The Official Plan for the Old Lakeshore district, quietly changed by city council, allows up to four 8 to 15 storey towers.
Add these towers to the ones already built on the North side of Lakeshore Road, and the three towers ranging from 7-22 storeys on the South side of Lakeshore, just to the right of the 15-storey building above. The end result will be an ugly canyon of towers along Burlington’s waterfront, adding congestion and obstructing the lake.
Residents are saying loud and clear “we can do better.”
Our shoreline in the Old Lakeshore Road area of our downtown waterfront is not protected from development, as we’ve been led to believe, nor are the heritage buildings along the shore safe from demolition.
The Save Our Waterfront movement has been raising concerns about our weakened shoreline protection for a year now – ever since current city council removed the 20m setback from our own bylaws, inside of which no development is supposed take place. The rationale for removing the setbacks: Conservation Halton governs shoreline protection; they’ve got our back. This was a double regulation. Or so we were told.
Fast forward to last week, when the director of planning, Bruce Krushelnicki, told the Burlington Waterfront Access and Protection Advisory committee it’s possible a 3-4 storey building could go on the vacant waterfront lot beside Emma’s Back Porch – even though almost the entire lot is within the setback supposedly governed by Conservation Halton (and no longer governed by our own bylaws).
The decision is one more lurch in a long line of head scratchers that started in 2008 when a dispute arose over whether faulty design or construction caused problems with the first pour of the concrete deck.
Virtually nothing happened on the project till January – of an election year – when the contractor Harm Schilthuis & Sons, offered to redesign the pier and finish it as early as this fall. Faced with going to taxpayers nine months before an election to admit that this project – seen as a waste of money by many residents – was going to cost even more, the city chose to “cut off negotiations to pursue legal remedies.”
When negotiations to complete Burlington’s pier fell apart between the city and the contractor over a design dispute, the city called the contractor’s performance bond last January. In early July, lawyers for the city, the contractor, the bonding company, and the design engineer met to discuss the bonding company’s investigation into the dispute. One of the key points of discussion: whether a design dispute is covered under the terms of the bond. If the bond can’t be used, what are the costs and options to finish the pier?
To get to the heart of the dispute and possible solutions, I sat down for separate on-the-record interviews with Scott Stewart, the city’s general manager of community services; Tom Eichenbaum, the city’s director of engineering; Henry Schilthuis, president of Harm Schilthuis & Sons (pier contractor); and Doug Corby of Masters Insurance (an agent of Zurich, the contractor’s bonding company).
My report is below. It covers:
What went wrong: a design dispute
Tear it down, and other options to finish the pier
Offer to redesign & build by next year
Doubts raised whether bond covers design dispute
Seeking costs from AECOM: risky, lengthy
Pier costs increase $1 million for “contingencies”
We may never know whether poor design or poor construction techniques caused the delays in building Burlington’s pier. Even professional engineers disagree on that point. But maligning the contractor’s reputation and spreading false rumours does nothing to advance dialogue and understanding of the situation, nor find a productive solution. Below, some of the rumours I’ve(…)
City Hall isn’t listening and citizen confidence in local democracy is declining. City Hall has “a communications deficit.” Those are just some of the findings of the Shape Burlington report on civic engagement released yesterday.
Those findings (full report below) are no surprise to followers of A Better Burlington community website, and the Save Our Waterfront initiative. A Better Burlington was launched a year ago to tell residents what City Hall is doing, and to solicit feedback and participation on a range of issues.
One of the biggest has been waterfront development. Residents were not broadly and meaningfully consulted before current city council approved high-rise towers for the Old Lakeshore Road area of our downtown waterfront. Save Our Waterfront was formed as an initiative of A Better Burlington to press for community input before decisions about our waterfront are made. An update on our progress and next steps is below.
But we are not alone in raising concerns about public input. They have been echoed by many other individuals and groups, cutting across a variety of issues. The common refrain: there’s a “need for improvement” in public involvement, to quote Shape Burlington.
