Regional and City disputes that dominated the year’s news came began coming to a head in October. Mid month the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) agreed with the lawyers (there were 20+ of them on the call) that the Interim Control By-Law (ICBL) could be lifted except for several properties along Fairview between Brant and Drury Lane.
By this point, the ICBL had frozen developments in several areas for a couple of years. The Gazette reported regularly on the Waterfront Hotel development that held the required public pre-application meeting and revealed their plans for a 35-storey tower and a 30-storey tower that would sit atop a 4-storey podium at the intersection of Brant and Lakeshore Road.
On October 21st another pre-application meeting took place, this one for a development at Brant and Prospect – 789-795 Brant Street. There was no mention of how high the building would go other than noting that the proposed development includes a podium with a height of 7 storeys facing Brant Street. At hearings, city witnesses failed to bring forth compelling evidence of shadow issues from the new developments.
The Gazette criticized Mayor Marianne Meed Ward for becoming relatively mum on waterfront developments in what is described as the football – very much at odds with her vision of the city in the run up to her election.
As for Meed Ward’s vision of the city, an Engagement Plan was detailed regarding public consultation on Major Transit Station Area (MTSA) meetings. The MTSA is a designation given to the Go stations in the Burlington area, around which developments were planned for the City’s vision of their Official Plan. Key developments around this area are intended to create appropriate intensification and the protection of established neighbourhoods by focusing future population growth. These are decisions that will shape the future of Burlington: public input is paramount.
By the end of the month, the Ontario Land Tribunal ruled in favour of the developer Carriage Gate Homes for a 29-storey mixed-use condominium development on the northeast corner of Pearl and Lakeshore. Former Mayor Rick Goldring laid the blame at Meed Ward’s feet causing the Gazette to wonder if Goldring was throwing his hat in the ring for his old gig come next year’s municipal election. The issue in all Goldring’s finger-pointing was that the decision he was coming out against was decided based on the MTSA designation of the tiny Brant St. terminal, a hold-over from his time in charge.
Municipally, City Hall had a slew of items on the agenda in October. They continued to debate the upcoming budget, that would carry on until the end of the year. Mayor Meed Ward hosted Ontario’s Big City Mayor (OBCM) caucus meeting on October 14th; the meeting largely centered around demands for more action from the federal and provincial governments to aid municipalities through the pandemic recovery. Meed Ward used the opportunity to talk about the impact of lost revenues and added expenses on taxes. The OBCM meeting took place at the new Burlington hotel, the Pearle Hotel and Spa on the Waterfront. The Pearle’s opening was overshadowed by a chaotic calendar year but will surely become a premier destination in Burlington.
A Burlington Gazette readers’ survey, on which of the five new Councillors had shown the most growth over their term, yielded favourable results for Councillors Rory Nisan, Ward 3, and Kelvin Galbraith, Ward 1, two councillors the Gazette identified as most often backing the mayor.
In early October the City laid out rules for vaccination of staff that broke down into three categories: vaccinated, exemption, and testing. The third option allowed for staff to be regularly tested instead of being vaccinated, in stark contrast to the federal government’s approach that you get vaccinated by a certain day – if you’re not, you’re on unpaid leave. The municipal policy was made much tough later in the year.
Much of the positive stories to cling onto in 2021 came from the way generous Burlingtonians found new ways to give back despite the pandemic; by October they were offered some regional help. The Halton Region Community Investment Fund opened applications for not-for-profits that enhance the health, safety, and well-being of Halton residents. Virtual activities continued in the community, as the Art Galley ran creative Zoom events for the artists and hobbyists, and the Halton Environmental Network hosted a virtual discussion with United Nations Climate leader, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe.
Other Burlington organizations had moved to in-person offerings. The RBG ran an innovative interactive exhibit on artwork called ‘Seeing the Invisible’, featuring a range of contemporary and modern artwork complemented by AR or Augmented Reality Technology. AR is a technology that can add or augment any viewer’s perception of their environment.
The Heritage Advisory Committee rehabilitated what has been known as the King Edward VII Fountain, a fountain with over 100 years of history in Burlington. The Kind Edward VII Fountain was not the only Heritage Advisory Committee story of the month. A member of the Heritage Advisory Committee received a grant from the Committee. The recipient of the grant did recuse himself from the vote, and received the funds for an appropriate project. Still, questions about a conflict of interest were unavoidable.
On Nov. 10, 2021, the City of Burlington received official notification of the boundary adjustment of the City’s Urban Growth Centre (UGC) designation from the Hon. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The Minister also confirmed the removal of the Major Transit Station Area (MTSA) designation in the downtown core. If that reads in the context of this year in review, that it was a long time coming, it certainly was. What’s more – for some significant downtown Burlington developments the decision came too late. Seven buildings were grandfathered in based on previous designations.
The Marsden’s still won’t believe the decision is final.
The City suggested the decision sent a clear signal “that the scale and intensity of recent development activity in Burlington’s historic downtown was driven by misuse and reliance on the UGC and MTSA and was not sustainable given on-the-ground realities of physical and social infrastructure.” Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns led a well-attended walking tour through downtown Burlington educating those interested in the grandfathered development sites. The mood presented at the tour around the City fighting the decision wasn’t optimistic, “What I cannot do is completely stop them,” Kearns said. Earlier in the year, the City had essentially celebrated the designations for a new UGC and the removal of the MTSA as done deals, this proved not to be the case.
The Gazette learned an application had been filed for, what the Gazette has been calling, the Two Towers that Darko Vranich wants to put in the space now occupied by the Waterfront Hotel.
The application had been filed on October 26th, it wasn’t available to the public until late November – more questions about transparency had to be asked.
