Recommendation report & decision in Sept/Oct
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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.