Whose city is it? Muir asks: Who do you represent? - You're not representing the citizens that elected you.

opinionandcommentBy Tom Muir

November 12th, 2017

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Tom Muir has been delegating to city council as long as the current members have been keeping those council seat warm. John Taylor has served the longest – close to 25 years. Muir is relentless. When he gets his teeth into a bone he just doesn’t let go.

The city is facing a point where it has to decide how it wants to grow and where that growth should take place,

The focus is on Brant Street at this point where a developer has assembled property and taken a proposal for a 27 story condominium to the city’s Planning and Development department where is was recommended but reduced to 23 storey’s.  City Council’s Planning and Development committee approved the Staff recommendation on a vote of 5-2. Monday night it goes to city council where it will be approved, revised or nor approved. Here is what Muir thinks of the process so far.

Dear Councilors,
I provided written correspondence on this item to the P&D meeting of Nov. 1, but I was unable to attend that meeting personally.

At this stage in the process, with Committee approval, the conversation here is largely political. With this in mind, a quote credited to Councilor Meed Ward, summarizes accurately and succinctly a question I have been wondering about in terms of how I see this Council operating.

Burlington aerial

Whose city is it?

“Whose City is it?”

To which I must add from my own experience; Councilors, Who do you represent?

From the evidence that I have been easily able to gather, on this matter, you are, most of you, not representing the citizens that elected you. You appear to have been immunized against the opinions of your constituents.

It is their city, but you do not appear to be hearing them. They are telling you loud and clear that they don’t want these building heights/density, with the associated problems, and they want to know why you are not enforcing the existing laws.

I looked at several recent staff report sections containing public comments. Many of these comments were lengthy and reasoned.

421 Brant St. Neighborhood Meeting: 22 comments – 20 opposed 2 supportive, of which 1 was in the development business.

421 Brant St Statutory Meeting: Of 10 comments, with no exception, the original proposed height of 27 stories was unacceptable – not just a little bit, like 23 is okay, but it was a rejection. For representative examples you can see my P&D correspondence.

421 Brant St. P&D Meeting Nov. 1. There was 1 personal delegation opposed.

There were 3 letters of correspondence, of which 2 were opposed, and 1 offered support for redevelopment but wanted to see compliance with existing OP and bylaws.

So out of 36 public comments received, 33, or 92% are opposed.

And the city says the public is broadly consulted, and uses that claim to defend decisions that are clearly opposed by the public in these consultations.

So who is represented here, and whose city is it really?

Muir glancing

Aldershot resident Tom Muir.

Going further in my findings of public comments on current proposals, let’s consider the Molinaro proposal for 22 (or 24?) stories on Brock St.

Molinaro Brock St. Neighborhood meeting: 9 are opposed, and none spoke in support.

Molinaro Statutory Meeting of Nov. 6/17: There were 4 personal delegations and all were opposed.

There were 13 additional written comments, 12 of which are opposed, and 1 was neither clearly opposed nor supportive, but had several issues and concerns.

So on the Molinaro proposal, there are 26 public expressions of comments, of which 0 speak in support, 1 is equivocal, and 25 are opposed. So basically 100% do not support the proposal.

We can go to the Waterfront, and see the same dominant opposition to the city planners and developer proposals. Or elsewhere, and let’s not forget the ADI Martha St. proposal.

Comments are often lengthy, and basically express the same issues and problems. Consistent concerns are always height, density, no respect for bylaw limits and creeping up proposal by proposal, staff traffic, congestion, parking assertions that are completely at odds with public comment and concern and reality even, and many others you can read.

And adding insult to injury, city and Council can’t wait to hear the residents comment on what they think of the new OP, bylaws, and Mobility Hub ideas before voting to go far beyond anything in those documents for this location.

The draft plan ideas are still just that – not vetted, not discussed or debated, and have no approval and are therefore not policy relevant or legal. Given this, the Committee approval here makes a farce out of the formal consultation to come before it even happens.

To me this erases all doubt that the city, planners, and Council don’t respect or really care to hear what the public thinks of these plans, and wants for what is their city.

Muir making a point

Muir delegates and is an active participant at community meetings.

Instead of waiting, as is legitimate and appropriate, decisions are made to go over and above even the 17 story limit proposed, but not approved, for this site in the new Mobility Hub Precinct ideas.
The existing limit is 12, the proposed is 17, but the City Manager and his planners, want 23. And Committee voted 5 to 2 in favor

Is that how Council wants to be seen as representing the people? In a way that drives cynicism?

Some of you say “tall buildings are the future” and “citizens need to get over their concerns”. Well, “tall” buildings in Burlington are anything above 11 stories. So the present permissible of 12 is tall. And certainly the 17 proposed in the Mobility Hub Brant St Precinct is tall. So we are there already.

