Burlington downtown planning: Version two

Burlington is moving ahead with changes to its official plan that reflect some of the concerns that were raised about the pace of development in downtown Burlington as well as the sheer size of some of the high-rise developments that were being approved. Rightly or wrongly, the previous mayor and council were blamed for what was seen as unchecked intensification, and that concern was reflected in the 2018 municipal election where all but one member of the city council were either defeated or did not run. There were also significant staff departures from City Hall with the almost immediate departure of City Manager James Ridge, and the departure a few months later of Mary Lou Tanner who was Deputy City Manager, but previously had headed the city planning department.

Much of 2019 was spent in an attempt to get a handle on the pace of development with the imposition of a temporary freeze on new development applications. At the same time, council ordered new planning studies in an effort to develop a vision that softened the effects of intensification, while recognizing that urban intensification is encouraged by provincial growth policies. An added complication for Burlington is that planning is a regional responsibility and its planning policies must be approved by the region of Halton. Late last month Burlington Council gave its approval to a series of modifications to its official plan. Some of the highlights include:

  • Recognizing that Downtown Burlington is an Urban Growth Centre while protecting the predominant low-rise character of Brant Street and providing a transition to adjacent low-rise neighbourhoods.
  • Maintaining a low-rise feel while allowing higher buildings if they are set back 30 meters, creating a balance between maintaining the low-rise character along Brant Street while accommodating intensification within an Urban Growth Centre
  • Residential and office uses are not permitted on the ground floor facing a Retail Main Street, while residential lobbies and access should be located on side streets or at the rear of the building where feasible.
  • James Street: In this case the plan had to acknowledge the reality that a permit had been issued for a 22-story condo tower at 421 Brant Street before the new council was elected. The additional height was justified because the area was deemed a major transportation node because of the adjacent John Street Bus station. Later Burlington managed to get this designation removed but too late to stop the high rise. Accordingly, tall buildings are permitted to facilitate an expanded civic square and to create an enhanced civic node through exemplary built form.
  • Lakeshore: was another area where significant high-rise development has already occurred or has been approved. The modification s call for provision of new public spaces befitting the significance of the area adjacent to the waterfront, to ensure that public view corridors to the Brant Street Pier and Lake Ontario from north-south streets are maintained and enhanced, and achieve a high degree of architectural and urban design excellence.
  • The Mid Brant Precinct continues the low-rise built form along Brant Street similar to the Brant Main Street Precinct. However, where the development block is widest at the north part of the precinct, tall buildings are permitted provided they terrace away from Rambo Creek. It is also envisioned that the precinct contain a new public urban park and additional open space and a walking trail along the west side of Rambo Creek.
  • Further north on Brant Street, nearer the GO station, higher buildings will be permitted. Despite the permission for tall buildings, the intent is for a low-rise feel to be maintained for pedestrians along Brant Street through setbacks above the third storey of buildings abutting Brant Street.
  • The Downtown East Precinct is intended to serve as the pre-eminent destination for offices, post-secondary educational and other learning facilities and provide significant opportunities for residential uses within mixed-use developments. The precinct is also intended to be a focus for public parking to support retail and office uses. Development is intended to primarily be in the form of tall buildings which are informed by historical development patterns and precedent within the precinct.
  • The Village Square Precinct is intended to serve as a pre-eminent retail destination with predominantly mid-rise residential uses within stand alone or mixed-use buildings. The Village Square retail development is envisioned to serve as the focal point of this precinct. It is to be maintained as a low-rise retail development and enhanced as a unique retail destination.

The modifications will now head to Halton region for approval.

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