Deedee Davies: my perception is that you have lost control of our downtown on us.

opinionandcommentBy Deedee Davies

February 27th, 2018

BURLINGTON, ON

This is one of a series on delegations that were made at a Statutory public meeting on the draft Official Plan now being prepared by staff and debated at council.

Thank you for this opportunity to stand before you and share my thoughts on the latest version of the Plan.

I was not going to come. After you approved the application for 421-431 Brant St at James I was disillusioned by the Planning staff and most of my elected officials. When the 24 storey application arrived a few weeks ago for the other corner I experienced an ‘I told you so moment”. And then when OMB approved the Adi development at Martha and Lakeshore, in part because the city was not averse to height, I threw up my hands in despair – as my perception is that you have lost control of our downtown on us.

Waterfront hotel Taylor

Deedee Davies at a Waterfront Hotel redevelopment meeting with Linda Davies, (no relative on the right) and Councillor John Taylor.

So why am I here? This is YOUR last chance to get it right. If you screw up this opportunity, there is no going back. Downtown will be ruined FOREVER. I am here because I want to tell you what’s missing from the Plan to protect the downtown Burlington I use and love. I know we have to intensify.

However, I feel this Plan is not going to give us what we need. I will lay out my reasons for this concern. I’m hoping my speaking here can lead to improvements. My views are shared by so many other people who are not speaking here tonight. Please don’t let me and them down.

nautique-elevation-from-city-july-2016

The Ontario Municipal Board made the 26 storey Nautique the new standard for the developers.

I am not going to go on about the heights in the various precincts. I believe they are all much too generous. It will destroy the feel of our downtown, and they are unnecessary for us to meet any of our targets. I’ve said it all before so I am not going to repeat it tonight.

First off, I want to tell you that I read the entire new draft OP. Yes from cover to cover.

Rahoon Perian Eatery in the Village Square won for the Best Overall Display for 2011.

Someone somewhere said that a high rise would be dripped into the middle of Village Square – that got squashed during the council/staff meeting on Wednesday. However, there was a time when the ADI group tried to buy the Village Square from the XX interest. They weren’t able to put a deal together.

I would like to thank you for removing the tower from the centre of Village Square and also for removing the Cannery designation from the NE corner of Brant and Lakeshore.

Chapter 1 talks about the desire to achieve a complete community. This is what I want to focus on tonight. These would include all the amenities needed for residents in the downtown to live, work, and play here. It includes parks, recreational facilities, offices, medical services, daycare, seniors gathering areas, youth gathering areas, and a mix of housing, etc. After reading the entire document, and in particular Chapter 3 on Complete Communities, and then comparing it to the buildings that are coming into our downtown, I don’t see how the two can be reconciled.

If the future means everyone living in towers, how can we replicate the living experiences of what people currently enjoy in neighbourhoods? We need developers in Burlington to include amenity spaces for basketball courts, tennis courts, road hockey rooms, just like they are doing in Toronto, in the latest towers being built there. They also need to build community garden spaces on the sunny side patios or roofs so residents can grow their own vegetables. We need some creativity about what we are expecting from the developers. We know we are going to get the “smooth jazz” pool, bar, and lounge that every developer includes for their hipster clientele. Challenge them to Grow Bold in their design. I spent 35 years in the Federal Government dealing with contractors. I know the games they play. They bargain hard for what they were going to give you anyway, just so you feel like you won something, when in fact you lost, because you gave away more than what you would have got if you hadn’t blinked first.

In Chapter 2 under Population and Employment Distribution, Table 1 shows a population in 2031 of 193,000 of which we are not far off. It also shows an employment target of 106,000 for which we are further off. Why are we focusing so much on residential instead of putting in place policies that will attract employment to our downtown? For a Complete Community, how can we get the Daycare centres, the hardware stores, grocery stores, entertainment venues, that we will need to satisfy the activities of the residents? How can we tailor our specifications so that developers will include these spaces in the towers they propose building? Currently, we are lucky to get one floor of office. The condos will come without trying as they are cheap to build.

As an example in the Chapter 3 Policies you only state you will examine opportunities for partnerships to increase the supply of affordable housing. Why not include a standard of one unit for each additional floor of height granted above what the current zoning is that must be provided to the Region as part of the Community Benefits – similar to what you included for public parking and office space.

