For Burlington, future is ‘smart’ intensification
‘Grow Bold’ based on 3 ways to grow — up, smart, and beautiful. But can the city deliver?
First: Updates. July 4 Burlington council voted to eliminate parking on Fairview Street in front of the Halton Mosque. That will delight east-enders who have complained for years about safety and poor sightlines. It’s up to the mosque now. If it implements other measures — like a shuttle — staff will field fewer complaints Fridays that worshippers are hijacking their visitor parking spots.
Second, another court decision in favour of the City against Burlington Air Park (again, with costs). Burlington Air Park has continually challenged the city’s right to prevent dumping of tonnes of fill on its property, with its ensuing drainage impacts. They kept repeating: “You have no control over us — we’re an airport, answerable only to the feds.” When courts decided otherwise, they appealed, and lost. They were ordered to file a site alteration application, which they didn’t. On June 30 court gave them until Aug. 31 to file it. The court even confirmed that Air Park had conducted a commercial landfill on its land.
Last week councillors had a staff presentation on the policy directions for its updated Official Plan (OP). Years ago a planner said: “Think of an OP as an illustration of your new house. But you can’t build it without blueprints, detailing where everything inside goes (hydro, wall plugs, pipes, etc.). The zoning bylaw that implements an OP is like a blueprint — the details.” A major update to an OP is a huge, costly, multi-year undertaking, must be approved by Halton Region, and is appealable to the OMB. (Don’t get me started on the OMB.) We started this OP review in 2012, and are now arriving at a draft of sorts. It has to be retested with the public, and many more policies need fleshing out. We’re not even close to a final product. This month council will authorize spending $2.2 million over the next three years to develop intensification policies for our four “Mobility Hubs”. (This OP should be called “Intensification 101”).
The presentation, headed “Grow Bold,” was based on three ways to grow — up, smart, and beautiful. The OP contains some good policies, like having primary and secondary intensification areas, and recognizing established neighbourhood areas. However so far it’s lacking emphasis on green areas amid all the concrete, and there is little on how employment intensification will be achieved. With the stress on intensification, and little on affordable housing, where will families live? It contains lots of nice words and motherhood statements.
One new section proposes prohibiting private plan amendments in established neighbourhood areas to increase density beyond that allowed in the underlying designation. Is that doable? My guess is that the OMB could entertain such appeals.
Proposed are “strategic investment areas,” which would allow council to identify specific geographic areas as priorities. The development industry’s comments are positive — meaning fewer appeals? — but it all boils down to implementation. I’ve been critical of the generous “flexibility” allowed today, because it leaves the impression, “Ask and ye shall receive.” And that is borne out in the staff report: “As of March 2016, 72 per cent of proposed residential units since 2006 which are either currently under review by city staff/under appeal to the OMB, or have been approved by city staff, but for which a building permit has not yet been issued, were located outside of the intensification areas identified through the city’s previous 2008 framework.” Wow! The OP emphasizes transit and walkability, but will transit ever work well in our city, given its lack of a good grid road system, and too few east-west through corridors?
There are several good policies in this plan, including enhanced design requirements. It is really based on our 1997 updated plan, but it all boils down to how well council will adhere to this OP.
City Manager James Ridge noted that the strong OP, combined with the City’s 40-year Strategic Plan, should be very defensible under future OMB appeals. I hope he’s right. They’re so costly.
With the stress on intensification, and little on affordable housing, where will families live? It contains lots of nice words and motherhood statements.