Mayor listens to developers and real estate professionals - asking what can we do for you.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

May 10th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Oh to have been a fly on the wall.

There she was at the front of the room asking a group of developers and real estate types – what can we do for you?

Had Jeff Paikin been in the room the Mayor would have gotten an ear full.  In a recent communication with us he said:

Jeff Paikin

Jeff Paikin – New Horizons Development.

“Moved to Burlington permanently for our offices just in time to be subject to a council that shuts down our business and a mayor who twice uses unauthorized videos of our site to stand on her soap box and pump up over-intensification even when it doesn’t exist.  Nice warm welcoming feeling for a company that pays and has generated hundreds of thousands of tax dollars annually.”

We wonder how Jeff really feels.

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward was doing another part of her Red Tape Red Carpet initiative to learn how the city could be what Premier Ford has already declared we are: – and that is Open for Business.

The focus group Meed ward was meeting with was made up of a full-house of over 40 leaders from the development and real estate industry. It appears that the audience was made up of people who volunteered to attend and perhaps a few that were asked to take part.

In her newsletter on what has become known as the RTRC initiative Meed Ward said:

high profile 421

Development in the City of Burlington is a very hot issue: Mayor Marianne Meed Ward

“As everyone is well aware, development in the City of Burlington is a very hot issue, and was one of the most commonly discussed during last fall’s election campaign.

“My goal is to find a way to help our city grow in the right way and in the right places, and to partner with my colleagues at City Hall, with residents, and with our development community to make that happen.

“With that said, the Red Tape Red Carpet Task Force initiative is not just about development. It’s about helping all of Burlington’s businesses thrive. Developers and real estate professionals are just two industries of many in our city, but they overlap with those of businesses that are growing, relocating, or starting out here. Their struggles become the struggles of other businesses too.

“At the same time, developers are a business like any other, and while they face challenges around permits and approvals, they also have to deal with access to talent, adequate transit, employee parking, and beyond.

“The focus group was an important step in better understanding the top issues facing this group, and I appreciated how many leaders from these industries showed up to participate in this journey.

“While the City of Burlington’s current Interim Control Bylaw was top of mind for many in the room, we know that geographically that only applies to 1% of our land in Burlington. Furthermore, we know things weren’t perfect before that was put in place, so we focused on the challenges that already existed and have long-term impact.

“What we heard from this audience was the following challenges – again, many of which were commonly heard at other groups we’ve met with over the past 2 months (common themes from yesterday’s session are highlighted in bold):

The Permit process – flaws and delays
Ability to attain SPAs in a reasonable time
Dealing with the MTO – lack of accountability to timelines, lots of delays
Delays with Halton Conservation
Conflict between the different levels of government
Business mindset is lacking
Lack of accountability with the City
Too many agencies involved
Staff act like they’re afraid of losing their jobs
No incentives to reduce operational friction
Hydro
Inconsistent bylaw/zoning interpretation/zoning uncertainty
Lack of vision
Lack of control over other agencies / influence
Affordability of projects becoming unrealistic: land, construction, time all push up costs
No “leader” to manage applications
Lack of KPIs for city staff (perceived or otherwise)
Provincial policies are shifting / rethinking
Lack of staff knowledge in understanding market forces
Lack of respect for landowner rights
Too in the weeds – focus on important issues
Lack of common sense being applied
Opinions can depend on mood of person who is assessing the application
Building envelopes
No severance / Niagara Escarpment Commission
Environmentals on particular corridors
All the time delays cost money
Political agendas – development applications treated politically instead of on their own merit
Time associated with the severance process (took 2 years)
Zoning inflexibility (ex: Seniors Long Term Care facility)
Timing associated with obtaining a zoning verification letter – used to be 10 days now over 5 weeks
City staff raising issues that do not apply to the application in question
Limited incentives available for developers to build sustainably, and integrate sustainable design features
Public transparency re: cost recovery/recovery funding
Compare to Brampton, where 100 units got approval in less than a year – fast process, open to discussions, and Mayor/Council wanted things to happen
Perception that plants and animals have more rights than people
Hard to get calls returned from City Hall (all departments)
Outdated city standards (ex: Parks)
Lack of downtown parking for offices, bars, restaurants and retail
Transit dead spots

