Hamilton City Council faces a choice today: expand the urban boundary or challenge the Ontario Progressive Conservative government’s requirement for them to expand the boundary.
Last summer, under the cover of COVID, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clark implemented changes to Ontario’s land-use planning regulations. They removed many powers of oversight from Conservation Authorities and ordered municipalities to review their urban boundaries with a new “market-based approach”.
If existing urban boundaries do not allow for new ground-oriented housing, municipalities are now required to expand their urban boundaries to allow for more townhouses, stacked townhouses, and similar uses. Premier Ford set a deadline of July 2022 for municipalities to expand their boundaries – or the province will do it for them.
In order to meet that deadline, Council must approve the size of urban boundary expansion in the coming weeks as it takes approximately nine months to complete the detailed studies Council must approve prior to the July 2022 deadline.
Hamilton is expected to need 110,320 new housing units by 2051 to meet population growth. Under the “market-based approach” Council is required to expand the urban boundary in response to demand for ground-oriented housing.
People have shown they are willing to “drive until they qualify” to purchase ground-oriented housing. In part, this reflects the economics of housing. A typical Row House in Hamilton sells for $350 per square foot, a condo apartment sells for $540 sq/ft.
Over 50 delegates will be speak to Council today. On one side of the equation, a coalition of environmental, economic, and community groups calling on Council to defy the Progressive Conservative provincial government and refuse to expand the boundary. The development industry is on the other side fully endorsing the City of Hamilton planning staff recommendation to expand Hamilton’s urban boundary by 1,340 hectures of the possible 1,600 hectures of developable land remaining between the existing urban area and the protected greenbelt.
This is could be the final battle over urban expansion, the Progressive Conservatives floated expansion in the Greenbelt and quickly retreated after discovering the Greenbelt is popular with conservative voters.
The politics of today’s Council decision will be interesting. Councillors rely upon developers to fund their election campaigns, but have to face voters who are not in favour of urban boundary expansions.
Nearly all of the proposed urban boundary expansion proposed will have to occur in Ward 9 (Upper Stoney Creek) and Ward 11 (Glanbrook). Boundary expansion is unpopular in these areas for a variety of reasons, with many residents pointing to traffic issues along Rymal Road.
Both Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark and Ward 11 Councillor Brenda Johnson are calling for a more robust public consultation on urban expansion, de facto challenging the provincial deadline.
City of Hamilton planning staff are marketing their plan to only apply the minimum intensification standard for the coming decade as “Ambitious Density”, putting off intensification to later decades. This “Ambitious Density” plan follows the new provincial rules, earmarking new growth on greenfield at until there is effectively no greenfield remaining. The new greenfield growth is expected to have a density of 77 persons and jobs per hecture.
Nearly all the new growth will be ground-oriented, with only 2650 apartment units planned. Planning staff say 52,950 apartment units will need to be added to the existing urban area of Hamilton, but call for those units to be built closer to 2051.
Presently, Hamilton is trying to increase intensification by pre-zoning to allow for more dense housing as-of-right, and allowing secondary suites.
Public engagement prior to today’s Council meeting has been low. There were only 147 responses to the City’s online survey, many of them called for the City to freeze the urban boundary. This low level of engagement is one of the primary reasons Councillor Clark says Hamilton needs to pause the boundary review until after COVID when in-person consultations can occur.