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Video: Will Approved & Coming Condo Towers Create Retail Deserts in Burlington’s Downtown?

Whose City Is it?

Condos have a terrible impact on retail. This from someone who supports intensification and condos. Christopher Hume, Toronto Star Urban Issues and Architecture columnist, and an advocate of intensification, wrote in a recent article:

“As anyone who lives in Toronto knows, the condo has taken more from the city than it’s given. The economics of building, not to mention the culture of industrial development, civic planning and municipal politics, have left us more focused on minimum requirements than maximum expectations.

“The results have been deadly; Toronto is becoming a retail desert. Lined with the usual outlets, its streets are more generic, anonymous and boring than ever.

The recently approved 23 storey building on Burlington’s Brant Street reduces retail by 30% in one of downtown’s busiest pedestrian areas – directly across from City Hall.  Staff want another 17+ storey building beside it, on the opposite side of James Street. Doing so will force out iconic downtown retailers such as Kelly’s Bake Shoppe, which has worked hard to create a wonderful shopping experience. Even if these retailers are offered space in new buildings, they lack the character of the existing ones, and come at a much higher price – in some cases unaffordable to existing businesses.

The recent condominium developments have created retail deserts in our own downtown. Because of their limited street appeal, they’ve become areas pedestrians quickly walk past on their way to somewhere else. Consider the empty storefronts on Pine St in the new building – then compare that to the thriving stores on the other side of the street in Village Square.

City Hall’s planning slogan is “Grow Bold”. Being bold should mean more than tall towers on a podium. It should include measures to ensure a healthy retail environment – but the tall building guidelines don’t focus on retail.

What’s your take? Please leave your comments below.



Written by Marianne Meed Ward

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.


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  1. Your group will lose a lot of potential support if you only use Facebook. I want to help but will not join Facebook. If we are going to be in this we surely must trust each other enough to share emails. If we cannot get communication going quickly we can’t do anything.

    • Hi Jim
      I am not tech savvy to create a website and it would be too difficult to manage an ever growing team through emails
      If I could suggest you set up a very basic profile in Facebook (which is what I did) for this sole purpose to connect to the group

    • Hi Jim,
      I forgot to give you my email:
      If you need assistance setting up Facebook happy to help
      Just let me know

  2. Engaged Citizens of Burlington is looking for support to submit an appeal to the OMB on 421-431 Brant Street Development please visit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/170300306890636/about/
    for further information

  3. Hi it’s Dennis Walker


    Ok read all the comments and not sure if I understand the procedural questions, however
    I would be happy to organize a meeting to try to mobile opposition/formulate a plan.
    Contact me and I’ll get started.

  4. RT @CoreResidents: Tall bldngs kill downtowns and #dtburlont businesses know it. Recent approved 23 sty build will be a culture killer: htt…

  5. RT @CoreResidents: Tall bldngs kill downtowns and #dtburlont businesses know it. Recent approved 23 sty build will be a culture killer: htt…

  6. The rush to build high rise and high cost structures are a disaster for Burlington. After all the work that has been done to create retail on brant, why would we convert everything to high rise. the city should have learned by what happened at the two brant street highrises in the past.

  7. RT @MariannMeedWard: Video: Will Approved Condo Towers Create Retail Deserts in Burlington’s Downtown? https://t.co/vmnXS2D5FN https://t.co…

  8. RT @CoreResidents: Tall bldngs kill downtowns and #dtburlont businesses know it. Recent approved 23 sty build will be a culture killer: htt…

  9. Below is taken from an article by councilor Meed Ward regarding the Downtown. “The good news is that Chicken Little need not apply: based on the data, the downtown is healthy, with vacancy rates that mirror and in some sectors are lower than those across Burlington.” There are always challenges but apparently Downtown has nothing to be concerned about.

  10. RT @kellychildsxo: Video: Will Approved Condo Towers Create Retail Deserts in Burlington’s Downtown? https://t.co/8N41j7h6Pu via @mariannme…

  11. RT @kellychildsxo: Video: Will Approved Condo Towers Create Retail Deserts in Burlington’s Downtown? https://t.co/8N41j7h6Pu via @mariannme…

  12. Video: Will Approved Condo Towers Create Retail Deserts in Burlington’s Downtown? https://t.co/8N41j7h6Pu via @mariannmeedward

  13. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/property-report/property-report-ne-falsecreek/article36386882/

    Two weeks ago Globe and Mail posted a similar article on the ‘blandness’ of condo’s retail; however Vancouver is trying to do something different

  14. Tall buildings with lots of people in them are great, as long as there is mixed-use / retail space on the ground floor. Otherwise it’s just vertical sprawl.

    • Agreed — people are good for business. But the reality is that not all people are the same for business.

