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Beachway Report: removing residents will cost $10M for 1% more park

Recommendation report & decision in Sept/Oct

Burlington's Beachway Park Halton Region Waterfront Plan
Beach residents do not impede access to water.

Buying up 30 homes near Beachway Park would cost up to $10 million, to gain an additional 1% of greenspace, according to a report on the park released in April. Beachway Park is part of the Burlington Beach Regional Waterfront Park, which includes Spencer Smith Park in downtown Burlington. The park is the focus of a Master Plan review of Halton Regional policy to acquire the private homes in the area for parkland.

The first Phase of the Master Plan review focuses on the future of the residential community; once that is determined, planning moves to Phase II, to design the amenities and improvements to park itself.

As a regional park, the final decision will be made by Halton Regional Council, expected in October, after Burlington City Council votes on the matter, expected in September. City and regional staff have not offered a recommendation yet on the future of the residential community, but they will be drawing recommendations from the Comprehensive Background Report released in April to guide decision-making on the future of the park.

A summary of the key issues and findings in the report is below.

Summary of report findings

There are 30 homes in the area on both sides of Lakeshore Road, with all but one on the West side of the bike/walking path, away from the shoreline.(pg. 21-22). Public infrastructure comprises 73% of the land in the area, including the Canada Centre for Inland Waters, Ontario Provincial Police depot, Skyway Wastewater Treatment Plant, Joseph Brant Museum, and Joseph Brant Hospital. An additional 1% of the land is taken up by the existing 30 homes. (pg. xiii)

The Report estimates the cost of acquiring these homes at about $10 million. (pg. 23).

A key question for decision-makers is whether to continue with the policy to acquire the homes. Several factors warrant consideration including cost, floodproofing, wastewater servicing, protection of the environment and the long term vision for the park and area.

Acquisition policy and cost

There are several misconceptions circulating that the existing 30 homes are on leased land, and the homeowners  are intruding on land always designated as parkland

Neither is true.

The homeowners own their land. It is private property.

Map showing location of homes, government buildings and bike path (red line)
Map showing location of homes, government buildings and bike path (red line)

Though Regional policy designates the land where these homes are as “parkland,” that change was made in the 70s. The homes predate the change, and seven of the current property owners were there before the plan was changed.

Burlington’s Official Plan is different from the Regional Plan and does not designate the residential area as parkland, but recognizes the existing residential, commercial and public uses in the area. The land on the West side of Lakeshore Road is zoned “Residential Low Density. The East side of Lakeshore Road is zoned a Mixed Use Centre, allowing residential and commercial uses, including a Catamaran Club, Beach pavilion snack shack and washrooms, and the historic pump house that will be used as a business this summer (pg. 58).

In Burlington’s Plan, the parkland is along the shoreline (zoned as “Greenlands”) and near the canal (Zoned Major Parks and Open Space). The existing homes are outside these zones i.e. they are not “in the park.” The public institutions in the area are on land zoned as Business Corridor.

The Region’s policy to acquire the private properties in the beach area dates back to 1975 with the development of the Halton-Wentworth Waterfront Plan, which encompassed both the Burlington and Hamilton sides of the beach. The plan spelled out an acquisition strategy for both Hamilton and Burlington to buy private property in the beach area.

In Burlington, between 1976 and 2000, 129 homes were acquired, most of these on leased land on the shoreline. Thirty homes remain, all on private property; only one near the shoreline with the remainder on either side of Lakeshore Road.

The cost for acquiring the remaining Burlington homes is estimated at $10 million (pg. 23).

In Hamilton, between 1976 and 1985, 269 of 685 properties were acquired before Hamilton abandoned its acquisition policy in 1987 (pg. 151).

Hamilton stopped buying up the private properties for reasons similar to those facing Burlington today:

  • the high cost of acquiring the remaining 416 homes;
  • the cost to develop and maintain additional park land;
  • changing attitudes of residents toward the policy;
  • reduced cost of flood damage due to basement pumping practised by homeowners (pg. 151).

