the existing one for that matter? These can override the general rules and permissions, and void the OP intent.

    And, on top of this Planning policy void to seemingly anywhere developers want to go, as I noted in my last submission on the OP to Committee, how many side-slips are there to “site specific applications”, that allow essentially applications for total variances from permitted OP and zoning specifications?

    Someone needs to do a Word search of the OPs to look for these two terms.

    Better yet, the City Manager, Deputy City Manager, Planning Department Director, and the Mayor, as owners of what this inconsistency between words and actions, must order the Planners to do this Word search and make public the extent to which these two terms of permissions exist in both OPs, and the extent that these permissions can undermine the promises of protection repeatedly made to existing single family, low density neighborhoods.

    There is now a month available to do this, so time is not an excuse.

    If it was my job, I could likely do it in a work week at most, including learning how to search for these terms to get comprehensive and meaningful results.

  3. FYI. Townhouses and semi-detached can now be allowed in low density areas. In fact the townhouses being applied for on Blue Water Place and Avondale Court are being applied for under an RM2 Exception zone. I believe the original intention was to allow for what I refer to as “zoning creep” where they would be allowed in areas adjacent to or in close proximity to existing units. That is why First Urban’s “precedent” of the townhouses on Lakeshore Blvd. west of the QEW Niagara ramp cannot be considered as a precedent since they are adjacent to the row of townhouses on Francis Road.
    Any allowance for townhouses and semi-detached in low density areas must have conditions attached to specifically to allow them only for zoning creep.
    PS. It is time to replace most members of Council with members that are pro-citizen rather than pro- developers!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Because of concerns from council members when I raised the issue of townhouses and apartments being allowed in residential low density areas, staff are preparing additional You say that information about the types of developments that could be permitted prior to the March 19 council meeting is coming. I don’t mean to be funny but is a joke as once the OP is passed they don’t have to adhere to it anyways, as they will just change the zoning. They can talk their way out of a paper bag. It is for this reason that I am very disappointed that you withdrew a motion at P&D committee to delete that clause as I feel you should be prepared to introduce it at council, or the subsequent April 4 final committee meeting to adopt the new OP.
    I am also extremely angry that the ‘select’ areas of Indian Point and Roseland are exempt! Truly what makes those areas so special. More to the point Indian Point already has multi dwelling units, so what it is issue with more. As for Roseland – elitism prevails. Where I live in Ward 2 is equally as lovely.

  5. I live north of upper middle and it seems our neighbourhoods al already have townhomes apartments semi-detached amongst single family homes so wondering what is the change you are speaking of or is this just in old Burlington south of QEW issue?

    • Craig, Good question, thanks for asking. There are areas in the city that have been designated medium density, which allow townhouses and apartment walkups. These areas have tended to be on the periphery of established neighbourhoods, closer to arterial roads that can absorb the additional traffic and population density. The change being proposed is via zoning: the existing zoning is more restrictive than the OP in low density areas and prevents townhouses and townhouses and apartment walkups in a low-density neighbourhoods. We’re now told that zoning has to “conform” to OP – so if this provision stays in the new OP, we can’t restrict it at the zoning stage. That means towns/apartments can pop up anywhere land is assembled in any neighbourhood, tearing down existing homes, losing greenspace and architectural character. This in my view isn’t good planning, as this type of higher density housing form should be directed to where it is most appropriate. Land use planning is all about location – no one opposes townhouses, apartments, or even high rises for that matter; the key is to determine where in the city these higher density housing forms fit best. In my view, higher density housing should be on major roads, not in local neighbourhoods. The existing zoning recognizes this principle, and initially we were told that low density residential neighbourhoods would be protected from intensification; Keeping this in the OP without the ability to restrict housing form via zoning would fundamentally change it.

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