Notes on: Official Plan Review: Intensification Policy Directions Report
Date to Council: July 18, 2016
This feedback was sent to Burlington City Council on Official Plan proposed by Burlington staff. The changes were approved by council.
Staff have outlined a greyer, congested, amenity-less future with ever closer transition into a high density slum area. Not one single rule or suggestion addresses the current problem with the intensification pattern. High quality commercial space is being removed and not replaced locally. Green space, open space and large trees are being removed wholesale. The vibrancy of the communities affected is worse not better. A pattern of driving to north to all amenities of living is being entrenched. When I moved Aldershot I could walk to a pizza place, hardware store, department store - all now gone and more importantly no place to ever rebuild them. I don't expect the city to mandate any particular store in an area - but to sterilize an area of all potential for larger stores makes car use the only way to get anything done. There is less open at 7pm than ever. Count the park space per person. The trees per person. The number of cars. It's all worse - only by fogging your brain and ignoring reality can you declare the area as greener or more vibrant. Staff refuse to address quality of living standards.
There are endless references to the “requirements” of provincial places to grow and such documents. Places to grow imagines increased density leading to increased park space, more sports fields, more local options to dine and shop. Staff are following the “directions” and missing the point. People like cities because it brings things closer to them - the current direction of development is the opposite. Massive commercial operations on highway 5 and massive apartment blocks in the south creates an unresolvable transit problem.
Staff seem to think that executing a maximum density every conceivable place version of “places to grow” supersedes any local wishes. If the municipal staff is going to execute contrary to the wishes of residents then it's not appropriate they be paid out of the municipal tax base. They should be moved to the provincial pay roll so voters can work votes will in a clear way. We should not be paying for staff that don't represent our wishes. This is not fair to anyone - the city staff most of all.
— My specific recommendations: --
1) Zoning be changed in “mixed use” areas to require “mixed use” on site. Lot coverage should have the building limited to 40% of land, 40% commercial parking, 20% green space. With a 6 floor height limit the first floor must always be high vibrancy retail, with flexible unit sizes, commercial venting, and fire rated for restaurant, and a transport truck access plan. Floors 2 and 3 must be commercial office space, floors 3-6 can be apartments. Office and residential parking provided underground. Without this usage pattern building height should be limited to 3 floors. Start with this, if the building rate slows to under “Places to Grow” targets then maybe we can relax to 1 commercial, 1 office and 4 floors of apartments.
2) Buildings should be backed off the street enough to allow for future transit development. Either Plains/Fairview needs expanded to 3 lanes each way. Or 2 lanes of cars and some kind of transit play in the 3rd lane, Rapid Bus Transit etc. In any case the east/west “transit corridor” is not large enough south of the QEW. People in the north of Burlington don't want everyone in the south diving to the north everything. The Plains Road/Fairview corridor is going to get expanded - lets not make it ugly. No conceivable increase in population density is going to lead to 50% of the population biking to work. Busses get stuck in traffic like everyone else. The distances are too vast to walk.
What is so outlandish about these suggestions? That we leave some space for trees, to see the sky and to move around? Require that our community actually contain something else than apartment blocks? This prescription will get you 10k more people in Aldershot alone another 20k along the rest of fairview. More importantly it will create thousands of feet of office and high quality commercial space. That's what a vibrant city is - an embarrassment of things to do and places to go. If you can't walk your kid through a park to a soccer game while your spouse sits sipping wine at a cafe - the place sucks.
Things attract people. People don't attract things. If they did you would not have Clapson's Corners being built in a field. You can't have too much high quality commercial space - commercial rents just get lower until commercial actors enter. The lower the rents the more variety of businesses can operate. The scheme is to use the residential development to initially subsidize the commercial. Once it gets kicked off it will feed forward. The important part is to change the pattern of development, not just take the defective pattern and make it ever more dense.
— Notes on Report: --
Page 8: “Build compact, vibrant and complete communities”
The report has not one single directive that addresses “vibrant and complete communities.” Vibrancy means that something be open at 7 pm. Complete means that you an walk to a cafe, park to throw a ball and your kids local school. A grey trench of a street filled with dentist and nail salons with a park bench every 6 minutes is not “complete” or a “community.” Staff seems to have no focus on anything except a never ending “higher and denser.” This does not build a “vibrant and complete community” it builds a slum. There are plenty of slums a lot denser than Burlington - density alone doesn't improve anything.
Page 19: “It is not possible, nor is it prudent to establish a “maturity date”. In other words the city’s path to mature state for the foreseeable future will always be beyond the horizon of the Plan.”