Hamilton’s new plan for their side of the beach accommodated low-density residential, commercial, civic and recreational/tourism uses; incorporated a heritage district for the historic cottages in the area; protected environmentally sensitive areas; reserved the shoreline as public access, and enhanced the bike/walking path with benches, interpretive signs and parks dotting the trail.

At a public consultation on the park, a number of Burlington residents suggested following an approach similar to Hamilton’s for Burlington’s portion of the beach. (Appendix C-5).

Floodproofing/Wastewater: solutions available

Like the public infrastructure in the area, the residential homes are located in a flood hazard area. (map, pg. 82). Generally, development is directed away from these areas, but new development is permitted where buildings are floodproofed, and people can get in or out of the area in a flood event. (pp 86) The nearby wastewater treatment plant includes floodproofing in its $150 million expansion, as will Joseph Brant Hospital in its $300 million redevelopment.

Shoreplan Engineering Ltd. conducted a flood simulation for a 100-year flood level. The simulation did not show waves overtopping the dunes and reaching the homes on the other side. (pg.88)

There is no evidence presented in the report that any of these private homes were damaged during the most recent major storm event, Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

Long-time beach residents Jim & Marie Milner
Long-time beach residents Jim & Marie Milner

I recently spoke to two residents, Jim and Marie Milner, who have lived in the beach for almost 80 years – all their married life and most of their childhood. Their homes were not damaged or flooded during Hazel, they say. They share their story in this video.

A number of homes directly on the beach dunes and the shoreline were destroyed during Hurricane Hazel, however, these homes are no longer there (pg. 87). They were on leased land, and when the leases expired the homes were demolished and the area is now open parkland. (pg. 21-22)

The remaining homes are all on private land, with all but one on the other side of the sand dunes, and half on the other side of Lakeshore Road, well away from the shoreline.

Wastewater servicing

The public infrastructure in the area, including the Beachway Pavilion with washrooms and a snack shack, are all connected to water and wastewater services. The private homes in the area have city water but no wastewater servicing. Several options for residential wastewater servicing are outlined in the report, including connecting with the existing Skyway Wastewater Treatment Plan. The cost of connecting to public infrastructure would be absorbed 100% by residents, as per current policy. Staff are recommending private septic systems, which is what residents currently do (pp 99-103).

Environment: existing homes outside environmentally sensitive areas

Beachway Park is a baymouth sand bar, parts of which are identified as an environmentally sensitive area (ESA) (pg 13). The ESA comprises the sand beach area and dunes on the East side of the walking/bike path. All but one of the private homes are outside the ESA.

Map showing environmentally sensitive area - residents are outside this
Map showing environmentally sensitive area – residents are outside this

The beach and dunes are home to four plant species that are rare in Ontario, and 23 that are rare or uncommon in Halton Region. (pp67-78).

It is also the breeding site for 17 species of birds. The hydro corridor on the beach poses a serious hazard to birds, with many killed each year after colliding with wires. Plans are underway to consider options for relocating the towers. (See below).

As amenities are added to the beach and tourism increases, we will need to take care to protect this unique environmental area. Designing the park to attract thousands of visitors down the road may compromise the environmental sensitivity of the area. Restricting activities may be required, or even retaining the current footprint of the beach to restrict the number of visitors. Spencer Smith Park, for example, is closed to festivals and events for several weeks in September to allow regeneration after the summer event season.

Hydro Towers: options discussed for relocation

beachway strip Burlington
Hydro towers are prominent along the Beach.

Hydro One and Burlington Hydro have coordinated on a study to examine several options for relocating the hydro towers on the beach from moving them to burying them. I attended an update meeting last week with representatives of both agencies, city staff, and several other members of council. City staff are preparing a report for council’s consideration, that will review options and next steps, expected to be ready in early summer.

