Hamilton council has kicked the contentious issue of urban growth to October, but that will be the end of the delays, as staff attempt to meet a provincial 2022 deadline to submit a growth plan.
Thanks to a well-organized online and lawn-sign campaign, thousands of Hamiltonians have said no to any expansion of the urban boundary at all. City staff had submitted a proposal they termed as “ambitious density,” meaning it would be challenging to meet the level of density. The staff proposal would have seen roughly 1300 hectares of expansion phased in over the next 30 years. Only 25 percent of the expansion would have been dedicated to single-family homes—the rest to various forms of medium rise, row housing and apartment blocks. Still, it was too much for expansion opponents who submitted roughly 30 written submissions to council this week.
Most were opposed to the expansion. A dozen submitted the same form letter. One of the few writers in favour of expansion wrote, “I live in a house; therefore, I really shouldn’t be telling everyone else they should live in apartments. Another, in opposing expansion indicated she had recently moved to Ancaster adding she chose Ancaster because, “because Ancaster Village offers charm and a small-town vibe! These qualities are invaluable; priceless. They can never be replaced. Ancaster is a treasure to be guarded for generations. Do NOT let her die!.”
One of the in-person delegates, veteran community activist Don McLean. addressed the chances of the province overruling Hamilton Council. He noted that one of the criteria that staff will evaluate in determining the growth strategy is whether it conforms to provincial policy.
But will the province intervene against a no-growth scenario? A key consideration in this process is the onset of elections in 2022—both municipal and provincial. The question is whether Hamilton Council will want to risk the backlash of voting for expansion, or whether to endorse a no-growth plan and flip the issue to the province which will have the final say. Michael Collins-Williams of the West End Home Builders Association said under normal circumstances, the no-growth scenario would not conform to the provincial growth plan or the land needs assessment methodology prescribed by the province. He notes that Toronto submitted a growth plan to the province a couple of years ago only to have the province completely re-write the document.
The proximity of elections could change that dynamic, or, the Minister, who has to sign off on the Hamilton plan, could simply not sign it until after the election, which will come in the same month as the deadline for submitting the plan.
All of this focus on process and plans does not address the issue of where to put 230,000 additional Hamilton residents over the next 30 years, and what kind of housing to put them in. Because of the extended timeline, what we have essentially is one generation telling the next generation what kind of housing they should live in–people in predominantly shingle-family homes telling the kids they have to live in apartments. Noted Collins-Williams, “at different stages of people’s lives they want different things. As kids come along people want a larger housing option with a bit of grass. What we are being presented with is a simplistic binary choice that eliminates consumer choice in housing type, and only exacerbates the affordability issue, as demand continues to far outstrip housing supply.” He predicts that families will start to leave Hamilton in search of affordable housing further afield.