How Burlington’s development boom and subsequent freeze is affecting small business

Community. History. Values. Pillars that define and make up a city. And right now, in Burlington, these foundations are being threatened.

Head to downtown Burlington and on your way to the waterfront, you’ll find yourself passing one of a kind shops and restaurants, many of which are housed in structures over a century old. While some of these are designated Heritage Sites and protected by the City, the building that Kelly’s Bake Shoppe resides in has not been as lucky. For the many who frequent Brant Street, Kelly’s is a fixture at unit 401 with the familiar white exterior and pink signage. With the building now owned by Reserve Properties, there are plans to build a 23-storey condo tower as part of a development package. Unfortunately, this means Kelly’s will be forced to move.

Initially, the Official Plan proposing four to eight storeys (voted in over 10 years ago) was easily accepted by the community. However, the application for 20+ storeys was quickly pushed through and approved by the previous city council in mid 2018. Supporters of Kelly’s Bake Shoppe, owned by mother-daughter team Kelly Childs and Erinn Weatherbie, quickly began a petition to keep the shop in place and within a month collected over seven thousand signatures.

Never ones to back down, Kelly and Erinn spoke at council meetings several times. The pair shared not only anecdotes, but concrete, measurable evidence of the Bake Shoppe’s positive effect on the downtown economy. Employing a staff of 37, Kelly’s serves twelve thousand people each week. This increased traffic then visits neighbouring businesses downtown, ultimately keeping more customers in the city centre. Despite this, Kelly felt unheard and disrespected at the council meetings.

Thankfully, a new city council in December 2018 brought new ideas, and with that, a development freeze. Beginning this past March, Mayor Marianne Meed Ward helped spearhead an interim control by-law. This was implemented to pause any further high-rise developments that were not one hundred per cent approved. In the meantime, a consultant has been hired to study land-use. Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns believes this is the right path, saying “It is clear that unprecedented height and density approved for development in downtown Burlington is concerning.” She continues, “Delivering on a clear framework for growth will provide a vision and certainty about how our unparalleled waterfront, unique retail and transit area will develop into a beloved downtown core that Burlington can be proud of.”

This is exactly how Kelly feels. As it stands, she asserts that “the construction will decimate the downtown core. With tall buildings, it will bring a lot of dark shadows and intensity, similar to the other concrete jungles we’ve seen.” While not against condos in Burlington’s downtown, Kelly looks to cities like L.A., where they’ve developed housing for population increases while still keeping buildings low or on the outskirts and still being accessible. The influx of new residents in downtown Burlington would congest an area already lacking space. With the sudden rise of dwellings, the roads will have to be reassessed. Kelly stresses, “The infrastructure doesn’t allow for safety. There’s single-lane traffic, lack of parking, and no room to expand. Right now, if I had a heart attack, it would be faster to walk to Joseph Brant Hospital than to have an ambulance drive me there.”

Many think of Kelly’s Bake Shoppe as part of the heartbeat of downtown. With the bakery in a building that, once upon a time, was home to a candy shop in 1901, there is a history in the space that can not be replicated. From its beginnings as a community hub, Kelly wants her store to be a place that people can connect. “We are all in need of deeper connections; people are trying to slow their lives down and this intensification is only pulling us further apart,” says Kelly. And both she, Erinn, and their team all love to be a part of people’s lives. “Part of what we do is giving back – giving joy. We like to sprinkle a little fairy dust where we can.”

They are very involved in charity work with causes near and dear to their hearts such as Halton’s Women Shelter, Home Sweet Home (a charity working to open a long-term home for survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation), Farm Sanctuary, clothing and feeding impoverished children, Burlington Barracudas (Atom girls hockey team), local families in need, surprise treats for children being treated at the hospitals, and visiting Burlington schools with birthday party treats for special needs children.

Kelly’s has helped provide a sense of belonging to many. With the rapid increase of food allergies in our young people, the Bake Shoppe has become a safe haven for thousands. Because the bakery is gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, egg-free, and nut-free, people with various allergies and dietary restrictions are able to enjoy indulgences they may have been left out of for years. Many young children with these allergies are now able to be included in birthday celebrations at school. Being able to have a “normal” birthday with classmates brings parents to tears because their children are no longer excluded from the tradition.

Some may argue it’s easy for the Bake Shoppe to simply move to another location. But as many have pointed out it would completely change the downtown landscape. Kelly and Erinn’s part in that community – gone. The history of the building – lost. And as Councillor Kearns points out, “the resident community overwhelmingly supports this bold use of planning policy [the development freeze] by Council.” The decision was discussed with several key stakeholders in Burlington. Kearns says “In response to cumulative growth pressures and development requests for intensities significantly higher than anticipated within the Urban Growth Center and Burlington GO Station, Staff recommended approval of an Interim Control Bylaw to ensure that new developments in these areas are informed by the City’s transit, transportation, and land use vision to realize objectives in the City’s Strategic Plan.”

Kelly’s Bake Shoppe has been open for seven years come December, but their impact has already had a dynamic and lasting effect beyond their years in Burlington. With demand from all over Ontario, they could set up a new store anywhere, but for Kelly and Erinn, Brant Street is home.

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