“While it took a few minutes to switch gears and focus on the positives, there are certainly reasons everyone in the room is still doing business in Burlington and we wanted to ensure we clearly understood what those are:

BEDC as a facilitator, expeditor and supporter
Great fast-track process for building permits
Experienced city staff are good to deal with
Online process that shows if a building permit is closed
Mayor seems very on board
Facilitation at this event was great – Interim City Manager was great facilitator at the table
Professional people to deal with
Sustainable design guidelines
Ability to start work early to help shorten delivery sometimes
“None”
Burlington building process is good
Councillor was helpful overriding bad staff decisions
Building department closing out an old permit +
We win most if not all appeals to OMB/LPAT
Development application website is good
Community safety – businesses with shifts / evening hours are less worried for their staff getting to/from work
Burlington’s culture, family-orientedness & energy draws people here to live and work
Access to talent, amenities and housing (high tech talent is easier than other segments though because of housing costs)

“Again, we finished the day by leveraging the knowledge and experience in the room to come up with solutions, ideas and changes that the City can spearhead to make things better:

Some of the comments Meed Ward highlights are:

Support a culture of service and efficiency by ensuring staff have clear KPIs and they are part of their performance reviews

Incentives for hitting KPIs and going above and beyond

Business/file liaison to track, communicate, and shepherd a file to completion in a reasonable time

Leadership needs to stand behind file planner

Encourage staff to learn more as things change to drive subject matter expertise (regulations, etc.)

Leverage better technology to streamline and automate / CRM system / Self-Serve

Customer service training / commitment to customer service

Hire more people if short-staffing is impacting speed of turnaround

Cut the timelines to match the Municipal Act

Apply a stronger sustainability lens and offer incentives

Allow multiple levels of approval to run concurrently

Seniors housing/land zoning strategy

Business advisory board

BEDC needs more influence

More advocacy/upward pressures necessary to other levels of government

Stand firm on the position of what is good for Burlington – don’t sit on hands with other agencies

Be collaborative vs combative

Site visits at properties to understand context and better apply common sense

Create more “fast track” and “premium” services – willing to pay for speed

Do more to educate the public about the benefits of growth to help those inherently resistant to change to see the positives

Make it a priority or essential that new hires in these departments have spent at least some time in the private sector on the other side of the table to provide better perspective and understanding

Next round of comments shouldn’t go back to bottom of the pile

Be ok with weighting the value of certain projects in their worth to the community (jobs for example) and be willing to prioritize those in terms of speed and attention – not every project is equal

Apply Artificial Intelligence / automated processes to remove personal opinion from the process

Shorten time frames for turnarounds of minor revisions

Fees should be payable on approval not all up front (or reimbursed when deadlines are missed)

Empower staff with more decision-making power to apply common sense

Remove height restrictions

Educate the public on good planning practices

Be more consistent – don’t change policies when Councillors change

Leverage tech being used in other municipalities (ex: Mississauga)

Focus group with staff: what are THEIR challenges to moving quickly & how can we help

Provide more info on the steps that happen in the process & why it takes so long. What is happening each day over the course of all those months (and sometimes years)?

Quick morning meeting/daily scrum (15 min) each day by team leaders to set goals with staff: what will you get off your desk today and move forward? Then hold people accountable and recognize good performance. Ask the question “What will it take to get this approved today?”

More of a culture of recognition for making things happen. Celebrate those staff.

Red tape red carpet The next focus group will include several contributors from the rural business ecosystem who sit on the newly formed Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee with the City of Burlington.

The next step is to take the learnings and information back to the Committee at their next meeting later this month.

Meed Ward has moved with considerable dispatch  on this initiative.  What is disturbing is that she has ensured there is no media in the room.  Why not?

 

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