Those of us raising concerns about development on Old Lakeshore Road on our waterfront that would add highrises and take out heritage buildings, have been told the public was already “extensively consulted” – and that no consensus emerged.
Consultation went “above and beyond” what the Planning Act requires, we have been told, although the Act sets the bar so low it’s hard not to exceed it.
But I wanted to learn more about what the city had done to ask residents their vision for this area of our waterfront. So last week, I spent almost two hours with Downtown Coordinator Jody Wellings, and Downtown Planner Marianna Iglesias. Both were extremely helpful in answering my questions and providing background information. I greatly appreciate the time they spent.
What I discovered, though, was shocking. Not only is there a consensus to preserve heritage and not put up tall buildings, the “extensive” public consultation consisted of two meetings.
The first, March 8, 2007, was advertised in the Burlington Post, and on the city’s web site less than two weeks beforehand. In addition, residents within 120 metres got a letter about it. This is hardly city-wide engagement. And tough luck to those outside the catchment area, or those who missed the ad, or those who had other commitments that evening.
The second meeting was a “public meeting” embedded in the city’s Community Development Committee Nov. 19, 2007. There was opportunity for residents to make a 10 minute presentation on their ideas for Old Lakeshore Road, called a delegation. Two delegations came, both from law firms representing landowners, so it’s safe to assume most residents likely didn’t know about the meeting.
Respectfully, this is not extensive city-wide public consultation by any normal understanding of what extensive means.
But this isn’t even the most shocking part. The 60 or so people who attended the first meeting, half residents and half landowners or developers, were presented a series of options for Old Lakeshore Road. They broke into groups and were asked to comment on the proposals – a kind of mini-charrettes process.
But none of those drawings included the two options spelled out in the Design Guidelines for the Old Lakeshore Road Precinct that city council passed in July 2009 – particularly the 8- 15-storey option that would remove heritage buildings. So to say the public was consulted on these particular options simply isn’t accurate.
To add insult to injury, the feedback from the public shows a remarkable consensus in favour of heritage protection and against trading off high towers in exchange for a small public walkway along the water. The public meeting broke into tables of seven, with a mix of landowners and residents at each one. Jody Wellings gave me the “table notes” for that evening. Several comments arose at a couple of tables in favour of tearing the whole area apart and putting in high-rises. But that view was in the minority. At every table, people spoke about responsible development, that would balance heritage preservation and development interests.
Here’s a sampling of those comments:
“There was overall agreement that height and density is not an acceptable trade off to achieve public access to waterfront.”
“Estaminet (now Emma’s back porch) has community historic value and should be maintained.”
“Important aspects of any proposed development….(include) a streetscape that is scaled to human dimensions, no high-rise.
“Extension of existing pedestrian shoreline walkway not worthwhile if the cost is a trade-off for high rise.”
“If too much congestion will be created as a result of a significant increase in density in the area, then we should give up public access to the waterfront, if the tradeoff will be more traffic.”
“Heritage is very important.
“Public access to the shoreline is important but not at the expense of increased density.”
“Heritage is important.
“If possible, the new design for this area should try to incorporate some of the older and more important architectural features.”
“Like preservation of heritage buildings and potential for specialty district.”
With comments like these, how did city council end up changing the Official Plan to allow 8-15 storey towers and the destruction of heritage on our waterfront, in exchange for another block of waterfront walkway? And how can they say this decision was the result of “extensive” public consultation?
Most of the people who were consulted, save some of the developers, don’t want that plan.
Nor do the more than 200 people who have joined the Save Our Waterfront campaign since it went online in the last few days. A group of us have formed a steering committee to organize these supporters, who grow in number every day. We have started a campaign to persuade city council to protect this area and listen to what people across the city are saying they want for Old Lakeshore Road, one of the last major pockets of waterfront land in our downtown.
You can join the campaign, volunteer and spread the word, by clicking here: www.saveourwaterfront.ca . It will take a huge outpouring from the community to protect this area and secure a truly community-driven vision for Burlington’s waterfront.