Towers on lake one step closer, but city prefers to shoot the messenger

We’re one step closer to getting 10-storey buildings right along our shoreline, but instead of transparently presenting the facts about recent events and their own role in them, our elected representatives would prefer to shoot the messenger.

You’re being “misled”, our downtown councilor, Peter Thoem, recently told one of our supporters, when she contacted him to express her concerns, after watching our latest video (below) outlining Tim Hortons pursuit of a 10-storey building on the vacant waterfront lot beside Emma’s Back Porch.

It’s a classic, old-school political tactic – discredit the messenger to divert focus from one’s own actions, instead of dealing with the issues.


Our focus is to talk about the issues, and give you the facts. In brief, the facts are these:

* City council changed the zoning to increase height limits in the Old Lakeshore Road area of the waterfront;

* City council included Old Lakeshore Road in the urban growth centre boundaries, putting pressure on this area to meet population intensification targets;

* City council took a 20m minimum setback preventing development along the shoreline out of our bylaw.

What happened next was entirely predictable, given the enabling steps council took in this direction.

Now that the setback has been removed from the bylaw, Tim Hortons (TDL) is arguing with the city before the Ontario Municipal Board – not about whether they can build on the shoreline – but over how high 10 storeys is. Tim Hortons has also reserved the right to come after the city for legal fees related to getting the setback removed. A five-day hearing on that matter is scheduled for Oct. 26-30, 10 am – 4 pm daily, at City Hall.

Significant Questions for our Elected Representatives

The complete timeline, fully documented by public records, is below.

But this turn of events raises some significant questions for our elected representatives, which are also included below.

Chief among them: “When was the city planning to tell us, the residents, who will likely end up paying for the privilege of someone else blocking our waterfront?”

Need for Public Consultation

These events also highlight the need for greater community consultation, something we have been asking for from the beginning of this campaign. In the name of transparency and good government, it’s time to hold our elected representatives accountable for their decisions.

We cannot be diverted by the “shoot the messenger” tactic. This movement isn’t about the messenger.

Save Our Waterfront is about protecting our waterfront, and its heritage, for future generations, via open community consultation.

All too often, the community is invited to the party after the band has stopped playing for the night.

So, take a minute to call or email your councilor and the mayor to ask for a Downtown Waterfront Citizens Advisory Committee, so we can be alerted to developments early enough in the planning process to make a difference.

See below about how you can email your elected representative.

Timeline of Waterfront Development on Old Lakeshore Road

1. In Sept. 2006, city council passed a one-year Interim Control By-Law for Old Lakeshore Road, preventing any development while council decided what to do there.

2. In Nov. 2006, there was an election, and we got several new faces on council, including for the downtown area.

3. In Dec 2007, current council changed the zoning for Old Lakeshore Road. The previous height limit was 6 storeys. The new height limits are 6-10 storeys, with allowance to go as high as 8-15 storeys under certain circumstances.

4. In Dec 2007, current council redrew the city’s Urban Growth Centre boundaries to include Old Lakeshore Road, putting that area under pressure to meet provincial intensification targets of 200 jobs or people per hectare. Previously, Old Lakeshore Road was excluded, as are two other downtown neighbourhoods (St. Luke’s and Emerald).

5. In March 2009, the city presented urban design guidelines for Old Lakeshore Road at a public meeting. It was the first time many of us became aware of the zoning changes that had already occurred. Many people spoke against these changes at committee and city council, including two former mayors, and representatives of the city’s Heritage Committee and Sustainable Development Committee. City council passed the guidelines in July.

6. Tim Hortons, which owns the vacant shoreline lot beside Emma’s Back Porch, appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board challenging several city by-laws, including a bylaw establishing a 20m minimum setback from the shoreline inside of which no development can occur because of erosion hazards. That setback is measured from the stable top of bank, and is established under provincial legislation administered by Conservation Halton.

7. In June 2009, city council removed the 20m minimum setback from our bylaw, replacing it with the setbacks in the “base zoning,” provided Conservation Halton approval is obtained. The base zoning here allows a 10-storey building. Conservation Halton indicated to council prior to the vote that it was “willing to accept reduced setbacks.”

8. In September, Tim Hortons withdrew the part of their OMB appeal relating to the setback, saying those issues have been resolved. They have reserved the right to come after the city (us taxpayers) for the legal fees arising from getting that setback removed from our bylaw.

9. Conservation Halton withdrew as a party to the appeal since the shoreline setback was no longer in dispute.

10. Now Tim Hortons is challenging the city’s definition of 10 storeys, saying 31.5 metres is too low. That appeal will be heard at a five day hearing Oct. 26-30, running 10am-4pm daily, at City Hall. Save Our Waterfront is a participant, and will likely be presenting toward the end of the week.

11. The witness statement of one of Burlington’s city planners prepared for the OMB hearing stated that taking out the 20m minimum “allows for flexibility in determining a waterfront setback.” The planner wrote: “The city’s initial assessment of the subject property concluded the site had no development potential. That position was revised after further analysis wherein it was concluded the subject property has undefined development potential. The final development potential for the property would be confirmed through a formal site plan application to Burlington,” reviewed by the city and Conservation Halton.

More Questions:

The facts included in the above timeline raise some questions our elected representatives have yet to answer:

1. Why is the city, and our downtown councilor, telling us the properties along the shoreline cannot be developed when the city’s own planner says the development potential is “undefined?”

2. Why did city council vote to remove the 20m setback from development along the shoreline, knowing Conservation Halton was prepared to be flexible, and knowing Tim Hortons was already challenging the bylaw in order to get approvals for a 10-storey building there?

3. Why would Tim Hortons spend thousands on legal fees at an OMB hearing arguing over the definition of a 10-storey building if the site cannot be developed anyway?

4. Why did city council vote to include Old Lakeshore Road in the Urban Growth Centre boundaries, putting the area under pressure to reach provincial growth targets, when other downtown neighborhoods (St. Luke’s and Emerald) are excluded? Old Lakeshore Road was similarly once excluded.

5. Why did city council vote to increase the height and density of Old Lakeshore Road, when other downtown neighborhoods with heritage assets (St. Luke’s and Emerald) have two-story height maximums?

6. What steps is city council prepared to take to protect the heritage properties in the Old Lakeshore Road area (there are 11 properties on the municipal heritage registry), especially the properties on the south side (shoreline) which are now at risk because of recent events at the OMB with Tim Hortons?

7. When are city councilors planning to be open and transparent about these events to residents, 1500 of whom have joined Save Our Waterfront to ask for a new plan for this area, developed with community input?

8. Is council now prepared to consult the public by establishing a downtown waterfront citizen’s advisory committee, that would provide advice to council on development in this area soon enough in the process to actually make a difference?

Contact Your Elected Representatives

Write to your councilor and the mayor now, to ask for a Downtown Waterfront Citizen’s Advisory Committee. Let them know by clicking your councillor’s name below to send an email to your councillor and the mayor.

Tim Hortons OMB Hearing

The hearing, before the Ontario Municipal Board, is Oct. 26, 10 am at City Hall. It is a public meeting and anyone can attend. Save Our Waterfront has participant status to speak against this proposed development. If you have the time, we’d be delighted if you could attend.

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