      In my experience as a downtown business I’ve learned that when you group categories of people by age, income, habits and time of life you see patterns. Some groupings spend more money than others, perhaps have families and are home all year round. These higher disposable discretionary income and active culture lifestyle people have a large and constant household spend and tend to strongly support their local shops and restaurants. These groups prefer houses and low rises that have space and connect them to the ground, quick access to activities and rich social community like your downtown.

      Some groups are older and travel the majority of their time — winters in Florida and or summers in Muskoka and shoulder seasons at home. This group isn’t around to spend consistently or reliably to support a downtown on their own. They buy condos because they can close the door and walk away easily.

      And some groups are even older and are planning for retirement or are in their retirement on planned/fixed incomes and don’t spend much comparatively at all. This group cannot afford to support a premium discretionary spend on their downtown businesses.

      The unfortunate challenge with this style of condo(s) is that it is far outside of the affordability and lifestyle range of the younger family households or active lifestyle couples that are the main financial and cultural support for retail and restaurants. These building are designed and marketed toward the relatively wealthy travelling empty nesters and retired who spend substantially less downtown than the first mentioned group.

      Unfortunately the city is eager to chase short term development fee cash in the name of density but in the end replaces a balanced, mixed population of all groups and employment space with a mono-culture that cannot support the businesses that are here today.

      This will kill our downtown business and culture.

  15. I recently moved to Burlington and I LOVE the big trees, historical neighborhoods and the warm feeling of the downtown area. The local shops and restaurants are top reasons as to why I moved to this area. I love going for walks and bike rides around town looking at the historical buildings and unique shops. I absolutely HATE the idea of condos and tall buildings taking over the downtown core. #keepburlingtonunique

  16. I agree with you 100% Marianne,
    Our waterfront with an Oakville-style downtown would be truly amazing.

    The BIG question is how do you stop developers from amassing properties, and then having their way with the City (Planning Department & Council)? Is it too late?

    I suppose the OMB door swings both ways, and the residents could launch an appeal within 30 days of Council’s November 13th approval of the 421-431 Brant application to delay the project (if nothing else) hopefully until a more permanent solution can be developed and installed; a change of Planning Department management and a completely revamped City Council (October 22 municipal election). Both who would be capable and willing to be guided by the consensus of residents and not their own world views or aggressive developers with disproportionate plans.

    Are there any brave, rich and available enough residents from our apathetic lot in Burlington, who would be willing to take on that battle?
    I wonder.

    • Well said Don! I never really thought of the OMB as an avenue for a citizens appeal. Right now I’m confused by the timing for the promised restructuring of that body into something more under the control of the community? There’s hope here for the future but it looks to be coming too late for this battle. I think our best option is the article ‘37’ clause that requires negotiation between the city and the developer regarding so called community benefits. This particular developer showed bad faith in reneging on those benefits and other aspects of its development of the Berkeley tower and associated buildings which begs the question of why four councillors would agree to working with this outfit on this even more important development? As Joan Little has so often said – we need a larger council! Allowing four people to dictate the future of our downtown is ludicrous. This fight is not over!

      • Don and Gary and Dennis and others of that persuasion on OMB;

        The OMB process in its present form, is like this. It may not change in these regards with revisions.

        When the planning/legal brings the OP bylaw amendments for the project to Council for approval and they approve it with a vote, the appeal clock for the OMB starts and lasts only 20 days (not 30).

        However, bringing that OP/Bylaw amendment to Council, and approved, is needed for that clock to start. If city expects the OMB replacement to be in place sometime soon, say the new year, they can hold back this approval process by not bringing the bylaw forward.

        I know this because I looked into it for another recent approval at 35 PLains Rd E, that did a similar thing by applying a draft plan that is NOT official and NOT approved, as a pattern to amend the existing OP/bylaws to get what they want from the unapproved plans.

        What we are wondering if they are waiting for the new rules, as the OP/bylaw amendments lega stuff for the 35 Plains Rd E approval were supposed to be at Council on Nov. 13, but were not. The next Council meeting is not till December, and it is not clear that this legal package will be on the Council agenda at that time.

        The draft plans, the new stuff, without due public process and Council approval have no policy or legal force, are not deemed to be “informative” and thus to be given “due regard”.

        So it is bordering on illegitimacy to use them as a not legal model to amend the existing OP/bylaws which is the “determinate” plan. It is inappropriate and border illegitimate on the basis that they’re using planning documents which AREN’T official and AREN’T approved yet.

        Not listening to citizen opposition is one thing, but it is a double betrayal of trust to go all in and approve this building height without any consultation and public vetting of the new OP and plans which have no legal status. This public consultation, which is needed to move the plans to legality, is a farce as they are implementing plans with no legal legs and no public process, as if they are a done deal.