Consider that the draft 17 is about half way between the existing 12 allowed, and the 23 proposed, perhaps that would be a satisfactory compromise, a hair-splitting solution, to meet there, half-way.

There are other buildings nearby that are tall, so perhaps, in that context, the citizens “could get over their concerns” with this height, if they saw something of their wants being heard.

The people have spoken pretty loud and clear – note the almost 1300 (as of Sunday Nov. 12 at 5:00PM) who signed the petition opposing the proposal.

My ask is this. I read that the Mayor and Councillor Meed Ward, in voting against approval at Committee, suggested that 17 stories was something they could live with, since we seem to be going in that direction in the draft, but not approved plans.

Burlington City Council Group

Who do they represent?

So I ask one of them to move, and the other to second, a motion to debate modifying the proposal to 17 stories, and for Council to approve that modification, and send it to staff for appropriate action.

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17 comments to Whose city is it? Muir asks: Who do you represent? – You’re not representing the citizens that elected you.

  • craig gardner

    they represent me quite nicely on this issue anyway thank you and i have let my councilor know this. Not all of Burlington disagees with growth perhaps not even a majority based on only 1300 signing a petition which is abot 3 or 4 % of those who voted for a mayoralty candidate in the last election.
    Unless we have a survey of sorts for all eligible voters you can only say council is not representing your wishes not all of Burlington. My belive is even if approved these buildings will not be complete until most of the folks against no longer live her.

    • Tom Muir

      Craig,

      See my comment to Brian below for response to your petition comment, and the public comments. We will never have such a survey, and in any case Council does what it does on an issue to issue basis, and I’m here speaking to this one.

      You are entitled to your views and you do express them here. You can also write an article explaining what and why you want what you do. Or come to a Council meeting speaking to your view.

      But my bottom line here with you is the following; is 17 stories not enough?

  • Judy

    I totally agree. I guess 5 of the 2 don’t care about getting elected next year.

  • Phillip

    Tom, Burlington owes you a great deal for providing the data which shows that the City’s “public consultation and engagement” are nothing but a sham. Goldring should be ashamed that his much trumpeted “public engagement” has proven to be a complete fraud.

  • Stephen White

    Tom pretty much captures the essence of the problem. This Council is fixated on its agenda, and too little concern, attention and interest is paid to the needs and perspectives of citizens. While some like Craig may feel that an online petition is an inadequate measure of public opinion may I remind him that the online petition has only been up a week and based on current trends it is only likely to grow over time.

    The answer to this dilemma is simple: put the issue of building heights, Mobility Hubs and intensification to Burlington voters in a plebiscite in the October 2018 election. Candidates running for office can tell us exactly where they stand on the issue of intensification, and voters can pass judgement both what level of intensification they support, and which candidates they want representing their interests for the next four years. That way it is clear, transparent and unambiguous.

    Finally, the Mayor and this Council most assuredly DO NOT have a mandate to speak on voters’ behalf on this issue. They didn’t campaign on it in 2014, and if they want to initiate something as sweeping and far-reaching as this they have a moral obligation to get voter approval first.

  • steve

    @Gardner

    You can bet your life if the majority of Burlingtonians were in favor of tall buildings, and high density, they would be surveyed in an attosecond. The survey wouldn’t go well for those who think that, high density, planned overcrowding, is the way to go. And for those who’ve exposed themselves that they couldn’t care less about what the public wants, and to suck it up, well, when you’re voted out, we can only hope, “you’ll get over it”.

  • Alide Camilleri

    Sorry that should be Mr

  • Brian Paulson

    To use the percentage comments or the number of signatures on an online petition as an effective gauge of the public’s opinion does not truly represent what the overall public believes. I am sure that the writer and some of those commenting understand that there is an element of variance to any “poll”, and these types of “polls” are fairly lopsided.

    We generally speak out when we do not agree and stay silent when we agree. Therefore, you will see more negative comments than you will positive in these circumstances.

    An online petition that has no boundaries allows for signing by anyone, no matter where they live or how old they are. If you read some of the comments from those supporting the petition, there are quite a few from people not even from Burlington. If all are from Ward 2, that is one thing, as it would be if they are all from Burlington. With some from other communities in Ontario or other provinces or even outside Canada, who does this truly represent? As Craig points out, if just Burlington it is 3-4%, and he is using voters as a base. Considering there is no age restriction and comments come from other provinces, then should this not represent a sampling of all Canadians? This brings the percentage down to around 0.004%.

    One other note; I did see a positive comment for another article, or online commentary, and someone else responded saying that the original commenter did not live in Burlington; therefore, they did not have a say. Using this logic, does that not also apply to the petition?

    • Tom Muir

      Brian,

      A few things need to be added, as you are making assumptions and assertions that are not accurate.

