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.

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