Talking to Guy Paparella who is retiring after a 35 year career as a planner, most recently, as Director of Growth Planning at the City Of Hamilton, you get the impression there is one more big job he wouldn’t mind tackling. For many years, Guy’s main project was shepherding the Airport Employment Growth District through to fruition. In the early days, 15 years ago, Guy was attempting to obtain the zoning approvals necessary to allow the 551-hectare parcel surrounding Hamilton Airport to be developed for industry. The project was bitterly opposed by some community environmental groups. At public meetings creative arguments were presented citing the so-called “peak oil” theory that would render aviation obsolete, but eventually council approved the scheme and by 2015 the project finally received OMB approval.
Things started to move quickly after that, and now the airport area is home to a number of mega projects including the KF aircraft maintenance facility and adjacent training facility for skilled workers, the DHL parcel facility which is fully automated and the giant 27-acre Panettoni building which will soon house an Amazon fulfilment depot. All of these joining UPS and Purolator who have been at the Airport for years, making Hamilton International Canada’s number one courier cargo airport. The biggest challenge to growth around the airport will be the completion of a major trunk sewer along Dickenson Road. “We have lots of water available to industry”, says Guy but we need that trunk sewer extension to handle the wastewater needs of the area.” The other important infrastructure need for the area is good transit. “These new jobs are paying $15 to $22 an hour. We need for workers to be able to take transit to work, and we need to provide housing they can afford.” Amazon is already busing people from Hamilton to its facility in Milton. Guy said the COVID pandemic has shown us where we are vulnerable. “As important as culture, the arts and dining are to the attractiveness of a community, there is never going to be the wealth generation in the service industry that a city needs to pay for its services.”
Looking ahead Guy sees the growth of E-Commerce forcing a rethinking of how large retail centres and even automobile dealers operate. “They are sitting on large tracts of land that would produce more revenue as residential,” he observed. Density would enable the construction of more affordable housing stock closer to the new centres of employment.
With the AEGD rapidly filling up, Guy looks to the possibilities for further growth in job lands for the city. The Red Hill Business Park is being sized up by developers and with the extension of Dartnell Road, many more acres of employment lands are opened up. “All the big pension plans are in Hamilton looking at buying up land for development, but they need results and need to be able to move quickly,” Guy noted.
But Guy sees a huge opportunity for industrial expansion, not on the city’s fringes, but in its original industrial district on the waterfront. Currently the industrial district suffers from fragmented ownership and underutilization. “The only way we can take advantage of that opportunity is to get all the players together in a common vision,” he said, adding “you lose an opportunity if you write the bayfront off.” Guy believes there is a leadership role for the City to bring all the Bayfront parties together. “Bring them all in—Dofasco, Stelco, the Port Authority” says Guy. “We need a real community drive to make that happen. We have in Hamilton the greatest opportunity to re-invent ourselves. Just because the Bayfront was part of an industrial vision of 150 years ago doesn’t mean it’s a bad vision.” He hopes the major players in the industrial area will come together to develop a vision and then make a plan towards an achievable goal of maximizing the potential of the area.
He sees opening up large expanses of land on the bayfront as an opportunity to create a green vision. “Can we develop hydrogen, make batteries for E Vehicles, maybe build transit?” he asks. One of the keys to realizing a bayfront dream will be senior government buy-in to clean up the brownfields. He looks at the success Brantford has enjoyed in cleaning up and repurposing its old abandoned farm machinery factories and replacing them with modern, clean manufacturing. “It takes time. Brantford took over 30 years to realize that vision,” he said.
For the Bayfront dream to be achieved says Guy, “you need to establish a relationship of trust that all of the parties will benefit.” He points to the resolution of the longstanding war between the city and the old Harbour Commission over the future of the bayfront as an example of what can be accomplished when all the parties come to the table. ”You need a unified vision. (In the case of the Harbour) until there was that vision we all had to trust each other, and eventually the vision became clear for the Harbour, and that’s why we have all the new development on Pier 8 now.”
Guy has cleaned out his desk, but will stay on for a while, working on the airport lease negotiations as a consultant. He plans to continue to work as a planning consultant for clients as Hamilton continues to experience unprecedented growth. “In my whole career, I tried to solve problems—bring people together…I’m going to keep on doing that,” Guy concluded.