        So what the public thinks and wants their Council to pass in their name has no standing in the procedures and process being used to make these things legal. Looks like a dictatorship to me when this happens.

        There is admission fee of $300 for an appeal of an OP amendment, and another $300 for appeal of bylaws. So for this project an appeal would cost $600 just to get in the game.

        If the city delays bringing the OP/bylaw amendments to Council for approval, and in the meantime the new OMB rules kick in, this cost might change and what can be appealed appears to be in line for changes too.

        But if “procedure” ,and not complying with existing OP bylaws are grounds for appeals under new rules, it is still possible to pay attention to the OP/bylaws approvals for the 23 stories, and then pay the fee and file an appeal.

        THere are numerous process grounds for challenging this approval and even the new rules seem to suggest that, while we may be limited in what we can appeal to the tribunal, we should still be able to argue on the basis that they’re using planning documents which AREN’T official and AREN’T approved yet.

        These BIG changes are a BIG deal, and to watch this Council ram what they want through what is a fake and sham public consultation that will not make a whit of difference – they just approved what they wanted and it goes far over the maximum of the unapproved new plans.
        So for all intents and purposes, they have already approved the unapproved plans that they are asking the public about in order to meet the Planning Act and Municipal Act laws on process and procedure.

        This arrogant Council and city action, fake public process and underhanded procedure needs to have a monkey wrench thrown into the works, through an OMB appeal.

        It may be possible to fund this through something like GoFundMe. It’s possible to represent yourself, or there may be volunteers with relevant expertise. The convicted murderers Dellen Millard, and his accomplish Smitch are doing it, and that’s criminal court, and first degree murder, not the lesser officialdom of the OMB or whatever it becomes.

        If someone leads are there any followers? You have time to consider and organize.

        • Hi Tom
          I agree with you view and would support an appeal submitted to the OMB to halt the development of anything above 12 plus stories on Brant Street.
          If you are interested in going forward we could try and mobilize the 1400 people who recently signed a petition opposing this development which was submitted to council and approved this past Monday, please provide your comments and we can connect and I will provide you my contact information
          Thank you

          • Susan,

            I would help with advice and information and arguments, but I can’t take the lead. Too many things going on and I’m away for an extended period starting in mid January. I can’t give the lead time I don’t have.

            We need someone committed to lead and not just followers.

            Someone needs to find out how many of the 1400 and the delegates and the commenting public would be on board.

            The lead appellant also needs to have standing by having delegated or commented on the proposal.

          • Hi Tom
            I understand completely here is my email: if you could provide yours that would be great
            We only have 30 days from November 13th to submit an appeal to the OMB, I have attended several public meetings on this issue but would not be able to lead directly as I too am away presently in Fort Myers and not able to return until early January however I can provide support have worked in banking for 30 plus years so I can write the business case for submission to the OMB
            Would you know of any lawyers that are interested in this issue that would be able to work pro bono?
            Thanks again whatever help you can bring will be greatly appreciated

          • Susan,

            The appeal doesn’t have to be made within 30 days from Nov. 13. I said this in my long piece that you replied to.

            “When the planning/legal brings the OP bylaw amendments for the project to Council for approval and they approve it with a vote, the appeal clock for the OMB starts and lasts only 20 days (not 30).

            However, bringing that OP/Bylaw amendment to Council, and approved, is needed for that clock to start. If city expects the OMB replacement to be in place sometime soon, say the new year, they can hold back this approval process by not bringing the bylaw forward.”

            This required procedure has not happened yet and usually takes some time. I was told this by the clerk’s office when I asked about another approval for 35 Plains RD E. They notify those involved by delegation when this happens and the 20 day clock starts.

            Look at the OMB website for the details at their end.

            I know no lawyers myself. And as I said, I can’t take on the lead, just help like this.

            Someone needs to take this lead on if it is ever to fly. Here’s a test. I’m like you in terms of what support I can offer.

            This is the only recourse if citizens want another say. The time for talk is up, and I hope people realize that this is just the start.

            I will send you my email.

  17. RT @CoreResidents: Tall bldngs kill downtowns and #dtburlont businesses know it. Recent approved 23 sty build will be a culture killer: htt…

  18. Word on the street is that the per square foot price to rent a retail space in these new buildings is just over triple what many of the small retailers are currently paying downtown. Most of our leases are negotiated at fair market value. When current businesses are forced to renegotiate their leases / leases extensions, it will be simply unaffordable. How are small businesses expected to survive?

    • This is what is happening. Further to this the sad situation is that the majority of buildings are owned by a handful of developers who have stopped signing long term leases — nothing more than 2 to 3 years tops.

