Hamilton, Ont., politicians learned a little more of what their part will be as the province pushes ahead with a growth initiative targeting the development of the city’s “Greenbelt” areas.
During a planning committee Tuesday, city staff outlined where and how the Ford government will meet a lofty goal to build 1.5 million homes over 10 years across Ontario, which will include a big chunk of the Book Road area in Hamilton’s southwest.
With few options to fight development, councillors voted to play along under protest with staff’s recommendations to engage provincial land and development facilitators when they are deployed to the city.
Steve Robichaud, director of planning, said going along with the province’s orders could open up “community benefits,” defined as “things” the municipality can negotiate for “above and beyond” what’s normally secured through a development process.
He suggested those arrangements may come in the form of resources to build affordable housing, creation of enhanced parkland or community facilities and even possibly provincial help with development charges — something home builders no longer have to pay.
“There is no playbook to follow as it relates to this idea of community benefits in the process and roadmap that the province has laid out,” Robichaud explained.
“This is a unique situation in Ontario and this is the first time we’ve ever had this situation.”
Resistance to working with the province’s facilitators, or with the landowners in the Greenbelt removal lands, would not be a good idea as Robichaud said it could lead to the issuing of a Minister’s Zoning Order forcing development to proceed without any input from the municipality.
“The rest of the community benefits would not be secured under that sort of scenario where development proceeds in the absence of any benefits accruing to the municipality,” Robichaud said.
“That’s the nightmare … worst case scenario.”
In a November 2021 vote, Hamilton politicians opted to hold firm to the city’s urban boundary, and instead accommodate future population growth through a combination of infill and intensification.
However, housing minister Steve Clark and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing essentially overruled that decision and forced a “rural plan” with amendments to develop “Greenbelt” areas.
The province’s outline calls for the removal of 795 hectares of the Greenbelt in Hamilton with some 727 hectares coming out of the Book Road Lands area located south of Garner Road West, west of Fiddlers Green Road, east of Shaver Road in the vicinity of Book.
In all, Hamilton will see close to 2,200 hectares of agricultural, rural and natural heritage lands converted for residential development.
Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson had some choice words Tuesday for the provincial government that she says is putting the city in a position it doesn’t want to be in.
“It is absolutely counter to every single thing that upholds trust and confidence. There are governance mechanisms in place for a reason,” Wilson said.
“Seventy-two per cent of Ontarians support keeping the greenbelt untouched. This process is murky, smelly, stinky and undermines good governance.”
Ancaster (Ward 12) Coun. Craig Cassar characterized the province’s mandate as “terrible governance,” and says “traffic woes” and increased property taxes could very well be the byproduct of the Ford government’s push forward.
However, he said a “small carrot” appears to be with the community benefits negotiations which might provide an opening to squeeze out affordable housing.
“I think we still need to play a role and I will support staff’s recommendation, not because I want to be building in the greenbelt, … but I think that’s a role we have to play as a city, Cassar said.
Councillors also voted in favour of holding a public meeting to let Hamiltonians have their say on the province’s decision.
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