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Guiding low-rise in Burlington - Character building

Feb. 11, 2015
By Edward LaRusic

Severance applications raise questions of compatibility in two of Burlington’s older neighbourhoods. As a result, the city is reviewing how new planning applications can be better assessed to maintain the local context.

Mayor Rick Goldring told NRU that the purpose of the studies of the Indian Point and Roseland communities is to allow for gentle intensification, not to shrink wrap these neighbourhoods.

“As we build less greenfield development there will be more and more pressure on our traditional neighbourhoods. It’s important that we retain the uniqueness of those neighbourhoods without being overly restrictive and permitting what homeowners want to do with their properties. Th ere’s definitely a balance we’re trying to achieve.”

Both communities were subject to controversial severance applications that led residents to advocate added protections for these single-family neighbourhoods. Both were appealed to the board and decisions were rendered in 2012. In Indian Point the board approved the severance and in Roseland the board refused it.

Burlington planner Rosa Bustamante said staff is proposing a three-pronged approach to help guide future development in these communities.

The first is to slightly restrict the zoningin each neighbourhood to better reflect the existing housing stock by reducing the building heights from 10 m. to 9 m. and the lot coverage in Indian Point from 40 to 35 per cent for one-storey dwellings and from 35 to 25 per cent for two-storey dwellings. The second is to modify the official plan to include a vision statement,general policies and criteria that staff would use to evaluate development proposals, including minor variances and severances. The third approach is to require a short design brief-essentially, a one to two page planning justification report-with eachdevelopment application.

“[Staff is] suggesting that when new homes get built in these areas, the onus would be on the applicant to provide a one or two page design brief that would talk about how its design takes architectural cues from adjacent buildings, how the development is compatible with the streetscape in terms of its siting and orientation along that particular street,” said Bustamante.

Currently, staff is recommending identical directions for both neighbourhoods, but it’s likely that differences will emerge either before the final report or after council input.

Since staff presented its preferred options, the vocal majority opinion of Indian Point residents is that they no longer want to be considered a character area and would prefer the zoning and official plan policies not change. Meanwhile, Roseland residents have indicated that they’d like to see the protections go a bit further.

Bustamante said that the older property owners in Indian Point who originally opposed the severance and advocated for protections are no longer the dominant voice in the community. The new vocal majority is opposed to stronger protections.

“They’ve actively severed lots and are planning to build new homes and profit from them. Those people who have been vocal have a vested interest in preventing any further limitations on their development plans,” said Bustamante.

Roseland Community Organization chair Dianne Bonnell said the city’s consultants-Brook McIlroy and Macaulay Shiomi Howson Ltd.-presented a number of options, legacy zoning and demolition control in particular, which staff is not in favour of using. This is “disappointing” after a year of consultation.

A demolition control by-law would require council approval prior to issuing a demolition permit, with a standard condition that a new building be in place within two years of a permit being issued. Legacy zoning would use the existing front and side yard setbacks on each property to establish required front and side yard setbacks for future development.

A staff report notes that legacy zoning would create a number of implementation challenges, such as constraining existing buildings with a small footprint from reasonably expanding. It states that a demolition control by-law would have minimal benefits.

Bonnell added that the neighbourhood supports council adopting a tree by-law, something that Goldring would like to see in the Roseland neighbourhood. Goldring noted that one of the issues residents raised was the loss of private trees when new homes are built. He indicated that he’d like to see that option explored in more detail.

“I’m wondering if there is merit for having a tree by-law in a specific neighbourhood or two that we can treat as pilot projects, and to learn from them whether it make sense to have a tree by-law throughout the whole city.”

Staff noted that there would be significant financial and staffing implications for protecting and maintaining private trees. Instead staff recommends the city become more proactive in planting public trees in both neighbourhoods.

Bustamante expects a final report on the Indian Point and Roseland character studies to be completed by the end of March or early April.