Tourism: existing park can accommodate population/tourism growth

As Halton Region grows, more residents will want to visit this unique area. At the same time, care must be taken not to expand the park too much and thereby overload this environmentally sensitive area with too many visitors. With the population of the Region expected to double in the next 20 years, it’s reasonable to plan for 2000 visitors to the area, states the Report. A capacity assessment included in the Report indicates that there is currently adequate space for about 2000 people on the existing dry portion of the beach (pg. 136). There is existing parking for 310 vehicles. The Halton McMaster Family Health Centre and attached parking garage on Joseph Brant Hospital grounds across the street will add another 800 spaces for area uses when completed in the next year. Parking revenue goes into patient care.

Amenities: improve path, relocate Freeman Station among suggestions

Burlington pumphouse
Historic pump house will host water sports rentals.

There is public support both for retaining Beachway Park as passive parkland, and also adding year-round activities and amenities. These must be carefully planned to ensure compatibility with the park and protect the environmentally sensitive areas. .

Some of the ideas for enhancing the park that emerged from the public consultation include (Appendix C-3-36):

  • improve and widen the existing walking/bike path, and separate bikers from walkers;
  • add lighting, benches, signage, water fountains, rain and sun shelters;
  • encourage use of the south end of the beach near the canal lift bridge and pier, as it isn’t currently actively used;
  • allow restaurants, shops, galleries, Bed & Breakfasts, buskers, outdoor theatre, public swimming pool;
  • add sporting events, festivals, water sports;
  • spruce up the area to improve aesthetics;
  • retain the residential community as eyes on the street to enhance safety;
  • improve water quality for safe swimming;
  • minimize car travel & parking through bus and shuttle services;
  • relocate historic Freeman Station to the Beachway adjacent to the former CN Railway line, possibly near the pump house;
  • create an information centre or tourism office in the area;
  • add destination and gateway signage as this is an entrance into Burlington.

These are great elements of a long-term vision for the park (and there are many pages more in the Report), and all of them can be achieved with the co-existence of the residential community in the area.

Burlington Waterfront Committee: residents can stay

The Burlington Waterfront Committee recently appeared before the Community Services Committee of council in support of continuing the residential community along Lakeshore Road.

Composed of volunteers from every Ward across the city, the Burlington Waterfront Committee aims to provide city-wide input on waterfront issues. Members are continuing the work of the now-sunset Waterfront Access & Protection Advisory Committee (WAPAC) of council, with assistance from my office. About half of Burlington Waterfront Committee members were members of WAPAC. None of the committee members live or own property in Beachway Park.

In their final report to council, WAPAC members said there was “general consensus supporting the continuation of this [residential] community,” pending a review of environmental, health, safety and other considerations (pg 158). The Burlington Waterfront Committee has now had an opportunity to review the Comprehensive Background Report on these issues, and remains supportive of the residential community remaining in the beach.

Brian Jones and Gary Scobie, who spoke for the committee on this issue, said “the community does not interfere with shoreline protection or public access to the beach.”

“It essentially poses no documented harm to the enjoyment of the beach and provides an aspect of security in the area after hours,” state their delegation notes..

They added that “a lot of effort is being expended in trying to justify or not justify turning 1% of the infrastructure into passive parkland.”

The Burlington Waterfront Committee has recommended that a decision be made in a timely manner on the acquisition strategy, and that if the residential community remains that minimum floodproofing and sewage treatment standards be required.

I want to thank all the members of the committee, past and present, for taking the time to learn about park and the issues, and share their input as residents from across the city.

Take the survey:
Is the residential community near Beachway Park compatible with the long-term vision for the park? The Burlington Waterfront Committee has prepared a survey to seek broad community input on whether the Beachway residential community should remain.  Click here:

My Take:

Beachway Park is a gem that extends public access of the waterfront from downtown Burlington and Spencer Smith Park into Hamilton’s downtown.

I’ve read the Comprehensive Background Report extensively, and talked at length with residents in the area, attended several public meetings, and served on both the city and regional waterfront committees, where this issue has been discussed. Nothing I have heard or read so far suggests that the residential community needs to be removed from the park.

