How tall is too tall for downtown Burlington?
Proposed 26-storey tower dwarfing City Hall raises concerns
A local developer is proposing to build a 26-storey tower across from City Hall where a block of buildings currently stands.
The move has sparked concern from some Burlington city officials who worry about the height and parking, as well as what approving this project could signal to other developers interested in the downtown.
Carriage Gate Homes recently submitted an application for what’s being dubbed 421 Brant — a complex at the corner of Brant and James streets that would include residential, retail and office space.
“Overall, the scale is overwhelming for the downtown,” said area Coun. Marianne Meed Ward, who has also spoken out against a proposed condo tower of a similar size across from the lakefront downtown.
That project is now before the Ontario Municipal Board.
She believes “mobility hubs” like the land near the Burlington GO Station are better suited for developments of this height.
“We don’t want to have a forest of towers in the downtown … It would be a game-changer.”
Mayor Rick Goldring acknowledged the need for intensification, but noted the redevelopment would be the tallest building in the downtown. Because of that, Goldring is also concerned about the possibility of “dwarfing” nearby City Hall, an eight-storey structure. “It is somewhat of an iconic building.”
The city’s official plan caps the maximum height of buildings in that area at 12 storeys.
Nick Carnicelli, president of Carriage Gate Homes, said the project worth nearly $100 million “relates to the street a lot better” than the 12-storey development he put forward in 2013.
While this proposal calls for a taller structure, it has a more “slender” condominium building on top and set back from the street to allow for more streetscape, an area proposed for public art and walkable spaces that could also be used for patios, he said.
The building is expected to include 10,000 square feet of retail space on the main floor, with 14,000 square feet of office space on the second floor. A planned 183 residential units will start on the third floor. There will be four levels of underground parking.
“It’s a much more desirable building,” Carnicelli said, noting it adheres to an interim set of design guidelines for tall buildings recently endorsed by council. “It’s simplistic to say you’re only focused on the height.”
But Richard Harris, a McMaster University geography professor, says a 26-storey building in that location would be “visually intrusive.”
Intensification — the practice of increasing density in already built-up areas to avoid urban sprawl — is good, but it doesn’t all have to be done on one site, Harris said.
It might be more appropriate to have two towers half the size of the proposed one stacked beside each another.
Paul Russell’s record store, Looney Tunes, at 425 Brant St. is one of the properties that will have to go for the new development.
Russell said he has known the project has been coming for some time but is still worried about the difficulty in relocating after being in the same spot since 1984.
“I would like to stay downtown,” Russell said. “Whether I can or not, I don’t know.”
When it comes to the project as a whole, Russell has mixed feelings. Bringing more people to the area is good for business, but traffic and congestion will likely increase.
He believes a 26-storey structure will also change the “flavour” of the downtown. “We’re sort of losing our small-city feel.”
Mirella Marsilio — whose clothing store, Mirella’s Ladies Boutique, is also located in the affected stretch on Brant — hopes the development breathes new life into the core. “It is positive for the downtown.” A neighbourhood meeting on the project is expected to be scheduled for March 21 or 22.
“It’s simplistic to say you’re only focused on the height.” NICK CARNICELLI CARRIAGE GATE HOMES PRESIDENT
Mayor Rick Goldring is concerned about 421 Brant “dwarfing” nearby City Hall.