      First, the comments I cited are not a poll, as you say, and in no way involve the population of Burlington. They are from a selected and biased very small group, mostly those directly affected, and others who learn on their own about the meetings and are interested and attend.

      The neighborhood meetings are announced only to residents that live within 130 meters of the proposed project. So the sampling frame only involves those people, although interested others who find out about the meeting may become involved. There is no city-wide or even Ward-wide direct announcement that informs everyone.

      The statutory meetings are open, and part of the Planning Act, but the announcements go to people who participated in the neighborhood meeting who expressed an interest, and others who learn about it on their own by keeping track of city council meetings and agendas. So the sampling is again small, selective and biased.

      The subsequent Committee and Council meetings are again not announced except through the City agendas, or word of mouth, and reach only a small segment of the population, so are again small, selective, and biased.

      The meetings are in no sense a “poll”, but are the way city planning tells residents about projects and asks for comments. The people sampled are deliberately selected in the way I described, and most people in Burlington would never know about it. It is just not practical or even possible for everyone to be directly informed.

      And your assertion that if you are opposed you will speak out, but you will not speak out if you agree, is baseless in this situation. And more generally it is just a rationalization to prop up the point you are trying to make, which is to disregard anyone who speaks out. What kind of objective method is that?

      In pretty much all the small sample meeting slices there are opposed and supportive comments, but the opposed far outnumber the supports. So by your logic are we supposed to assert that more supporters didn’t show up, so we ignore the views of those opposed?

      To repeat, none of these proposal specific meeting contexts directly asks the population of Burlington, or even a statistically meaningful random unbiased sample, what they think about the project.

      People who become aware of projects and have issues and opinions can participate, but many don’t have the wherewithal or the time to do anything about it. I don’t remember you showing up at city hall or your name on the many public comments I have read on numerous comments. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

      I have more sympathy for some of your points about the petition. I agree that the respondents should be screened and those not from Burlington counted and excluded.

      But this again is not a poll, where people are sampled at random for various opinions, but a petition for support of one thing, which always involves self-selection bias of response.

      Again, you can’t possibly expect to sample a large part of the population for many obvious reasons, dominated by having the contact reach to get a large sample.

      And if 3% or 4% of the population is your sample size, that would be large enough to draw inferences in a valid random unbiased sampling frame, but this petition is not that frame.

      So debates about the response size and population percent that represents, and that belongs to Burlington, are misplaced attempts to again discredit the expression of peoples opinions that the petition represents.

      We have no way of knowing how much of the population of Burlington even knows about the petition, knowledge needed to underpin your point about the representative status if it was a valid question to ask.

      But it’s not, the petition question did not ask for or against, just support, so it’s a self-selected opportunity to show this.

  • Lynn

    Craig the issue is not that people are opposed to growth. Surely you must see that. Nor are those in opposition all on death’s door about to drop from old age. Looking at the bigger picture, we are concerned with WHERE the buildings are going – there are plenty of places we would be fine with it – and exactly how big those are, not to mention council’s disregard for actually following the zoning rules, but beyond that, what is especially galling is that we have councillors openly stating the citizens’ voices don’t matter and openly showing that they, like you, also pretend the opposition is only about “tall buildings”. As Tom Muir says, we already have tall buildings, anything over 12 is tall, we know there will be more. That’s not the point. And James Ridge saying that any building of 12 storeys must obviously be ugly, while skyscrapers are magically beautiful, is so absurd I don’t even know how to respond. He should get out more. Actually, he should get out and go back to Vancouver, the city he compares absolutely everything to, from building size to density to what age groups live in condos, even, bizarrely, to whether students in Halton should participate in online learning (don’t even ask …)

  • SteveW

    I don’t understand what people expect to be done. If Burlington’s population is expected to double in the next 25 years and we can’t expand north, we have to expand up. This is not just in Burlington but everywhere in the GTA. 20 plus stories and more will be the norm. Going one likely unpopular step further … the building of non highrise buildings needs to be prohibited. No more detached or semi detached homes. No more sprawl on the Niagara fruitlands. We have to protect these valuable agricultural lands. That is the issue we should be focused on, not whether we can see the lake from our homes.

  • Andrew

    So the city plan is 12 stories, but the city approved a 23 story building? Why? Is the city plan flawed, outdated? If so, first things first, you need to update the city vision. No action until that is resolved. You can not make informed decision until we know the ultimate goal.

  • Brian Paulson

    An unfortunate thing with a lot of the recent discussion about tall buildings, downtown Burlington and Mobility Hubs is that there is a focus on just some touch points and some information is not being properly presented or not discussed at all.

    One such touch point is how everyone has been talking about a 12-storey version for the Brant/James location. As I understand it, a portion already has approval or zoning in place for 12 storeys. Councilor Meed Ward has indicated that only half the lands, or less than that, qualify while the remainder is in the 4-storey zoning. Looking at the maps in the package, it appears that about 75% is in the 12-storey zone. This is quite a difference, and I am not certain if different zoning can apply to different parts of a building. I could see if it was different buildings, but not for one building.

