March 3, 7pm, Burlington Art Centre, 1333 Lakeshore Rd
A public meeting has been called for March 3 to meet with city planning staff and representatives from the Molinaro Group to review revisions to a proposed highrise development with ground floor commercial on the corner of Brock and Elgin. I will be at that meeting to hear your feedback.
At a public meeting last June on this development, residents expressed a number of concerns about height, density, lack of greenspace and setbacks. Residents were also concerned that the building would be registered as a condo but the units rented only. Condo developments pay less property tax than rental units.
Not much has changed with the revised plans. The unit count has reduced slightly from 118 to 115, but given the size of the lot the actual density is 352 units per net hectare, almost double the 185 unit density allowed by the Official Plan.
The height remains at 14 stories, double the seven allowed by the Official Plan.
Some modification to the Official Plan would be appropriate – double is excessive.
The project also suffers from what I call “highrise congestion.” It is situated on a block with four other highrises, and inquiries have already been made to purchase the remaining homes on Ontario and Brock . It won’t be long before someone buys those and submits plans for yet another highrise here.
Compare what this block will look like once built out to the highrises on Maple Crossing – over 20 storeys, yet ample green space and breathing room around them. That greenspace helps reduce the impact of height so the buildings complement not overwhelm the neighbourhood. The Molinaro project doesn’t have that.
In exchange for the extra height and density, staff (who are supportive of this project) are negotiating payment of “community benefits.” The argument is that the Official Plan envisions going beyond height and density limits in exchange for these community benefits.
But there are significant problems with this process.
First, the community benefits are negotiated without the community at the table. They only appear as part of the staff report after they’ve been agreed to. The community has no input into whether they believe the benefits negotiated on our behalf are worth the extra height and density. There’s also no guarantee those community benefits are spent in our own community, unless specifically spelled out in the report.
Second, the community benefits are worth far less than the value of the extra height and density normally given in exchange. On the recent project on Maple, for example, Molinaro got double the height (worth millions) in exchange for a few hundred thousand dollars in contributions toward the parking fund and the public art fund, which funds such installations as the $100,000 ‘Steel Orchids’ project on Appleby Line.
Third, this process provides no certainty for residents about the long-term vision of the development of our neighbourhoods. The height limits have become more of a starting point for negotiations rather than a limit.
Following this week’s public meeting, staff will write a report with a recommendation on this project, and a second report on community benefits. Both reports go first to the Community Development Committee (a standing committee of council, on which all council members sit) then to City Council. Residents can register to speak to the report at both those meetings once dates are set, probably in April. I will let you know when these occur.
My take: I do not support the extra height and density being proposed for this development. The Official Plan should mean what it says and say what it means. I believe highrises have a place in the downtown – and we already have many of them. We can reach our population targets under Places to Grow with a modest seven storey building, which is allowed under the Official Plan. Such a building would replace three single family homes with 70 or 80 units. That’s intensification and balanced development, and we should strive for that. As one resident told me “There needs to be a more comprehensive, reliable plan for the development of the entire area.”