Also in Chapter 3 Parks and Open Spaces are addressed. It even states an objective of ensuring an adequate and equitable supply are available throughout the city. And yet Lions Park is showing a designation of half St Luke’s/Emerald Neighbourhood Precinct and half Downtown Core Precinct. That would mean that the neighbourhood could lose the park and potentially gain 2.5 storey and 17 storey buildings. Why is it not protected under the Downtown Parks and Promenades Precinct?

With all the intensity planned for the Downtown Core Precinct, I am surprised there is still no mention of a new park south of James and north of Lakeshore on the east side of Brant. There will be thousands of people moving into this area. If we are looking for Complete Communities, where is the park for this community? Any family in this area would need to cross a major road to reach an existing park. Are the children to play on the new promenade?

In Chapter 6 on Infrastructure and Transportation, it talked about Active Transport for pedestrians and cyclists with such measures as wide sidewalks and barriers to protect cyclists. These are important in our crowded downtown streets. We can’t make the roads narrower to achieve this so we need greater setbacks for the buildings. I didn’t see this proposed anywhere.

Couriers parking

Couriers are going to need places to park when they are making deliveries, taxis will have to park somewhere while waiting for their passengers to arrive.

Chapter 6 also covered Goods Movement. This is critical in our intensified downtown if we want it to function well as we already have problems with most buildings built to their property lines. There are no places for couriers to deliver packages, moving vans to move residents, delivery vans to deliver goods, pick up and drop off places for visitors coming for residents, trades people to make repairs to units, taxis to wait for their fares to arrive. Are they all to double park on the active roadway lanes?

These issues must be dealt with clearly and effectively in our Plan and not left to developers to provide these necessities, out of the goodness of their hearts.

In Chapter 7 under Design Excellence I read all the “Shalls” and was left with the impression we don’t need to award extra height for much if developers complied with all our design excellence standards. Unless these are only our wish list that we get with Section 37. It should be mandatory for buildings to be built to these standards. This is Burlington, folks. Don’t sell yourself short by thinking no one will develop here if you ask for too much. They will come and they will build. Just be clear and firm on everything you want. Don’t give it away. It is too precious.

In Chapter 8 on the Downtown Urban Centre, one of the objectives is to conserve cultural heritage resources and maintain character defining areas. The most significant aspect of our downtown, other than its waterfront and unique shops is the heritage look and eclectic feel of our downtown streets. Yet I don’t see this anywhere in the document. Our shop fronts are unique. There are many heritage buildings that are not yet designated.

City Clock angle looking north on Brant

Just a “dumpy” little town that doesn’t make the best economic use of the land.

Contrast this with developers who want to create their landmark glass towers. Mr. Carnicelli referred to Brant Street as dumpy when we were speaking out about losing the character of Brant Street with new development so you can see they are not going to protect or recreate this aspect. It is up to city planners and Council to embed this in our OP. We can have new heritage look and feel built with the new construction coming.

In the section on the Downtown Core Precinct is states that one additional storey will be granted for every 150 sq metres of dedicated office floor space and every 8 underground parking spaces dedicated for public use. So if they build 150 metres of office space they get an additional 750 metres of residential. These standards are much too generous for what we get in return. Please make it fairer to the city.

In Chapter 8 you also address downtown parking. It says the city will explore opportunities for public private partnerships to expand the supply of public parking. How about just putting it right in the requirements that X number of parking spaces must be provided for public use in relation to the amount of commercial space they have at ground level. End of discussion.

In the explanation of Community Benefits in Chapter 12 you talk about giving extra height, density, or intensity for providing what should be standard in any development proposed for our downtown. A sustainable building? Come on. It doesn’t cost extra to do this stuff any more. It saves money down the road in operations – but then developers don’t care about that stuff because they don’t operate these Goliath’s after they build them. A floor of office – our standards already state some buildings need three uses while others only need two. Make them all three purpose and get something useful for your Section 37 instead.

I’m about out of time, so I hope my thoughts will encourage you to take a bolder stance on what we need to have in our OP to have a better downtown. Please don’t rush this through approval. The Region won’t be considering it until 2019. Take the time to get it right. Thank you for listening.

Related comment and opinion:

Opinion: Jim Young
Opinion: Gary Scobie
Opinion: Lisa Kearns
Opinion:  Jim Barnes

Deedee Davies chaired a Waterfront Watchdog committee for a number of years.  She kept a close eye on who was doing what and held public meetings to keep people up to date.  Should be seen as one of Burlington’s BEST

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5 comments to Deedee Davies: my perception is that you have lost control of our downtown on us.

