Burlington freezes downtown development; builders warn of 'massive' economic impact

Burlington city council is freezing downtown development for at least a year as it works out a plan to curb a sudden burst of development. But local developers say this is politically motivated and a waste of tax dollars.

The year-long freeze will put a number of significant projects on hold

The development freeze stems from resident upset after Adi Developments won an Ontario Municipal Board appeal to build a glass condo tower on Burlington's lakefront. (Adi Developments)

Burlington city council is freezing downtown development for at least a year as it works out a plan to curb a sudden burst of development.

But local developers say this is politically motivated, and warn the move will have a massive impact on the city's growth.

The city is implementing an interim control bylaw to pause several would-be high-rise developments. In the meantime, it'll spend $100,000 — untendered — on a consultant to look at development rules downtown and around the Burlington GO station.

The freeze "will afford us the time and opportunity to do the more detailed land-use review work needed on our vision and policies, without the pressure of reviewing applications at the same time," Mayor Marianne Meed Ward said in a statement. 

"I want to reiterate that what is being recommended is a temporary measure, not a permanent one."

The Hamilton-Halton Home Builders' Association (HHHBA) hit back on Wednesday. 

Nautique condo tower plans include a fourth floor outdoor terrace. (Adi Developments)

The move "raises massive concerns about the lack of transparency and the potential for other agendas," the association said in a release.

The city has already looked at what development is appropriate in that area, it said. This is a duplication.

Either the work was done wrong the first time, it said, or "because of political will, even more taxpayers' money will be spent to achieve different results."

Meed Ward said Wednesday she's not even sure what the association is referencing, but "I will be formally responding."

The freeze "is a temporary measure," says Mayor Marianne Meed Ward. (Marianne Meed Ward/Facebook)

Development — including its height, density and where it will be — has been a hot issue in Burlington in recent years. Meed Ward made halting it a major plank in her fall election platform, and unseated incumbent Rick Goldring. During the election, Goldring even proposed making Waterdown part of Burlington so the latter would have room to expand. 

At issue here is Burlington's John Street bus terminal, a low-key facility that mainly acts as a hub for city buses.

Metrolinx's The Big Move plan lists downtown Burlington and the GO station as major mobility hubs that are part of regional transit systems, Meed Ward said. Such hubs are allowed to have higher and larger buildings near them.

The city, she said, doesn't think the John Street terminal qualifies. This $100,000 study will look at future use of the John Street terminal. If it has no regional implications, she said, city council will vote to remove the designation.

The designation is important. Adi Developments used it to win an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) fight to build a 26-storey lakefront condo tower. Nautique, a 240-unit condo tower at 364 Martha St., will open in 2021.

Adi Developments used the proximity of the bus terminal as justification for a 26-storey tower. (Adi Developments)

Developers are using the designation to build more density than the city wants, Meed Ward said.

The designation sets a target of 150 jobs or people per hectare. Downtown has another designation, called "urban growth centre," that has a target of 200 people or jobs per hectare, which Meed Ward says Burlington hasn't met yet. But it's the mobility hub designation that won the day for Adi.

Without a freeze, the report says, the Adi scenario will repeat itself. There are multiple pending developments downtown, including:

  • 2082-2090 James St.
  • 409 Brant St.
  • 2069-2079 Lakeshore Road.

Site plan applications for 374 Martha, 490-492 Brock Ave., 421 Brant St. and 442 Pearl St. will proceed.

This map shows the area impacted by the development freeze. (City of Burlington)

The freeze will last for one year, and the city can extend it for a second year. In the first year, no one can appeal it.

The association said it received no notice this move was even coming. Council also "rushed" the vote so one of its councillors would be out of town on a planned vacation, the statement said. (Meed Ward denies the last part.)

"This (interim control bylaw) will have a massive impact on the economic development of the city," the association said.

"This is absolute politics taking precedence over good planning."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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