Council made waterfront mess – and must fix it

oldlakeshoretoday

Option 2 Save our Waterfront Burlington

Those of us protesting towers up to 15 storeys on our waterfront have been led to believe our city council’s hands are tied – those heights are already allowed in the Official Plan. We’re also told provincial Places to Grow legislation mandates “intensification” in urban growth centres, which includes the downtown.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that our current city councilors were the ones who passed the most recent Official Plan, and actually increased the allowed height of buildings in that area from 7 storeys to up to 15.

In 2008, our current council passed a revised Official Plan for the Old Lakeshore Road precinct on the waterfront. Under the old plan, the maximum height was 22 metres – 7-8 storeys. Under the new plan, described in the guidelines that many of us protested last week, the maximum heights increased to 10 storeys in the west section (6 in the east), with the option to go to 15 storeys (8 in the east).

That information came from Bruce Krushelnicki, the city’s director of planning, who spent almost two hours with me today (which I appreciate) giving me helpful background information.

The upshot: this council can’t blame the Official Plan for tying their hands on saving our waterfront from towers, when this council passed that plan themselves.

Council set urban growth centres

Council also can’t blame provincial Places to Grow for the pressure to build tall buildings on the waterfront. Places to Grow sets population targets for urban growth centres. But council decides where those centres go – and draws the boundaries of what areas are included and excluded from the centre.

The previous council – which includes 4 of 7 of our current council members – set our urban growth boundaries to include Old Lakeshore Road. So they’ve got no one to blame but themselves.

Official Plan can be changed

Council can change the Official Plan, as they already did to increase the heights in this area. By law, plans must be reviewed every five years – our current plan comes up for review in 2011 – though council can act much sooner if it chooses.

“Plans change – but they don’t change easily” Krushelnicki told me. “Council changes the plan. Council needs to initiate the change.”

Waterfront not a “growth centre”

Council can also designate the Old Lakeshore Road precinct a unique area of the city and exclude it from the urban growth centre boundaries. That would keep it safe from intensification under Places to Grow. Council has already done that for two downtown neighbourhoods – St. Luke’s and Emerald. So what are they waiting for with the waterfront?

Heritage designation

Council can also initiate a heritage designation for the historic buildings in the area, thereby protecting them from demolition and development. So what’s stopping them?

Essentially, current city council made this mess – and current city council has the tools to fix it. But if last week’s city council meeting is any indication, councilors won’t do so without public pressure.

Public pressure needed

That’s where you come in. A group of us have formed a Save Our Waterfront committee to mobilize the public to pressure council to do the right thing – protect this unique area of our waterfront from tall buildings. If you’d like to join us, email me for details. We’re also in the process of setting up a Save Our Waterfront website.

One of our first activities will be expanding our online petition (coming soon) with a city-wide, door-to-door campaign to get more signatures.

Council has the tools

The official plan can be changed. The Old Lakeshore Road precinct can be taken out of the urban growth centre. The historic buildings can be protected with a heritage designation. Our waterfront can be protected – if council will take steps to do it. Our job is to make sure that happens – before the shovel is in the ground.

And if council won’t act – residents can initiate an Official Plan amendment ourselves. It’s a costly and time consuming process – and we shouldn’t have to do it – that’s council’s job. But, I’m confident our community will rise to the occasion if the city won’t. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that, and council will listen to residents who are saying loud and clear that this area of our waterfront is special and deserves to be protected from tall buildings.

If you want to help City Council’s decision, click here to join the “Save our Waterfront” campaign.

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