Budget deliberations occupied much of the month at City Hall. The 2022 proposed City tax increase sat at 5.45%. Each member of Council put forward a motion setting out changes they wanted to see to the proposed budget. 2022 will be a municipal election year so Council, Mayor Meed Ward in particular, wanted to get that number down. The public had an opportunity to weigh in and ask questions at a Virtual Budget Townhall to be emceed by the Mayor on November 22, 2021. On November 29th Council went through a budget exercise including a five-year simulation on what the public can expect – the assumption being that there will be no radical changes in the economic environment. The average projected city tax increase over that period came out to 5.17%, a tough pill to swallow.
Effective Friday, Nov. 26th, Burlington Taxi closed its service. Scott Wallace gave a very complete outline of just how the business he has run since he was a 19-year-old unraveled. Uber was what Wallace called the first of a thousand cuts, but he was never able to recover from COVID-19. Then there was an issue of insurance, consolidation in the taxi market resulted in skyrocketing rates that went from $5000 a year per car up to $18,000 per year per car. Wallace needed a change in the municipal bylaw – the city said it was unable to make the change within the necessary time frame. Five days later the city made the needed change but by that time Burlington Taxi was out of business and Blue Line in Hamilton took over some of the then available taxi slots in Burlington.
Burlington observed Remembrance Day with a ceremony at the Naval Monument in Spencer Smith Park and another at the Cenotaph by City Hall, in the recently unveiled Veteran’s Square. The event in Veteran’s Square was advertised as a virtual one but the city was unable to keep people away – Brant Street was thronged by crowds, arriving to pay respects. The City encouraged applicants to run outdoor neighbourhood ice rinks through the winter months. Canadian Music Hall of Famer Steven Page put on a show at the Performing arts Centre on November 13th. The BPAC LIVE & LOCAL Music Series returned to the Community Studio Theatre on Sunday, November 14th, featuring local artist Hayley Verrall.
Faced with the void left by Burlington Taxi’s closure on November 30th, City Hall issued temporary licenses on December 7th to drivers who could be on the road by the end of the day. Blue Line of Hamilton was providing the dispatching service.
City Council passed a budget on December 14th including a 4.62% tax increase. Council managed to decrease the size of the budget Staff had presented but by less than 1%. City Council will go into an election year with their second consecutive highest city tax increase under Mayor Meed Ward, it’s a figure the mayor will not be pleased with.
What followed the budget announcement was a peculiar, related story. The City issues City Talk, a print piece that is delivered to Burlington residents, in the December 14th issue of City Talk they announced: “CITY COUNCIL APPROVES 2022 CITY BUDGET: BURLINGTON TAXES REMAIN BELOW AVERAGE IN COMPARISON OF LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES.” So, what’s the problem? City Talk was mailed before the budget was approved!,,
City Council agreed on December 6th to make a formal offer to purchase the Bateman High School property for a reported $50 million. There are all kinds of details that are not known; the HDSB will retain some of the space, Brock University is in talks with the city to rent space, Tech Place is going to need an affordable place to operate and has eyes on the Bateman location, and the library might become a tenant as well.
Throughout December Burlington engaged in a measure of holiday cheer. The Burlington Holiday Market went on as planned showcasing local business owners after its hasty approval process, the city and its organizers hope to make it an annual affair, there were provisions in the arrangement for exactly that. The fire department got plenty of mileage out of their antique firetrucks this December: the antique fire truck filled in for a sleigh to cart Santa around town for a socially distanced Santa Clause parade. A nice substitute but everyone hopes for a return to a traditional Santa Claus Parade next year.
Elsewhere the antiques were on hand, manned by retired firefighters, to add a festive flair to the Join the Joy event supporting Joseph Brant Hospital’s Labour and Delivery Unit. Frosty’s Village program, organized by several mothers to spur donations to the Burlington Food Bank, featured a concert of Christmas carols. The Sound of Music drummed up funds with their Silent (Night) Auction, with guitars, show posters, and albums signed by popular musicians.
The Burlington Performing Arts Centre organized the Festival of Trees, an indoor forest of beautifully decorated artificial Christmas trees. The Festival of Trees held a silent auction to bid on the trees, all proceeds support the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. It was the most wonderful time of the year, or so it appeared to be for a moment.
On December 2nd the first case of the lab-confirmed case and two probable cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 were identified in Halton Region. By mid-month, responding to the rising number of Covid19 infections and the rate at which the Omicron variant was replicating, the province once again increased lockdown measures.
COVID-19 cases in Halton remained manageable compared to the province at large with 3128 active cases as of December 29th in the Halton region, a drop in the bucket compared to the 76,992 active cases provincially. Ontario reported a record-breaking 10,436 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.
Regionally the total case count has reached 22570, in Burlington it is at 5970.
In the face of the rising threat of the Omicron variant Burlingtonians were eager to receive their booster shots and showed up in droves to a GO-VAXX bus parked at Burlington Centre on December 27th only to be turned away. A late change to appointment-based booking rather than walk-ins turned the GO-VAXX scene chaotic, people who lined up for the booster shot had to be turned away.
December is the time of year for celebration, gathering with friends and family, a time for reflection on a year that came and went, and looking forward to the next year. At the end of 2020, all anyone would have wanted was for 2021 to be different, and despite a vaccine and some months of near-normal life we are forced to have the same reflections. This time we hope 2022 will not be a repeat of 2021.
Once more we will enter the new year concerned with safety at the forefront of our minds. Let us hope in a year’s time these concerns have faded.
Have a safe and happy New Year.
Ryan O'Dowd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Burlington Gazette