Tax breaks, office attraction among downtown recommendations

To committee March 25; workshop March 28

Burlington downtownTax breaks, office attraction, supporting mid-rise developments to meet growth targets, partnering with developers to build parking, and bringing a farmer’s market downtown are just some of the recommendations from the Downtown Task Group to improve the vibrancy of the heart of the city.

The task group has been working for over a year to research options, engage the community and develop a set of recommendations for council’s consideration.

Members, which include the downtown Chamber, business association, economic development group, tourism, and two council representatives (myself included) developed 40 initiatives including:

• preparing an employment strategy for the downtown. The task group agrees that attracting employment uses is one of the critical factors for long-term health of downtown. The desire for more employment was also evident in public consultation. While the downtown continues to attract residential investment, research conducted by Deloitte and confirmed by urbanMetrics suggests that attracting office development to the downtown will require a concerted effort and incentives.

• examining municipal incentives to attract employment uses downtown, including grants, interest free loans, and tax increment financing (debt leveraged against future tax revenues from development). Additional tools include requiring an office component as part of future residential developments, and setting a target for jobs/population ratio (as suggested by the urbanMetrics study). UrbanMetrics found that the downtown will need an additional 190k square feet of commercial space by 2031.

• exploring a graduated tax rate structure for small retail properties to deal with rising tax assessments on smaller commercial properties.

• taking parkland instead of cash-in-lieu on developments downtown to ensure urban plazas and open spaces in areas of intensification.

• establishing a farmer’s market downtown and considering municipal start-up support and/or indoor space.

• affirming mid-rise developments as a way to reach intensification targets and set stringent criteria for redesignation to greater height; consider a policy to require open courtyards, and landscaped areas in new developments

• establishing a business recruitment program with targeted businesses.

• exploring options to include public parking as part of private developments.

A separate parking study has just been completed which recommends a range of options for council’s consideration, including extending meters from two to three hours, and free parking Saturdays and Christmas holidays. The Downtown Parking Committee and city staff will review the report and develop formal recommendations to council, with costing options, in the spring.

The recommended initiatives from the Downtown Task Group will be introduced at the Development & Infrastructure Committee Mon. March 25, 1pm, City Hall, and will also be the subject of discussion at an Council Workshop on the downtown Thurs. March 28, 1pm, Burlington Art Centre. The workshop is being led by the Canadian Urban Institute and is intended to engage Council in the discussion of the value of investing in downtowns, and determine Council’s openness to using policy and leveraging city assets to achieve strategic objectives for the downtown.

Following the workshop, staff will revise the existing Core Commitment document and prepare an implementation strategy for Council’s consideration at the May Development & Infrastructure Committee, with public consultation and final Council approval to follow.

To review all the studies and reports on the downtown, visit here, Items #8 & #9.

My Take: The recommendations include some bold steps forward to enhance the vibrancy and long-term health of the downtown, and I’m honoured to have worked with the members of the task group to bring them forward. I’ve long been an advocate for office development downtown, to bring feet on the street weekdays, year-round; this is supported both by the public input and the consultants’ research. I support mid-rise developments to achieve intensification and preserving pockets of greenspace throughout thee downtown – residents have been suggesting that for some time. Bringing a farmers market has been a top priority on my to-do list since I arrived at City Hall, and is regularly suggested by residents. Finally, it’s great to see some creative suggestions around easing parking downtown, and working with the private sector to add parking supply, while maintaining the traditional town vibe of the core. I look forward to additional public consultation on the recommendations.

Your Take: Do you support the recommendations? What are your priority items? Is there anything missing that we can consider? Leave a comment below or email your thoughts to me at Marianne.meedward@burlington.ca.

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