The provincial government is ordering Hamilton to expand its urban boundary, despite a 2021 city council decision and massive showing of public support to hold the boundary.
The province’s decision was posted late on Friday and approves an expansion of 2,200 hectares — even more than the 1,310 hectares the city proposed in its “ambitious density” scenario when debating expansion last year.
It is also removing the city’s proposed 30-storey height limit on buildings and allowing taller buildings in community areas like Ancaster.
“The approved official plan amendments outline new policies and mapping to guide growth and development in the city to the year 2051,” the decision summary says.
And in a separate but related move, the province also released plans on Friday to remove 7,400 acres in 15 different areas from the province’s Greenbelt, including in Hamilton and Niagara, as a way to “to accommodate… growth and support the building of more homes.”
The Ford government previously said it wouldn’t touch the Greenbelt.
Those areas are near White Church Road East and Upper James Street on the Mountain, Barton Street and Fifty Road, and Oakes Road North and Main Street West.
The greenbelt was established in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.
‘A betrayal of public trust’: councillor
In the greenbelt case, the province is seeking comment over the next 30 days on its proposal.
For Hamilton’s urban boundary however, it says 80 comments were received in a previous consultation period and the decision can no longer be appealed.
It’s unclear if or how the current city council can oppose the move. The new council is sworn in on Nov.15.
However, the mayor-elect and other officials — many of whom shared their support for maintaining the boundary during the recent election campaign — are making their thoughts clear since the announcement.
“Today’s decisions are very concerning. Cities work well when they are planned to be complete communities,” mayor-elect Andrea Horwath told CBC Hamilton in an emailed statement Friday.
“That includes making sure that crucial infrastructure and amenities like libraries, good roads, parks and community centres are part of the plan. I will work closely with council and city staff to chart the best path forward for Hamiltonians.”
Ward 1 coun. Maureen Wilson called it a “betrayal of public trust and contempt for the people of Hamilton.”
“Bad planning, financially irresponsible & environmentally disastrous. Our city council must use every available tool to obstruct its implementation,” she wrote.
“Council’s decision to stop sprawl expansion was the single most significant decision by any [Hamilton] Council for taxpayers, for local food & farmers, for clean air, flood protection & climate change, for the economy, for a future that improves quality of life for all residents,” Ward 8 coun. John-Paul Danko said Saturday.
“We can and will resist,” he added, writing “Growth cannot proceed without servicing. I see no reason Council would approve funding servicing for any of this land. [And, Hamilton] has 829 surplus acres of land until 2031 – there is no immediate need to build beyond the current boundary.”
Council’s decision to stop sprawl expansion was the single most significant decision by any [Hamilton] council.– Ward 8 coun. John-Paul Danko
Environment Hamilton, one of several local advocacy groups who have promoted freezing the urban boundary, called the move “devastating.”
“[It] signals an intent not only to undo the firm urban boundary but blow beyond the whitebelt into Ontario’s Greenbelt! Hamiltonians stood up for a climate resilient, inclusive city! Who gains with this provincial direction?”
Expansion needed to meet provincial targets, city staff said in 2021
Not everyone opposes the move.
The Hamilton-based West End Home Builders’ Association (WEHBA) said in a statement it “fully supports” the decision.
“Our concern has always been that as the housing shortage worsens, it pushes up home prices in Hamilton, pricing out current residents and causing talented newcomers to move elsewhere,” read the associations’ statement emailed to CBC Hamilton.
“For the sake of Hamilton’s continued growth, WEHBA believes strongly that it is time to take the politics out of local planning.”
During the debate over urban growth last year, city staff said an expansion was necessary to meet provincial density targets, and to accommodate a projected population increase of 236,000 people over the next 30 years, for a total population of 820,000 by 2051.
In that time, a proposed expansion plan said the city will need to grow by 110,000 more housing units and 122,000 more jobs.
Council voted 13-3 on Nov. 19, 2021, after more than nine hours of discussion and many months of consultation, to maintain the boundary.
Some cited climate change as a reason to freeze the boundary, others a desire to have housing built along the light-rail transit line, while others said they didn’t want to gobble up precious land for growing food.
The results of a mail-out survey by the city saw 16,636 people vote to hold the boundary and just 1,088 vote to expand it. There were 663 people with other suggestions.
“This is not a no-growth option. This is a where-do-we-grow option. And in my view, that where-do-we-grow option ought to exist in the current urban boundary,” Mayor Fred Eisenberger said at the time.
According to the city, the province’s expansion can’t proceed until “secondary planning work is completed.”
On Friday, the city said planning staff are now reviewing the details of the province’s modifications and will be reporting to city council on Nov. 29 “to provide details about implementation.”
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