OMB rips airport job lands opponents for tactics, expertise

Opponents of the Hamilton Airport Employment Growth District will go to divisional court to appeal the Ontario Municipal Board’s blessing of the designation of approximately 550 hectares of lands near Hamilton Airport for future development. This comes despite the fact that the OMB decision, handed down earlier this summer was unusually frank in its depiction of the tactics used by airport opponents in trying to hold up the project. In rendering her decision to allow the growth plan to proceed OMB Vice-Chair Jyoti Zuidema dismissed almost out of hand the arguments of objectors— primarily Environment Hamilton led by Lynda Lukasik, and Hamiltonians for Progressive Development led by Michael Desnoyers, both represented by lawyer Eric Gillespie who had been involved in previous attempts to block the Red Hill Creek Expressway. Among other things Ms. Zuidema was critical of the two anti-development groups for trying to re-litigate matters they had previously signed off on; in particular whether it was appropriate to consider any of the airport lands for employment expansion. “That horse has left the barn,” Zuidema wrote, “HPD cannot in 2006 agree to the particulars… which established the AEGD study area for future employment growth only to later suggest…that the AEGD study area is not the right location after all.”

In her decision she took issue with the qualifications of at least one opposition witness who wanted to be cited as an “expert land economist”” but which the vice-chair ruled lacked the ‘special knowledge or experience’ needed to be so recognized. Opponents of the expansion claimed there were at least 120 hectares of land available in the city that could be used for employment purposes. They prepared a list of the available properties that contained more than a thousand entries, suggesting that there were many small parcels of land included in the 120 hectare total—“not of sufficient size to be feasible,” the adjudicator wrote, “and in other instances…had serious environmental issues.” She went on to note that prospective employers take such factors into account when making a decision about locating a facility adding “these are realities which cannot be ignored.” The OMB decision also looked askance at the testimony of former Toronto alderman Richard Gilbert, who in 2007 produced a report for the City that was intended to explore the impact of high fuel costs on the sustainability of the Hamilton Airport. AEGD opponents argued that if the airport was doomed, there would be no need for the employment growth district. This time Gilbert, who admitted under examination that he had not talked to anybody at Munro Airport; testified that in his opinion Hamilton Airport would soon lose all of its passenger business and further predicted that high fuel prices would diminish the airport’s cargo volume as well.

Airport CEO Frank Scremin painted a much brighter picture, noting that the outlook for cargo was bright and that the passenger picture would likely improve as new Carriers came on stream. Noted Ms. Zuideman, “I do not accept Dr. Gilbert’s forecast that Munro Airport will slowly decline to the point of no passenger activity…I prefer Mr. Scremin’s evidence given that he is much more intimately familiar with the details and operations of this specific airport.” The Vice Chair objected to the charge by Linda Lukasik of Environment Hamilton that “dialogue between levels of government regarding the size of the proposed AEGD has largely taken place behind closed doors.” Noting that all correspondence between Hamilton and the province on the airport issue was available online, Zuidema wrote, “to raise such an allegation when the facts do not support it utterly undermines the credibility of this witness.”

Guy Paparella, Director of Growth Planning, who has been working on the AEGD for several years was pleased with the outcome. “The City’s success at this OMB Hearing was complete and absolute. The City’s evidence on every issue was accepted. This is a huge leap forward for City Council’s desires for increased employment growth and prosperity for the City of Hamilton”. He noted, however that revised population and job growth projections for Hamilton may make more employment land a necessity by 2031. The City’s head of Economic Development, Neil Everson, says we will need all of the land that has been approved. “The presence of shovel ready employment lands is absolutely critical for the sustainability and economic growth of a municipality. In a “hot” economy the absorption of employment lands can easily outstrip supply.” That’s why it is necessary for a municipality to plan for future development and be ready to compete and capitalize on investment in new and expanded facilities.

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