2016 is shaping up to be a game changing year for planning and bylaw enforcement in the city. Here are my thoughts on just a few of the major issues that will affect the city this coming year.
What do you think are the main issues for 2016? Leave a comment below.
OMB hearing on ADI Martha/Lakeshore proposal
The Ontario Municipal Board hearing on the proposed 26 storey building at Martha/Lakeshore (revised from the original 28 storey proposal) will be heard March 2016. Whatever the decision, it will be a game changer for municipalities.
A ruling in favour of the city’s position that the project is overdeveloment of the site will reinforce the primacy of local municipal planning and respect for the city’s Official Plan and Zoning Bylaw, which call for four to eight storeys here. It’s worth noting the current OP/Zoning documents have been vetted and approved by the Region of Halton and the Province of Ontario, and take into account intensification targets.
Alternatively, a ruling that grants excessive height/density will effectively take planning out of local hands and leave it with the OMB, as future developers will be encouraged to bypass local councils for an OMB decision. The development industry is already watching this file closely to see whether this application, which significantly exceeds the existing plan, is successful. This hearing is bigger than this site or Burlington; it is about the OMB and planning system in Ontario as a whole. Developers and municipalities across the GTA will be watching.
Airpark landfill court decision, and lawsuit
A final ruling is expected this year on the city’s application to enforce our site alteration bylaw on the Burlington Airpark, which has imported fill onto the site for years without a permit. Aeronautics are governed by federal law; however, site alteration is a matter of municipal control. Two lower courts have affirmed the city’s right to uphold our site alteration bylaw; the airpark appealed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The court’s ruling has yet to be released. It too will be a game changer; a third ruling in the city’s favour will reinforce that on lands with multiple jurisdictions, each level of government has the right to uphold matters that fall within their jurisdiction. The city is attempting to enforce our site alteration permit, which is a municipal area of jurisdiction. A ruling against the city would ask the federal government to take on site alteration matters.
On a related note, the residents sued by the Airpark for speaking out on the landfill activity are hoping for a speedy resolution to their case, which has been characterized as a SLAPP suit – a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Such suits are without merit, intended to silence democratic debate and intimidate others against public participation in community issues. These suits are typically lost at court or withdrawn, but the damage is done to residents who face hefty legal bills from years of procedural wrangling. You can help with a contribution to their legal fund here: Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition. These residents helped get anti-SLAPP legislation passed in Ontario, that will fasttrack hearings, saving residents thousands. But their suit came before the Bill, so they will not benefit from this speedy process.
Neighbourhood character studies
Council will have an opportunity in coming months to make changes to the city’s zoning bylaw or design guidelines on such matters as building height, setbacks, massing, architecture and tree protection, in response to concerns from residents about new home demolition and infill in older neighbourhoods. Roseland, Shoreacres and Indian Point neighbourhoods have all been the subject of Character Area Studies. The results of these studies can be applied to other stable neighbourhoods which have similar issues, notably the Lakeshore community and Seneca/Delaware Streets which have launched a lawn sign campaign seeking respect for existing character during infill activity.
Ridership is down, fares are up (though thankfully not in 2016), and so are concerns from users about the service. Though there have been some improvements in recent years (the Community Connection bus, for example) much more needs to be done if we want to encourage people to take the bus instead of the car. We need a review of the city’s transit system with the user in mind. Meanwhile seniors have asked for reduced fares or free fares one day per week to encourage more seniors to take the bus. When Oakville introduced free Mondays for seniors, ridership increased not only on Monday but across all routes the rest of the week. I’m committed to moving forward on a free or reduced fare for seniors and a review of our transit system.
Bylaw enforcement on weekends
If a funding request is approved during budget discussions in January, Burlington will get some form of bylaw enforcement on weekends. Currently, bylaw staff work business hours, with occasional calls on weekends in response to persistent concerns. If the funding request is approved, there will be a call centre on weekends to monitor bylaw complaints and forward them to bylaw staff, who will make a determination about any action needed. It’s more than we have now, less than having paid staff on the ground 24/7, but it is a step in the right direction. Let’s give the model a chance and see whether enforcement improves on weekends, a time that I receive many calls and emails for service.
Community Liaison program & Community Investment Fund
I’m thrilled to launch a new community liaison program that will provide neighbourhood-specific input on matters affecting the community. The response has been very positive, with residents who don’t normally attend city meetings volunteering to be a community liaison in their area. The program is evolving as we brainstorm with residents ways the program can assist in building connections among neighbours and with City Hall. Our kick off meeting is Jan. 20 and everyone is welcome to attend, even if you simply want to hear more about the program and what’s involved. Coupled with the program is the city’s new Community Investment Fund, which will provide funding for community-based initiatives ranging from single projects (a new bench in your local park) to events (neighbourhood street party). I’m eager to hear ideas from residents about projects that might qualify for the fund and improve your neighbourhoods.
Increased winter maintenance for trails/sidewalks
In the city’s continuing goal to have a more walkable community, council will have an opportunity during the 2016 budget to increase funding by $132,000 for snow clearing on trails and sidewalks. It’s something we need to do, if we want to encourage people to leave the car at home.
Though the above is my short list of key issues in the city, there are many more issues council will deal with this year, including updates to our Official Plan and Strategic Plan. There will also probably be new issues that emerge in the coming months. I’m committed to keeping you informed, seeking your input, and considering your feedback when making decisions on your behalf. Here’s to a great 2016 together!