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To council: update on John St. development; tall building guidelines; budget 2018; $1 million for JoBrant Museum; living wage study; active aging plan

July 10, 6:30pm, City Hall

The following recommendations were approved at standing committees and come to city council for approval July 10, 6:30pm. This is the last council meeting before summer break. Standing committee meetings resume Sept. 5.

View from Elizabeth St of medical centre/parking structure/condo at Caroline/John/Maria/Elizabeth streets.

Update on John St. development

Construction is underway for a 17 storey residential tower, 6 storey parking garage and 8 storey office/medical building on the block bounded by John, Caroline, Maria and Elizabeth streets. The development is supposed to be built all at the same time. The developer wishes to complete the residential tower first and use the proceeds to finance the construction of the remainder of the site.

When the city lifted a “holding” zone to allow the development to proceed, we lost our ability to ensure the entire site is built together. As a result, planning staff have negotiated further agreement that if the developer doesn’t begin construction of the office building and parking garage by March 24, 2020, they are required to submit a non-refundable payment of $300,000 to the city, install a publicly accessible landscaped open space and upgrade the exterior façade of the apartment building (on the north side, where the building would abut the parking garage). These measures are intended to compel the applicant to proceed with the construction of the office building and parking structure shortly after the construction of the apartment building.

Read report: PB-45-17 Development Update – Carriage Gate Homes Berkeley Project

My Take: This application has been challenging from the beginning, with the tower height being four times allowed and reductions made to promised affordable housing. I did not support the application or the changes, but it has been approved so we must ensure timely completion of the project. The tower was allowed in order to get the public benefit of an office and parking garage, but these will now come later. The community is rightly disappointed in delay of these benefits. I question whether the payment is enough of a disincentive not to develop the rest of the site, but city staff have taken steps to ensure a landscaped area so that it does not become an eyesore.

Modified tall building guidelines approved

Committee has approved guidelines for tall buildings (over 11 storeys) that cover everything from the height of podiums and setbacks along the street, to the distance between towers. Staff held several workshops and a walking tour to gather public input. Comments included:

  • Provide clarity on the roles of land use planning framework and the guidelines;
  • Confirm that the metrics in tall building guidelines reflect best practices;
  • Ensure human scale, pedestrian friendly streetscapes, and open/green spaces within and between tall building developments;
  • Strengthen the role of established and planned planned neighbourhood context when considering transitions to adjacent properties;
  • Reference Official Plan policies regarding sustainability principles in tall building design; and
  • Allow for both flexibility and predictability of the guidelines through development review process.

Read the staff report and guidelines:

PB-25-17 Tall Building Guidelines

Tall Building Guidelines

My Take: The guidelines help to steer design and development in the public interest, however the community’s task will be to ensure these aren’t used to justify tall buildings where they are not intended. States the staff report: “The tall building guidelines do not enable tall buildings to locate where they would otherwise not be permitted.” We will need to be vigilant to ensure we don’t get towers lining both sides of a street, particularly in the downtown. We can do that through strong Official Plan and Zoning provisions which are currently under review under the mobility hub study (downtown is a mobility hub).

Budget 2018: potential 4% city increase, overall

Staff have provided an initial preview of budget drivers and pressures that will affect preparation of the 2018 budget. The projected potential increase is 4% for the city, which includes 1.31% for dedicated infrastructure funding. The balance is from service improvements (1.3%) and cost increases due to inflation, wage adjustments or other pressures (2.53%), offset by budget reductions of roughly $1 million.

For the seven years reflecting the term of current members of Council the average annual city-only tax change is 3.34%, with an overall annual average tax rate change of 1.82% when Regional and Education taxes are factored in.

Timeline for review of the 2018 budget is as follows:

  • Committee of the Whole Capital Budget Overview, November 9, 2017
  • Capital Council Information Session, November 16, 2017
  • Committee of the Whole Capital Budget Review: December 1, 2017
  • Committee of the Whole Operating Budget Overview, December 1, 2017
  • Council Capital Budget Approval, December 11, 2017
  • Operating Council Information Session, December 12, 2017
  • Committee of the Whole Operating Budget Review: January 18, 2018
  • Council Operating Budget Approval, January 22, 2018

My Take: I will be looking for opportunities to reduce the city tax increase, while recognizing the need to improve public services in several areas, such as bylaw enforcement and transit. Tax reductions can’t be at the expense of public services, and tax increases must go first toward improving needed public services.