This is bad planning. The idea expressed here it that there is no need to have a plan that is based on sound math as the “maturity date” will alway be outside the range of the plan. If the idea is that you can't exactly know the numbers then take the worst case scenario of 300k people living in Burlington by 2030 where 98% take cars. You have no reason in reality to expect anything different. That you “hope” people will act differently is not a plan. While I would like to encourage local services and hope transit picks up: Hope for the best and plan for the worst. The problem is that staff have no idea how to manage what I just described - but sticking hundreds of thousands of people in Burlington and hoping “it will work out some how” is not acceptable. We all ready know how it will “work out” building to building asphalt, constant gridlock, terrible air quality and a poor standard of living.
Page 29: “Secondary Intensification Areas will be comprised of commercial/mixed use designated areas and generally vacant sites which are not located within a Primary or Employment Intensification Areas and which are located immediately adjacent to an arterial street.”
Seems like an idea to short circuit public input on the exact areas of intensification. This blanket definition is unacceptable. Did staff mail every property next to a property that could be affected by this and let them know the idea here? Thousands of properties are next to properties next to “arterial streets”, you have to inform them of the immediate loss of value and enjoyment to a property by erecting an - well who knows how high building next door. People have to have clarity of what can and can not be built next to them. This “ever loosening” of building standards is not “planning” it's just “winging it.”
Page 29: “In addition, staff propose that sites containing publicly-funded schools be generally identified as forming part of the Secondary Intensification Area”
This is so totally unacceptable I can not believe it's in the report. It's a rule change that will encourage the school board to consolidate as many schools as possible. This will create an instant bidding war the city can not win on the land and short circuits the ability for local residents to preserve the traditional green and open space in there communities. I would envision a city festooned with parks and green space. I would suggest public schools be zoned so they can never be subdivided or built on via a specially added “character provision”. You want a healthy community - well there has to be many, many, many more places for this increased population to play all sorts of sports and walk around.
Page 30: “In order to maintain the stability of the Established Neighbourhood Areas and limit the potential for the introduction of significant and unplanned intensification proposals into these areas, policies will be introduced that prohibit privately initiated Official Plan amendments for increased density beyond that permitted through the underlying land use designation.
So “unplanned intensification proposals” are welcome in the Primary and Secondary intensification area? The specifications are just minimums? Is it a surprise you have developers proposing 22 story buildings in a space zoned for 8? A pattern is emerging in development meetings where the scale of intensification is down played - it's just a couple of buildings - they might not all be that high - etc. Where the rules are designed to make ever higher buildings, ever more places. This pattern is getting deceptive. If you imagine a future where massive buildings line plains road and Fairview from end to end and are cooking the rules to make that happen - you have to make that clear. That you fear that residents will go nuts is not an excuse.
Page 31: “Employment Intensification Areas”
So apartment buildings go here or not? As long as you have the idea “people go here”, “stores go here” and “jobs go here”. It's a transit disaster plain and simple. It's got to be a big jumble. Buildings need a mix within them. The city “eco system” is created with areas that have people in them all day. You need a lunch business for your cafe, etc.
Page 36: “introduce the ability to consider Transportation Demand Management (TDM) measures when evaluating adequacy of on-site parking;”
TDM is the idea that we will reduce travel in single-occupancy vehicles by discouraging car use. In implementation the only staff proposals are to make traveling by car as painful as possible by lowering standards, failing to invest in the road system or making it impossible to park. This hint here is that we just wont have proper parking on site. Note that in Portland this strategy has just transformed subdivisions into massive parking lots. A vibrant city can not function without a working vehicle network. I'm all for adding in and supporting public transit, but for the next 30 years the primary method of transport in this area is going to be single-occupancy vehicles. Making parking hard just makes the area dead to commercial activity. If you are a business you need customers to have a good experience. No one is going to locate a businesses in an area where the employees can't park easily or are stuck in traffic for hours. People don't like parallel parking - stop building it. You are fooling yourself that you are creating commercial spaces. These are in reality un-liked by a large percentage of customers and are unworkable as a business site for most businesses. Where as the city can create an idea that no one likes and try and force it on them - a businesses can't - you have to do what people like.
You know what's not going to change - people are not going to get less busy. Placing hundreds of thousands of new residents in Burlington means many more cars trying to get around. Yes improve public transit, but if 1% take the bus now. Then you have to plan as if 1% will take the bus in the future.
Page 41: “Mobility Hubs Framework”
It's a scheme to “prop up” the go train - I get that. Why are people moving to these “mobility hubs” exactly? Well easy access to the go train and Toronto is the idea. Why don't they live in Toronto then? Can't afford it. I'm not a fan of this scheme. Where as I can imagine these sites being developed into spectacular sites that could bring people this way. The strategy should be to get even transit all over. Not stick more people in Burlington and get more jobs in Toronto. I can imagine large shopping and commercial centres, but it's botched already. Paradigm isn't it. The area around Aldershot go is getting filled with town houses. It's too late to make these sites into what they could have been. However the focus should be on building things in these areas, not just using it as a pretext for ever more housing.