The pier in Burlington’s downtown waterfront has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. The question everyone is asking: what’s going on? We’ve been led to believe the contractor, Harm Schilthuis, is to blame. This is a local company with 57 years in business, which has successfully completed many other projects in Burlington, including the Discovery Centre and Aldershot Arena. Why would they stop work on a job if they didn’t have a reason?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve used my journalism background to investigate. There’s more to this story than we’ve been told. Furthermore, there’s an option on the table from the contractor to finish the pier – as early as this fall if work begins immediately. We know the longer this project is delayed, the more it will cost, and we’ll spend money on litigation, not finishing the pier.
We need Burlington City Council to make a decision quickly – and tell taxpayers how much this is really going to cost. You can help by sending an email to email@example.com to add your name to the list of residents asking for transparency on the options available to finish the pier, and the final price. You can also leave a comment at the very bottom of the article.
Read more to get the details of my investigation, including interviews, research of public documents and material obtained under Freedom of Information.
Members and supporters of Burlington Save Our Waterfront achieved a major victory for community engagement Monday, as city council unanimously passed the Burlington Waterfront Access and Protection Advisory Committee. As soon as we get information on how you can apply to serve on this committee, we’ll post it here.
Hold on development discussed Feb. 8, 6:30 pm
More than 20 Save Our Waterfront supporters attended Monday’s council meeting. Michelle Bennett, a dedicated member of our organizing team, stood beside me as I presented to council our support of the advisory committee (full text of my delegation is below). We also asked for a hold on development in the Old Lakeshore Road area while the advisory committee consults with residents on a better plan for this key area of our waterfront.
You did it! As a member of the Save Our Waterfront movement, you’ve helped achieved a significant victory. We’ve just learned that Tim Hortons has withdrawn its appeal to exceed height limits of 15 storeys on the vacant waterfront lot east of Emma’s Back Porch in Burlington’s downtown. The Ontario Municipal Board hearing on this matter scheduled for Jan. 12-15 was cancelled after Tim Hortons unconditionally withdrew. That clears the way to set up the Citizens Advisory Committee on the Waterfront that we’ve been asking for.
Hearing cancelled – but no one told us
I found out about the cancellation just days ago by chance, from a journalist during an interview. The OMB should have contacted us, since we’re a participant in the hearing. City Hall was notified Dec. 21 – but no one told us. Our elected officials are well aware of our interest in this matter, and a courtesy call was in order.
You made it happen
But even that can’t dampen our spirits today. This is a true victory for people power – though you’re not likely to get any credit for it. This wouldn’t have happened without you speaking up and making waterfront development an issue. It wouldn’t have happened without you letting our elected officials know you’re closely watching the decisions they make on our city-wide asset, our waterfront.
Save Our Waterfront got an early Christmas present, thanks to your many emails and phone calls to your elected representatives: agreement in principle to strike a Citizen’s Advisory Committee on the Waterfront. But it’s a present with significant strings attached.
You can read the details of the proposed committee below, developed after a series of meetings with two city councillors and two Save Our Waterfront representatives. We’ll need votes from two more councillors, but this is a step in the right direction. And, as always, we welcome your feedback (either provide a comment below or send us an email).
But a few days ago, we learned about the “strings” attached: when the councillors ran the proposed committee past the city’s lawyer, the advice was to delay its establishment until after a decision in the Ontario Municipal Board hearing on Tim Horton’s waterfront property. The councillors have elected to take this legal advice, and put the committee on hold.
A small turnout greeted the downtown councilor and city staff for a public meeting this week to discuss waterfront development and traffic issues. We know residents care about these issues – more than a 100 people have attended each of our last 2 meetings – so what gives?
Two thoughts come to mind. First, the meeting was poorly publicized at the last minute – a recurring theme at City Hall. Most of us only learned days before about the meeting, held Wed. Nov. 25, and a number of people heard about it from an email we circulated. Turnout would have been even lower without our efforts to spread the word. The city needs to do a better job.
City Talks, But Doesn’t Listen
Second, and this is more likely, residents have heard this song and dance before. These public meetings are mostly about residents listening to city officials defend their plans, rather than an opportunity for city officials to listen to the views of residents. The format is mostly question and answer – we ask, they answer – and there’s virtually no opportunity for dialogue and debate.