      What this means is that any sophisticated retailer who needs to invest substantial dollars in the buildout of their store will never regain their investment within that time frame — and as such cannot take the space. Simple math.

      So what we’ve been experiencing over the while are temporary, low risk, low investment leasers that do little in build-out and are at the ready to move on a moments notice. And more sophisticated retailers and restaurants are skipping over the downtown all together and putting their bets and investment into other downtowns that are supported by stronger city councils that understand the needs of their downtowns.

      Slow death.

    • Alan I think you know that there is a terrible imbalance in what you call property rights. I live downtown in a neighbourhood comprised mostly of detached homes. Should everyone have the right to knock down a home and build a high-rise? How about a gas station? Better a metal stamping factory. No, that would be ludicrous and against common sense let alone zoning. So rights? It seems rights are only to be dispatched conveniently in your argument.

      Rights do not apply when the buyer of the land understood the law in place before they bought. The rights should be for all others who abide by these laws to see that the laws are upheld.

  19. Had this exact discussion last night with another experienced downtown business owner. We are concerned about theirs and other downtown retail businesses and restaurants not being construction zone ready. These tall builds are abusive on a street and surrounding retail districts and take a long time to build.

    The extended disruption on the area chases customers away, often permanently. These builds almost always close sidewalks and side streets which adjust pedestrian patterns and flows thereby choking stores. The disruption changes customer habits away from the construction inconvenience toward other retail solutions or areas (downtowns and malls) and as a result starves surrounding retail and restaurants causing lasting unrecoverable financial stress.

    The net of this will mean stores will adopt to relocate before they are hurt by it. And this will mean healthy shops will find better homes in other business districts like Oakville that maintain its low-rise zoning, and marginalized retailers will simply close forever. During this 15+ year cycle, there will not be the culturally rich lifestyle downtown like we enjoy now. Simple.

    What a mistake on the part of the city councillors that voted for this. Craven, Taylor, Dennison, Sherman, Lancaster — you’ve shamefully failed your downtown and all of Burlington.

    • It is very sad Barry. On all counts. Nice to hear a fellow retail/food biz speaking up. I will not be here for the construction. As much as I love progress and innovation and building businesses and more, this downtown core is destined for a cold, disruptive 15+ years as you say. It is too late to stop it. November 13 it was approved and now they have the NEW Precinct for the downtown to be approved: PLEASE READ.

      No one wants to speak up and the developers have their way with all of us. As much as the developers can get upset and mad that we do not agree with them, this is OUR LIFE here. We live here, we work here and we have invested our whole life savings here. We don’t have the pleasure of leaving and building condo or developments in other towns/cities. We need more compassion than aggression from the developers. I personally have invested my whole entire financial life into my business(es) in the core.

      I figure there is one or two good years left in this core. Take it and move on to Oakville (as you say) or to other cities that clearly support small business/retail, a clear unwavering vision and maintaining glimpses of their heritage charm mixed with realistic growth and intensification.

      These 5 councillors ignored 14 bright and insightful delegates that spoke on November 13. They were quite informative and yet, it was turned down still by these 5 councillors. I watched it on City Council Live TV from BC. We are not here to put developers out of business, that would be impossible. We simply wanted to choose a growth that reflected a less generic downtown, less concrete, less hustle. A town that attracts people strolling, getting away from the Toronto we all fled from. We wanted to keep the feel of the core that brought us all here in the first place. A willing compromise.

      The construction will be unbearable for my business but maybe the new tenants, like I was told by our new owners of Elizabeth Interior block, that they want to attract Shoppers Drug Mart in there at $45 sf – maybe this will make it worthwhile for Downtown Burlington.

  20. I think your presentation on Monday demonstrated that modern condo/retail combinations tend do die compared to vibrant downtown’s. Think of the successful main streets like Streetsville, Niagara on the Lake, St. Jacobs. A big part of the “Shopping Experience” is the ambiance. Big city condo dwellers drive elsewhere for that pleasure and experience.

    • Totally agree. Funny, I always ask business friends to what cities they’ve travelled and loved the most. I recently asked this of a developer friend. His response was not surprising — he named all cities or city precincts with low rise. Everyone, every time, says the same. They always pick the quaint or vibrant city areas that are rich with culture, restos, retail, people watching — and these places are rarely more than 4 to 6 stories. Around the world. Yet they have density and manage to pay the bills to their city. We’re such suckers.

  21. Tall bldngs kill downtowns and #dtburlont businesses know it. Recent approved 23 sty build will be a culture killer: https://t.co/djQA7dj7tV

  22. RT @MariannMeedWard: Video: Will Approved Condo Towers Create Retail Deserts in Burlington’s Downtown? https://t.co/vmnXS2D5FN https://t.co…

What's your take?