Living wage study supported:

Committee has directed staff to analyse whether the city of Burlington is a “living wage” employer, defined as paying staff at or above the hourly wage needed to be above the poverty line. In our area, the living wage is estimated at $17.95 including benefits. Several delegations attended committee and noted that providing a living wage, among other things, reduces reliance on public services and over time reduces costs such as employee turnover. Staff will analyse the living wage at the same time as they work to meet Ontario minimum wage legislation, which increases the minimum wage to $15 before benefits by 2019.

My Take: I believe that people working full time should not live in poverty, and often there is a significant wage gap between front line workers and executive-level salaries. That gap needs to close and raising the minimum wage is one way to do that. The living wage may be close to the new minimum wage; the staff study will provide more information. One concern that will need to be addressed when the results of the review come back is asking our residents who don’t themselves earn a living wage to pay an increased living wage for city employees.

Read more about the living wage: COW-4-17 – Living Wage memo(1)

City will backstop $1 million shortfall for Joseph Brant Museum

Committee has approved a request to backstop a $1 million shortfall for the Joseph Brant Museum expansion, should expected funds from the province not come through. Funding sources for the project are as follows:

  • City of Burlington: $2,120,000 committed, with the same amount allocated
  • Joseph Brant Museum Foundation: $2,589,559 committed, but not yet fully raised ($1.2 million has been received to date)
  • Federal Government: $4,479,000 committed through Cultural Spaces Fund
  • Provincial Government: $500,000 committed through Ontario Trillium Foundation

Total Committed Funds: $9,688,559

This leaves an approximate funding gap of about $1 million on an estimated total project cost of $10.4 million, based on construction starting in spring 2017. The actual cost may be higher depending when construction starts. There is a premium on construction during winter months.

My Take: This project was proposed to the community with limits on the city contribution; that has significantly grown with this request, and there is no clear picture of the operating costs or ability of the new facility to meet financial targets. We’ve learned over time projections are often faulty: the Burlington Performing Arts Centre operating budget is double what was predicted; the Discovery Landing was supposed to have public space on the second floor that has now been given over to the private restaurant; the pier was more than double cost estimates. With the change in funding request from the city, and the length of time elapsed since it was first proposed, it is time to review the project. We need to ensure it still meets the needs of our residents and honours the legacy of our indigenous heritage as the homestead of Joseph Brant ‘Thayendanegea’ (1742-1807), a Mohawk and British captain who was granted 3,450 acres at the ‘head-of-the-lake’ (Burlington Bay) by King George III in recognition of his services to the Crown during the Seven Years War and the American Revolution.

Transit tops concerns of active aging plan

Better transit and transportation have emerged as top needs during community consultations on the city’s new active aging plan. Said one resident: “I would like to use transit more often but find the schedule difficult to understand and stops are not conveniently located.” In terms of satisfaction with the city’s transportation features, frequency of transit service ranked lowest, with only 47% saying they were satisfied; only 59% said the were satisfied with transit fares.

The active aging plan includes five recommendations to improve transit, including an increase in frequency and coverage of transit service, investing in para-transit (Handivan) to meet increased demands, and ensuring affordable fares.

Other focus areas for the plan include: outdoor spaces and buildings, social inclusion/respect/participation, civic participation and employment, and communication/information.

The plan is intended to guide development of services, infrastructure and community partnerships that support our older adults (55 and over) in staying active, healthy and engaged in the community. Staff will work closely with community members and groups, as well as the city’s Burlington Seniors Advisory Committee (BSAC) to implement the recommendations.

Resources:

Staff report: PR-02-17 Burlington Active Aging Plan

Active Aging Plan

My Take: When we build a city with older adults in mind, we make it better for everyone, from age 8 to 80 and above. Improvements to older adult programming, transportation, housing, accessibility benefit all of us. We know we have work to do to improve transit service and frequency, as well as handivan services. Our task will now be to implement the recommendations from the plan, in collaboration with our residents, community groups and BSAC (I am the council representative on BSAC).

I was inspired to seek public office because I believe, like so many of you, “I can do something about that” on the issues we face. As councilor, my role is to take a stand on what’s best for residents and go to bat for it. Pushback is inevitable from those who don’t have the community’s interests at heart. I will stand with you and for you, to achieve the best interests of our city, without caving to unacceptable compromise in the name of consensus.

One Comment

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  1. I personally don’t see the problem with medium density and high density as long as it is respectful to the community it’s a part of. But if we can leverage the success, demand and desire to live in Burlington to our advantage we should always do that, especially if we make allowances for developers which may be necessary to making new builds in the downtown profitable.

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