Comment 124653

By arienc (registered) | Posted January 09, 2019 at 14:59:00

While I agree with a lot of what you've said here, and thank you for taking the time to share your experience, what I've seen from many is in fact a reflexive opposition to urban planning, and a general disillusionment with the people who work for the city, portraying them as out of touch or worse, not being accountable to their professional standards.

The ECOB poster above tells the story: "Height is not a solution". Residents, or at least those who have bought into this view, have effectively drawn this line in the sand with respect to "tall" buildings...despite the fact that Burlington has had tall buildings downtown since 1969.

In some cases, height might be a major part of the solution. For example, the development that the previous council approved at 421 Brant was originally slated for a 12 story that would occupy the full block. Staff negotiated several changes which improved the urban environment - stepbacks of the higher floors, increased setbacks for wider sidewalks to improve the pedestrian realm, public art, etc, in exchange for permitting the building to be made thinner and taller above a podium. But it seems that all people wanted to talk about was the number of stories of the building. I am quite certain that a 12 story building in that location, that also delivers the urban realm enhancements that are needed, would not pan out financially for a developer, thus remaining a blighted, vacant shop in the very heart of our "vibrant" downtown for many, many years to come. Narrowing the discussion to a height = bad worldview is unhelpful in building a better city. In Downtown Burlington we have had 2 low/mid-rise developments in the last 10 years, and both are largely centred on price points over $1 million. A plan that allows only low-rise in the core makes it that much more difficult to attain the density that meets our intensification goals and retains some more accessibility for downtown living to the middle class and families, who we need to attract to maintain a demographic profile that supports the businesses downtown and city-wide. I believe we need to encourage a mix of heights, including some high-rise, in addition to encouraging the missing middle options such as granny flats, duplex/triplex and towns within and alongside the single family neighbourhoods in the vicinity of Downtown.

The media focus also unfairly characterizes the urbanist view. I've seen no discussion of the criticality of design, street trees and the pedestrian environment in our limited media coverage, only the number of floors, the too-few parking spaces and the traffic congestion that will inevitably result from all the cars. The idea that people might want other mobility choices, like walking, cycling or even may benefit from better transit in future is too often dismissed as a fantasy in a city that loves its cars.

Many changes were made to the OP as a result of residents' feedback, and the work of the Ward 2 councillor in bringing those items forward. Yet throughout the campaign, the city's staff were maligned as not listening to residents and being subservient to developers. And all that after spending more than a year listening to residents through the process of drafting a first-ever 25 year Strategic Plan, a document that even to this day guides not only the Official Plan, but all of the city's operations.

Yes, we got some outcomes which were excessively out of step with that plan thanks to the OMB, and a current official plan which remains out of step with the provincial plans which large developers have exploited as a huge loophole. The Nautique development set a worrying precedent, and there is the perception that while the city opposed it, it could have been more effective in its deliberations. We also have the spectre of changes from an unpredictable Ford government at Queen's Park, which will do its best to make any move away from car-centric patterns more difficult. I have to say I'm encouraged by the new mayor's response to Bill 66 put forward by the Province.

And with respect to mobility hubs, while I'm fundamentally in support of the idea that they should take much of the growth, in order to do that and be successful places, they will need much more of a mix of uses, including wide variety commercial & retail establishments, for which we already have too many in the city. We've tried before to create downtowns from scratch (MidTown in the 80's, Uptown in the 90's/00's) but with car-based planning rules like minimum # of parking spaces per sq/ft of retail and permitted single-use zoning, we've utterly failed in making those places any less auto-dependent than the rest of the city's suburban sprawl. We will have to be aggressive in remaking these places in order for them to work. If they are just dense apartment blocks without the necessary amenities and transport choices, they will cripple movement in the city. And remaking these places will definitely affect a large number of residents who use streets like Fairview and Plains Road for their commutes. If you thought the angst over a small portion of New Street having a road diet was bad, just wait.

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