6 Floor Residential Limit

You never need to build buildings more than 6 floors for transit-oriented development, predestrianism or to meet provincial guidelines. As an example; Paris France has a density of 210 per hectare and the buildings are limited to 6 floors. Paris is considered a popular, vibrant and livable city. So in practice, you can see an actual functional example of the density not needing to be high at all.

Most importantly though 6-floor buildings are about the same height as fully matured trees. This means that you can not see these buildings over the tree line. The net effect is a green city that seems full of trees. Higher buildings go over the tree line and can be seen from miles away. This provides a nice view for a handful of apartments but makes it seem like everyone lives at the base of a massive set of skyscrapers.

There is a cost advantage which is not immediately obvious. Low rise buildings can have higher stores made of wood stick framing over lower commercial floors of concrete. This radically changes the cost to construct these buildings. High rises create space at $600 dollars a square foot, while traditional stick framing costs $200. There is no conceivable way to construct family or affordable housing at $600 a square foot. Residential high rises are lifestyle buildings designed to deliver great views to premium apartments on the top floors – they can not make affordable housing.

6-floor buildings are also of “pedestrian scale.” This means that they do not overhang and shadow the sidewalk. 3 floors can be closer to the street than the higher floors recessed back. No one likes walking at the base of 30 story buildings in perpetual shadow.

Then why the focus on large buildings? Burlington is built out, so anything you build has got to be built over something else. The large buildings are needed to overwhelm the existing usage. If you contemplate knocking down every plaza in Burlington (as the New Official Pan does) you run into a problem. The existing commercial establishments are profitable. No one is going to sell to a developer if they are making good money in commercial leases. Thus the heights are needed to overwhelm the profitability of the existing usage by producing an irresistible paycheck for the current owner. 6-floor buildings cannot set the entire city on fire all at once. I consider this a feature of lower heights, profitable commercial space should remain in existence and the pace of development should be manageable. You want to live in a city with shops, restaurants, cafes and services, not just endless condos because that is the most profit to be had at the moment.

The key to these lower buildings will be a rapid non-subjective city approval process. Developers can't spend years arguing over lower buildings like the skyscrapers. The current system where the city staff develop nondescript subjective rules then put developers into endless “negotiations” with the city staff is not suitable for this type of development. We need to lower the cost of time to develop by making it clear what exactly can happen and making it happen fast. This can be done by things like pre-approved building envelopes and clear mathematical zoning rules.

Creating rules and enforcing them for the benefit of residents is something we have to get back too. This is a clear order that can be given to staff that they will have to implement. This is compatible with Provincial requirements and height restrictions are clearly in the per-view of the Municipality. And even if this order did conflict with provincial decrees – so what? If there is a conflict between Provincial goals and the residents of Burlington; council and staff are paid by residents and should represent the side of residents in any conflict.

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