The province has thrown Hamilton City Council a lifeline on the contentious issue of urban boundary expansion. A letter from Heather Watt, a senior official in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing warns that the “no boundary expansion” option favored by more than 16,000 respondents to an anti-sprawl campaign will likely be contrary to the province’s Places to Grow legislation, which was introduced by the McGuinty government in 2005.
City staff had recommended an option they termed “ambitious density” which would require a total land need of 1,310 gross hectares to 2051. In making the recommendation. staff indicated that it would nonetheless be challenging to absorb the 230,000 extra people forecast for Hamilton in the next 30 years within that scenario. The plan called for only 25 percent of the expanded area to be used for single-family homes.
The letter makes the point that urban growth plans have to take into account what it terms “market demand”—in other words what consumers actually want as opposed to what anti-sprawl groups think they should want. “The LNA Methodology requires municipalities to ensure that sufficient land is available to accommodate market demand for ALL housing types (our emphasis) including ground-related housing (single/semi-detached houses), row houses, and apartments.”
The letter continues, “Ministry staff further acknowledge that the City’s residential intensification analysis…has found that the City is unlikely to achieve the necessary level of apartment unit construction from a market demand perspective. As such, the No Urban Boundary Expansion scenario appears to conflict with the objective of the LNA methodology to “provide sufficient land to accommodate all market segments so as to avoid shortages.” In other words, the development industry will not build the high-rises if the consumer demand is not there, and it is unlikely there would be demand for the number of high rises that the no growth scenario would necessitate.
The letter suggests that if Hamilton were to go with the no-growth plan it would only serve to offload the sprawl problem on other communities further afield and endanger farmland surrounding those communities. “The shortfall of available land and ground-related units that could be created as a result of the No Urban Boundary Expansion scenario may cause forecasted growth to be redirected away from the City of Hamilton into other areas that are less suited to accommodate growth. This may have broader regional impacts on prime agricultural areas, natural systems and planning for infrastructure given the lower intensification and density targets applicable to outer ring municipalities that would likely receive pressure to accommodate forecasted growth.”
The letter concludes, “it appears that the No Urban Boundary Expansion scenario poses a risk that the City would not conform with provincial requirements.”
The language of the letter makes it clear that the province will not support the “no expansion” scenario, so now it is up to council at a special October meeting to wrestle with the issue. It promises to be a lengthy meeting with many delegations, but at least council now has a very strong message from the province to factor into its decision-making.