City staff recommend expansion of 1,340 hectares into rural land
Teviah Moro Hamilton Spectator Thursday, June 24, 2021
City council wants a second opinion on Hamilton’s potential for denser forms of housing within its urban boundary.
The call for further analysis coincides with the city’s ongoing study of how to handle an expected increase of 236,000 people by 2051 amid efforts to curb sprawl.
Planning staff have concluded urban Hamilton will have to expand into outlying rural areas to accommodate that growth — a finding based in part on a consultant’s market-based analysis.
But on Wednesday, council backed Brad Clark’s request for a peer review of the consultant’s conclusions after several residents questioned his findings in late March.
It’s not unusual to ask for additional independent opinions on such important issues, the upper Stoney Creek councillor said.
“I think that given the magnitude of this decision, a peer review is most appropriate.”
So far, the question of whether the city should direct all of its growth to the existing urban area through denser forms of housing like apartments through intensification, or break into rural parcels on its outskirts has been hotly debated.
Many residents have backed an anti-sprawl campaign that urges council to freeze the city’s urban-rural dividing line and not let subdivisions take root on agricultural land in Elfrida and Glanbrook.
Developers and affiliated associations, meanwhile, support the staff-recommended option to add 1,340 hectares of land to the urban fold, while leaving 60 per cent of new housing to the existing built-up area over 30 years.
The Ontario government has directed municipalities to update official plans to reflect policy that calls for 50 per cent of future dwellings created through intensification by 2051, when Hamilton’s population is forecast to reach 820,000.
Consultant Antony Lorius’s analysis noted the city can set policy, but it “cannot control the market, nor land ownership and development interests.”
And while Hamilton is well-positioned to intensify its housing stock, the “majority of young families and aging millennials will be seeking affordable ground-related starter homes,” he predicted.
“As a result, intensification alone will not be enough. Both greenfield housing and intensification will be required to accommodate growth.”
Mayor Fred Eisenberger said a peer review of Lorius’s studies will be a “worthy, worthy exercise” in light of the “very, very important decision” council has to make.
Likewise, Coun. Judi Partridge said the followup could offer a “different perspective,” noting council has “to get this right.”
Coun. Tom Jackson said he stood by Lorius’s findings and staff’s recommended “ambitious density” option. “I’m not sure what this peer review is going to accomplish with taxpayers’ money.”
Council was poised to vote on the land-needs issue in March but agreed to delay a decision to allow time to put the question to residents through a city-wide mail-out survey.
Clark called for that survey, citing concerns residents without internet service had been left out of web-based consultations.
Critics also complained staff hadn’t included a frozen-boundary option in the city’s overall growth studies.
Roughly 230,000 surveys are arriving in mailboxes across Hamilton this week.
That feedback and the future peer review, estimated to cost about $25,000, will be included in a report back to council in the fall.
Staff have “done a fair bit of work” on the file, said Jason Thorne, general manager of planning and economic development.
“But I certainly recognize that this is a pretty big decision that council’s going to have to make at the end of October,” Thorne said.