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BOB’S BLOG: Your vote can make a difference in local land-use planning

By Bob Wood
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November 14, 2014 - 0 comments

I’m following municipal elections in several jurisdictions around the province.

While the personalities are different, it is my contention that the issues are basically the same.  Sure, they vary in scale but when it comes down to it, local politics is mostly about land use planning. If you are in Haliburton (population 17,000) or Toronto (population nearing three-million) it is very similar.  Height, density, setbacks, residents agitated about the potential of “low-rental” housing intruding on their lifestyles and impacting their property values and so on.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a recovering politician, haven’t I?  Served two terms on the Burlington and Halton Councils in the nineties and then returned for an eight-month encore in 2006 as a “caretaker” councillor when in mid-term my local rep headed off to Ottawa, to clean up government.  But I digress.  

When I was a Councillor, I found this land use planning stuff kind of complicated. The reports were rather like those instructions for putting together the kid’s Christmas presents in that, while the salient points were repeated so as even the thickest reader could understand them, they always seemed sort of back to front to this dim-witted decision maker.

Some time ago, I was at the Royal Bank at New Street and Walkers Line (Burlington, Ont.) and I had a planning flashback. It went like this:

On a Tuesday night sometime in the mid-nineties, the Planning and Development Committee was looking at a rezoning for the north west corner of this intersection. I recall that a Sunoco station had occupied the site for many years prior. It was a long meeting and following in the time-honoured tradition of municipal politicians, I was asking dumb questions – really dumb questions.

What exactly is Neighbourhood Commercial, I wanted to know?

The planner’s answer had to do with building something small scale that would be used by those living on the nearby streets.

A small bakery was mentioned, with reference to the sweet smell of baking bread being carried on the breeze over adjoining streets.

The ward councillor had concerns about odours.  Not me.  I had visions of Old Mr. Jones strolling down to the bakery to pick up a Danish to go with his morning coffee or perhaps some trifles for an after-dinner treat. It all seemed…well, quite neighbourly.

The approved uses also included drive-throughs.  Don’t get me started on drive-throughs.  But don’t they seem to run counter to the idyllic friendly neighbourhood-use notion put forward by the planner.

My recollection is that I persuaded my colleagues to support a recommendation that staff develop some sort of policy for drive-through approvals. I don’t remember what, if anything came of that staff direction.

Here is a picture of what became of that site. One large bank office, with a drive-though in the middle of an oversized parking lot.

No bakery, but RBC puts out cookies with coffee sometimes.


Bob Wood is a housing and poverty advocate and former two-term Burlington City Councillor who has built a bed-and-breakfast with his wife on Lake Erie. He is on Twitter at @timberwood24.


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