Based on the information received to date, and especially the extensive material in the Report, I believe the residential community is compatible with the long term vision for the park. As Hamilton has done, Halton Region could abandon its acquisition strategy, allow the residents to remain and still realize the vision of a vibrant, year-round mixed-use destination for Halton residents and visitors.

The existing homes predate the acquisition policy. The residents don’t live “in the park” but near the park, on land zoned “Residential”. Buying these homes would be akin to buying the homes and apartments across Lakeshore Road from Spencer Smith Park or Burloak Park to expand those parks across the street.

The $10 million cost to acquire the beach homes to add 1% additional non-shoreline parkland would be better spent enhancing the existing park and path (for a fraction of the cost). If the city or region wants to buy private properties for waterfront parks, priority should be given properties directly on the shoreline, to increase direct public waterfront access. The residential community near Beachway is not on the shoreline and does not impede public waterfront access.

Flood sign near public buildings - the lowest elevation in the area.
Flood sign near public buildings – the lowest elevation in the area.

Concerns about flooding and wastewater servicing can be addressed for the residents with appropriate standards, just as these issues have been addressed for the government buildings in the area. We shouldn’t have a different standard for residents than for government. After a recent heavy rain fall, the “caution flooding” sign was outside a government building, not near the residential area.

Some have said that the acquisition policy should continue essentially because it’s there, and has been there for a long time. The Region’s acquisition policy was established under the Halton-Wentworth Waterfront Plan in 1975 – the same plan that established Hamilton’s acquisition policy.

Hamilton ended its acquisition policy for appropriate reasons, and successfully changed its vision back to mixed use. The result in Hamilton is a vibrant mixed-use community will full public waterfront access.

The Region could similarly abandon its acquisition policy and then we could all turn our minds to enhancing the existing park lands that are already in public hands.

Burlington city council needs to show leadership on this issue. All seven members of Burlington city council sit on the 21-member Halton Region council. Based on the evidence released to date, its clear to me the residential community can be compatible with the long-term vision of Beachway Park. We need to make that case to our Regional colleagues, suggest we abandon the acquisition strategy as Hamilton has done, and get on with enhancing the park as a vibrant year-round mixed use destination for current and future residents of Halton.

Your take: Is your vision for the park compatible with the existing residential community? Should Halton Region maintain its acquisition strategy, or change it as Hamilton did? Leave a comment below.

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.

8 Comments

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  1. If you want to save the beach strip take it out of ward 1 and put it in ward 2. This seems appropriate because it fits in with Spencer Smyth park. The present ward 1 councillor is not representing the residents wishes properly.

  2. I should add that to spend 10 million on buying up homes that take up only 1% of the park area, for no real reason is an insult and a slap in the face to seniors and the disable who have lost the taxi scrip prog. at approx. 27k per yr. and who depended on it to enable them to leave home spontaneously, for the thousands awaiting affordable rental units in line with their income and not only of those with the highest multiple income households, for the cutbacks which butchered the times and routes of the city buses for the many people who depend on them for work and shopping etc. They want less carbon imprint, cleaner air, less cars on the road, feet on the street on and on and take away every possible means to do so. Cutting prog. which cost pennies to the thousands spent on other things such as buying up the homes and property of people who have lived on the beach for many decades BEFORE any “plans” took shape to do otherwise, I don’t see any “wise” in any of it. One could list many reasons why all of this makes no sense it would however take too long to do so,. I am sure many of you out there could provide your own examples.

