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“Where to put all the people” will be debated Monday

“Where to put all the people” will be debated Monday

Another chapter in the culture wars is about to unfold. There is going to be another showdown Monday between pro and anti development groups. More than 100 people have either submitted letters or asked to appear before the General Issues Committee. Under discussion is a staff recommendation to increase the Hamilton urban boundary by roughly 1300 hectares to accommodate a population growth of more than 200,000 people by 2051, necessitating over 100,000 housing units.

Hamilton will need to add 110,000 housing units by 2051

While the meeting will pit developers against anti-development citizens and groups, the real conflict is between people’s stubborn aspirations to own a home, and those who feel future generations should all live in apartments. The provincial government is also a player, having established growth targets for Ontario Municipalities, along with intensification targets, but when it comes to advice on how to achieve those…not so much. For those who think the solution is to build more apartment towers and somehow force people to live in them, the province has provided another wrinkle—you can’t just build apartments—there has to be a mix of housing types. As the staff report explains, The government “requires municipalities to plan for a range of housing units in accordance with Provincial forecasts, including single, semi-detached units, townhouses, apartments and accessory units. The required 15 year residential supply cannot be met through intensification alone because it would result in a unit mix comprised primarily of apartments, and would not meet the provincial requirement for a market based housing supply.” Hence the need to expand the boundary. Under the plan only a quarter of the 110,000 new housing units will be single detached homes–half will be apartments, and the remaining quarter row housing. Supporters of the plan believe it strikes a balance between intensification and urban boundary expansion by minimizing the amount of expansion .

There’s another problem too. Even though Hamilton planning staff, are recommending the plan described as “Ambitious Density,” nobody believes it is actually achievable, but it is the best they think they can get away with given the amount of pressure being placed on council by the 100-odd delegations and written submissions and their like-minded supporters. So we have the irony of the majority of the citizen presenters Monday opposing a plan that they see as too lenient towards development, but which planners say is likely unachievable in the real world.

Staff are recommending the “Ambitious Density” scenario but say it won’t be easy to achieve

As one planner told the Bay Observer, “the same people who oppose urban boundary expansion are the same ones who will object to a 10-story apartment building next to their house.” The Protection of Privacy Act forbids the release of the addresses of people who make submissions to Council, but it would be instructive to learn how many of them live in single-family dwellings.

The growth plan went through an extensive public consultation process. A recurring theme from objectors was the prospect of urban sprawl. Staff responded, “The recommended expansion land…at approximately 1,340 ha, equates to 1.5% of the City’s total rural land area. The remaining 98.5% of the City’s rural lands will remain outside of the urban boundary as part of Rural Hamilton.”

The white blocks are areas where boundary expansion would take place. A large portion of the area near the airport is unusable for housing because of noise issues.

 “Within the City’s rural area, 60% (53,700 ha) of the lands are designated as Agriculture / Specialty Crop or ‘Prime’. Approximately 2% of this 53,700 ha is located within the potential Community Area urban expansion lands. Therefore, even after expansion occurs, at least 98% of the City’s existing prime agricultural lands will remain and will be protected. Based on the above, it is apparent that an expansion of approximately 1,340 ha to accommodate the next 30 years of the City’s growth is not resulting in urban sprawl, and to the contrary, the overwhelming majority of the City’s rural land, including prime agricultural lands, will remain protected.”

Part of the problem is the city’s planning processes. The province requires that municipalities revisit their growth plans every five years but Hamilton has only written two plans in the 21 years since amalgamation. Its first plan known as Grids 1 was developed around 2008 and is still being appealed before the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. That plan envisioned more expansion than the one that is now under discussion.

GRIDS 1 envisioned Elfrida as a major expansion zone—an L-shaped parcel running along Upper Centennial and then curving west to Mud Street. Comprising about 500 hectares. City development documents show the city planned to spend more than $170 Million to service the area with everything from a firehall, library branch, roads and of course water and wastewater. The Elfrida project was one of several developments used to justify the roughly $55 Million trunk sewer that was constructed along Upper Centennial to the Elfrida area. Developers relied on GRIDS 1 when they purchased property in the Elfrida area. The city pays for these new subdivisions out of the development charges levied against every new housing unit that is built, The money goes into a reserve account and then is paid out for roads and other services as the subdivision is developed. Under the plan under discussion Monday, Elfrida could end up being scaled back.

The agenda package with attached reports and appendices totals nearly 300 pages, not counting the written citizen submissions. It’s on days like these that councillors earn their pay, and it is not likely the matter will be resolved at what is sure to be a marathon meeting Monday. What seems more likely is a further delay for more public consultation. Meanwhile with the costs of housing spiraling out of the reach of Gen-Xers, the problem may solve itself with an under-housed underclass.

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