  • Joseph Gaetan

    Excellent Deedee, as usual, Jane Jacobs spoke about “eyes on the street”,something that disappears with Tall Buildings. For those who would like more detail on what this really means to our city follow this link: http://thecityfix.com/blog/how-eyes-on-the-street-contribute-public-safety-nossa-cidade-priscila-pacheco-kichler/

  • Susie

    Well composed Deedee, you have certainly done your homework for our preservation of the downtown, and it shows with great pride. Thank you! Not sure what outer planet the City is trying to plan for, but it sure doesn’t fit with what we are now living in!! My main take is that the City gave away too much height as a starting point and then for every Developer request they seem to have to allow bonuses that even puts the heights at much higher levels. 8 foot ceilings are a thing of the past so with added ceiling heights to each floor, plus the 14 – 16 foot street level and possibly second floor depending on what is designated, puts all buildings even higher. The City should have mandatory requirement laws set for all Developers. TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT! The Banks are too overly generous to Builders and they can well afford to build according to the City’s strict legal standards. As far as the downtown properties not being financially feasible for the Builder unless they build higher, has blinded the City Fathers and consequently fall for this, line hook and sinker! Other cities have proven this, and as the saying goes, “you can’t win them all” – choose your locations if you want to “sky walk”! Wake up City Hall, millions are being paid out by the developers to the existing shop owners, knowingly going forward that they will have control of mega million dollar hi-rise developments, and upon completion move on elsewhere leaving their “sky is the limit” problems to the citizens of today and the future. Time to SEE THE LIGHT, and put this all in the right prospective NOW!

  • Sue Cooley

    Thank you Deedee Davies for this very insightful article. I am a new resident of Burlington as of 7 years ago and I’ve been trying to keep up with all the information about the official plan. You have given me so much information that I needed to know. I chose Burlington for my home after I researched and visited several cities. I have also lived in a few different cities and realised that Burlington was the best of all of them for so many different reasons. I fell in love with the downtown core the way it was. It’s a beautiful thriving community with people cycling, walking with their dogs and children ,stopping in for a bite to eat at the many outdoor patios, knowing that there’s a true sense of community. When I was researching cities to retire and live in , at first I hadn’t considered Burlington because I thought it was just an extension of Toronto. Now with all the plans to put these high rises in the downtown core, it will look like an extension of Toronto. I hope that city council will really take a look at your information because right now I don’t think they are thinking very far ahead. We are going to lose Burlington to money grabbing developers that are only concerned about the almighty dollar ,not the community. Thank you to Jim Young for his opinions also.

  • Stephen White

    Great article and insights Deedee. You summarized very well the concerns that many readers feel.

    This is the part of your article that resonated the most with me: “If the future means everyone living in towers, how can we replicate the living experiences of what people currently enjoy in neighbourhoods?”

    A sense of community and local identity isn’t fostered or promoted by building high rise developments. Just because you erect a 20+ storey high rise doesn’t, in and of itself, guarantee a sense of local spirit or pride. It won’t naturally lead to more activity, or better shopping experiences, or more vitality. A sense of community evolves over time and is the culmination of shared experiences, pride in one’s surroundings, and a sense of ownership and responsibility.

    The Planning Department, the Mayor, this Council, and certainly developers don’t care about community or local identity. If they did, they would understand how this City has evolved, and they would recognize and appreciate the cumulative efforts of the men and women whose hard work, leadership and commitment were instrumental in the evolution of this community. Unfortunately, when you have no sense of ownership or pride in what you do, when you are reluctant to take responsibility for your actions, and when your primary purpose in life is self-interest, a sense of community and local pride probably isn’t high on your list of personal priorities.

    Pity!

  • Penny

    I was at the Council meeting when Deedee Davies delegated. It was obvious that she was well informed, had done her homework and explained the needs to make an area feel like a community. Places where residents could walk, skate, play soccer, and not necessarily in a Community Centre but actually in a green space. Deedee also talked about Village Square and the necessity of keeping it as a space for residents to congregate, shop and dine. I totally agree with Deedee.

    At the Council meeting yesterday, Marianne Meed Ward asked if Village Square in the new proposed Official Plan was still designated to be able to have a tower of condominiums to be built there.

    The answer was YES.