    Assuming that the 12-storey zoning only applies to the 75% of the property, if the builder were to propose a 12-storey building they would have to follow the tall building guidelines. However, at 11 storeys they would not. At 11 storeys they do not have to provide any benefits and can build with no setbacks. So, they could build an 11-storey building with 1,500 m2 per floor (75% of the 0.2 Hectare site), whereas the tall building guidelines look to limit the tower portion to half that, at 750 m2. With a 3-storey podium, that means the floor area of 8 floors would be reduced by 50% in order to build one only more storey up.

    If you were the builder what would you do? Build at 11 storeys or take the loss from the 50% reduction over 8 storeys and add 8 storeys to the 12? Now you have a 20-storey building. The same number of units, the same number of parking spaces, and no change at the podium levels. Work with the City to provide them with benefits of widened sidewalks and an enlarged view triangle at Brant/James and maybe you get a couple of more storeys. Although this reduces the ground level retail it does set the building back further widening the street-level experience. This seems to be what happened here.

    Now, as a citizen, ask yourself this; would you rather have an 11-storey mass (I believe this is the ugly that Mr. Ridge is referring to) or a 23-storey building, 19 storeys in a slender tower? Consider that the 11-storey building is at the property lines and the tall building is set back (wider sidewalks) and the bulk of the tall building is set back once you pass the podium.

    • Tom Muir

      Brian,

      Excellent analysis! If you want to take the time to find the developer delegation, at the end of delegations, you will see almost exactly the same argument made by him, in some places almost word for word about the skinnying and halving of the square footage by going tall. Your economic logic getting to the 20 or 23 stories is right on. Looks like you wrote it.

      The problem is that residents don’t want buildings that high, with all the associated collateral damage, right there, regardless of the developer economics.

      And using an unapproved plan to approve it, even over and above what the new plan says would be allowed, is also seen as over the top, and an abuse.

      Anyways, so far the developer has emerged the favored one, but the process used borders on planning illegitimacy.

      It costs $600 in admission to take this to the OMB, on these grounds of using unapproved plans, with no public process, to make planning decisions to amend and approve above existing rules, and I hear some residents are thinking about it.

      It would make an interesting argument and toss a wrench into the arrogance of how this has been done.

  • William

    Offering to settle at 17 storeys is a mistake. Muir is contradicting his earlier point that “The draft plan ideas are still just that – not vetted, not discussed or debated, and have no approval and are therefore not policy relevant or legal.” So why give it credence? Increased maximums only become increased minimums for the developers.

    17 storeys at street level is no different than 23. The issue isn’t height – it’s location. Putting a massive structure with reduced retail on one of the few pedestrian friendly areas of the downtown is a bad idea. Look at the other condos in the downtown – they’re dead zones (the one exception is the patio area across from Spencer Smith). Why do we want that in such a prominent area?

    Plus, only one of the developer’s assembled properties permits 12 storeys. The others are only 4 to 8 – I think. Why would we give away so much for so little?

    • Tom Muir

      William,

      You are correct that I contradicted my earlier point as you stated.

      Sorry about that, but I had no illusions that the 12 story limit would be a place to be that would sway Council, which it did not. So, since there was a little talk, as I indicated, about 17 floors, I put that in to try and get some debate on that going, but I failed.

      If you look at the council meeting video, everybody who delegated said the same thing, except of course the developer who got to speak last. They all were opposed, many cited the 12 story limit, some said 8, and the 17 was mentioned.

      However, Council comments except for Meed Ward, who stuck to her guns, and the Mayor, the others bridged over residents points to their points of view to rationalize their vote. They basically ignored what the delegations said about not being heard or ignored, that Council was not representing their views, and that the existing laws were not being upheld.

      And predictably, as I have said many times, they are using the draft unapproved plans to justify what they are doing, regardless of whether the public has even had a chance to review these plans and make comments and concerns, and ask for changes. Public review is a farce before it is even done.

      It is clear that the city and Council doesn’t care about this – they are going to do what they want, and what residents think is irrelevant.

      They are acting on the basis of unapproved and not legally enforceable draft planning ideas to amend the existing determinative OP to get what they want.

      What we think about it is too bad. That was clearly indicated by the Council discussion that you can see. There is no doubt that what we think and want doesn’t matter. They have their own rationalizations.

      What was brought to them here by residents was never referred to and just ignored.

      I do feel a little bad that I did as you say, but being naively rigid on the existing limits was going nowhere. But it didn’t work, and I never got even a nibble, which just fit what the result was and how they got there.

      You give away so much for so little because you can. Simple power.

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