Greenbelt triggers land use debate

Environmentalist, politicians dig in over city's growth

Hamilton Spectator File Photo

Environmentalist Don McLean says the idea of predicating the city's future economic health on the growth of the Hamilton airport and commercial development around it is folly.

John Burman The Hamilton Spectator - Oct. 30, 2004

Battle lines are being drawn over a big white blob in the middle of the multi-coloured maps of the proposed provincial Greenbelt that's southwest of urban Hamilton.

The area in question occupies a huge chunk of open land on the east side of Highway 6, almost to the Hamilton-Haldimand border.

It is not part of the Ontario Greenbelt.

The land has been set aside from the belt announced Wednesday for urban growth and falls under the Greenbelt's companion legislation, for growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area.

Environmentalist Don McLean does not believe Hamilton needs so much land for future growth.

Ward 7 Councillor Bill Kelly, chair of the city's economic development committee and a member of the Hamilton's Growth-Related Integrated Development Strategy (GRIDS) project, says this is where the city's future lies.

McLean believes opening up a large chunk of land for development -- even if it goes through the normal subdivision and zoning process -- will remove the incentive for developers to work at infilling and intensification projects in the lower city where population has been declining.

"Why should anyone build (in the lower city) if they can go to greenfields out there," he asked yesterday.

He also says the idea of predicating the city's future economic health on the growth of its airport and commercial development around it is folly because airports slow down when fuel prices rise and the cost of oil is going anywhere but down.

"The only way we can have serious progress on infilling and intensification is by saying no to urban boundary expansion," said McLean, noting that is essentially what Burlington has done, limiting growth to its area south of Dundas Street and Highway 407.

"Besides," he said, "we have enough greenfield lands within the existing urban boundary to accommodate growth for 16 years."

"We have a chance here to say no to more sprawl," he said, adding he finds it "disturbing" that the provincial government would lay out an option for growth that could cool incentive to develop existing lands in the lower city.

Kelly, however, says it is not that simple. The province's growth management plan will insist at least 40 per cent of a city's growth be infilling or intensification.

That means projects will have to be developed downtown and throughout the lower city before new homes and commercial development can go very far on the south Mountain.

The greenbelt plan effectively closes the door on future development in Flamborough, around Waterdown and in Stoney Creek, said Kelly.

Because the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area -- running from the Niagara River to the Peterborough area and as far west as Brantford, is expected to attract another four million people in the next 30 years and Hamilton is expected to be the centre of it, more land for growth is needed.

Kelly said the province could not close off three expansion areas and not leave something open for growth .

The growth management plan estimates there will be 75,000 more jobs in Hamilton in 30 years and as many as 625,000 more people, he said.

Having land available to accommodate that growth is "key to the city's success," said Kelly

The city, he said, may need to grow to the southwest but any development would be staged according to the GRIDS study, which will determine which areas will get water and sewer infrastructure.

Kelly noted the GRIDS project's first priority is infilling and development intensification in the lower city.

What the city is trying to do, said Kelly, is provide the incentive for the jobs to come and the people who work at them will follow after that.

Where Hamilton had thought it was going to expand into the Winona boundary areas, Flamborough and around Waterdown, the Greenbelt has closed the door.

Kelly, who met with the Hamilton-Halton Home Builders Association yesterday and discussed the Winona expansion and other HHHBA concerns, said the Greenbelt there could be readjusted someday when the plan is up for a 10-year review because the lands there are already serviced.

Fred Tory, HHHBA president, said in a statement issued hours after the draft Greenbelt legislation was tabled in the legislature Wednesday that his group believes the Greenbelt is unnecessary and will only serve to drive up the cost of homes.

It is not needed, he said, because Ontario already has controls on the Niagara Escarpment and Oakridges Moraine and other environmental controls to protect natural areas.

Ward 11 Councillor Dave Mitchell stands somewhere between the two poles of the argument over new growth lands. He can see the need to set aside space for Hamilton to benefit from the projected economic boom the province sees on the 30-year horizon but he questions why some parts of both upper and lower Stoney Creek have been included in protected zones as prime agricultural land when they are not.

He can't see how the Greenbelt task force could think land between the escarpment and Mud Street is grape-growing country and protect it when the area has poorer quality soil than some areas of the parcel designated for future urban growth south of it.

"Hamilton did not even have a representative on the task force and no one came down here to ask the people who know what is good farmland and what is not," he said.

"I do not want to sound too negative, the Greenbelt is a wonderful idea. We need this to guarantee things develop right and protect what we want to protect but I do have questions."

And he is upset that the area between Winona and Fifty roads in lower Stoney Creek north off Highway 8, which the city had planned for development and farmer-landowners earmarked as their retirement nest eggs.

"Now their entire plans, their entire lives are changed," he said, adding he has been urging his constituents to turn out in force at the Greenbelt discussion meeting scheduled in Hamilton for Nov. 18.

For more information on the Greenbelt, visit the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing website at http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/userfiles/HTML/nts_1_16289_1.html.


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