  3. Obviously this comment is very late but still pertinent. I have lived in the Hamilton Burlington area for 70 plus years. As a small child we visited relatives at the beach and swam there, water was cold as I recall. There was also a carnival type area closer to the Burlington end, with washrooms, picnic areas, I think a pool certainly small ones for the kids rides, places to buy knick knacks snacks etc. This was quite a draw for many years. Consider that not too far away on the Lakeshore was the Brant Inn a major draw for people from all over the U.S., Europe, and locally and the rest of Canada as major stars played there regularly. I myself saw Johnny Mathis and the entourages of these stars ate at local restaurants, some of which I worked at. People used to sit outside in boats to hear the big bands and watch people dancing it was wonderful. Some of the boys my age were then, parking cars as a part time job. Suddenly it was all gone and sat empty for decades and decades glaring and ugly like lost front teeth Why? Progress?
    The wisdom? of developers? All of the people that came every weekend for sure and during the week in summers no longer had somewhere to come to. Business dropped off to say the least. What kind of plan was this? It was of benefit to No One.
    How can any one wonder why the economy here is not thriving? Yes those homes were on the beach and owned by those in them even then. Just like my relatives. What is Needed and is happening thanks to Councillor Meed WArd, groups such as the Core Residents and those in the St. Luke’s Precinct are the eg. of the finest in collaborative consult of our future Development Integrity such as happened recently with the Landmark Development group and the aforementioned. If this continues I can see the return of the very proud and vibrant City that once was when we were still a town.

  4. marty grogan
    just catching up with this issue. I use the beach a lot in the summer and sometimes in the winter as a place to walk.. If and its a big if someone really wants to throw away ten million dollars by all means take down the hydro towers and add a small washroom at least at the canal end. Am resident of downtown Hamilton and bike out there on a regular basis….It works pretty well the way it is why not just let it be

  5. Absolutely agree with you. Beachway Park works as it is. The community adds life. It’s good to have an organic presence and not try to fit everything into a sterile centrally planned “vision”. We’ve learned since 1975. Or have we?

    And we don’t need to nanny the property owners. We have no right to attempt to make others over to our taste. To tell people who’ve lived in an area for decades that they have to change to fit my vision is presumptuous at best.

  6. Leave the residents where they are. The arguments put forward to leave them in place are compelling. I would however ensure that waste water and sewage from those residences are adequately handled. Septics may be adequate, sewer hook-up would be prefeerable.
    On another note, continue discussions to find ways to get rid of the hydro towers. They are an eye-sore but moreso may pose a safety issue for users of the beach, parkland and pathways.
    Provide more benches, water stations, even widen the path but please don’t allow more commercial enterprises to set up along this beautiful expanse of parkland. Thank you, Bryce Leggatt

  7. 1% of what? I think that is a misleading number as it is without a proper context. Second following Hamilton is unlikely to bring the right results and we have to look at the entire area, if everyone does the same there is no real space left along the beaches as a whole which is wrong and not ecologically sound. We need to think deepoer than just what the neighbours are doing or superficial appearances of a neighbourhood and do whats best for all and greenspace remains at a premium and is far less than what should be. the more we intensify which is what some are calling for no matter the wording used, more will be lsot than gained by the parkland idea.

  8. I as a Burlington resident quite familiar with all on this subject I suggest if we keep the 30 homes then they are to know that deteriorating sloppy etc., houses and their property will not be tolerated.
    In other words if they stay their properties MUST BE kept looking decent and well looked after and that includes their yard property all around. As I haven’t been there since last summer I am going to go take a look at the houses along their from the front and the back. I bike during the good weather a lot so I go by them on many occasions.. I remember the original plan from when I was in real estate in the 80’s.
    and had actually wondered why they were still there.
    Also I feel there should be more much more park benches and the for sure the area at the end of the houses going into bridge area on the beach side; have the bushes taken down somewhat, its dark and dingy there, It can be a bit unnerving riding the bike past them and even more so in the evening..with all that is going out these days…I do not feel comfortable riding and for sure walking by that area.
    I also feel there should be for sure; separate large signs for bikes as even though the walkway along Spencer has signs posted on the left side and residents CONTINUE to walk right on them and its difficult to get by them without going into pedestrians coming and going beside us.
    PLEASE ENHANCE the signs…we are doing our best NOT to bring our cars down their to any of the area please let pedestrians know NOT to walk on the bicycle paths.
    BRIGHTER SIGNS? thank you.

What's your take?