For Burlington, fu­ture is ‘smart’ in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion

‘Grow Bold’ based on 3 ways to grow — up, smart, and beau­ti­ful. But can the city de­liver?

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - JOAN LIT­TLE Free­lance colum­nist Joan Lit­tle is a for­mer Burlington alder­per­son and Hal­ton coun­cil­lor. Reach her at specjoan@co­geco.ca

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.

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