Horwath’s use of ‘strong mayor’ power sets stage for development on Stoney Creek parking lot

A photo of a parking lot at 13 Lake Ave. in Stoney Creek, Ont. The area is set to become a five-storey building yielding 43 affordable housing units. Google Maps

Hamilton’s mayor received the six votes needed Wednesday to close the book on a hotly debated development of a pair of surface parking lots in downtown Stoney Creek.

As promised, Andrea Horwath invoked her ‘strong mayor’ powers to advance a housing development and replace two municipally owned lots on Lake Avenue South that have been a contentious issue among the city’s politicians for months.

Despite council’s 8-8 deadlocked vote on the matter Wednesday, under provincial powers legislated in 2023 through the More Homes Built Faster Act, Horwath only needed six of those councillors to further the project.

“As mayor, I am absolutely confident, absolutely confident that this decision is in the best interest of our city and our residents,” Horwath said prior to the vote.

The approved motion now means 5 Lake Ave. could become a three-storey building yielding 24 affordable units with another 43 units earmarked for 13 Lake Ave. S. via a five-storey building.

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The lots were part of a larger plan to add permanent dwellings to the city’s affordable stock after six municipally owned properties were put on a list and handed to council in early December 2023 as part of a Housing Sustainability and Investment roadmap.

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It sought to add some 150 permanent dwellings to ease a housing crunch across a city with some 6,100 people on wait-lists seeking to occupy rent-geared-to-income homes.

However, the initiative hit a roadblock bolstered by a petition spearheaded by the Stoney Creek BIA and residents who insisted the lots at 5 and 13 Lake Ave. S. were critical for nearby small businesses and medical clinics.

In February, Ward 5 Coun. Matt Francis won support for an amendment that held the two properties back from the housing plan.

Francis told Global News before the February meeting that the move was about protecting jobs and small businesses and giving parking options for visitors to a nearby medical centre and veterans who frequent the Royal Canadian Legion.

Councillors opposed to the mayor using her provincially given leverage to advance the deal made their thoughts known, with some insinuating it was not democratic.

Francis characterized the powers as “dangerous and undemocratic,” saying “hundreds of residents” reached out and signed a petition and that a council vote was made for “the will of the people.”

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“We won that vote and our community voice was heard on this issue,” Francis said.

“So using these undemocratic powers, it’s bad enough circumventing the democratic process and to stomp on the will of the entire community and … an elected body.”

Flamborough (Ward 15) Coun. Ted McMeekin conveyed his “embarrassment” on how events unfolded in recent weeks, particularly without an effort to find an alternative solution.

“It’s not good to be perceived as throwing a community, a council and democracy under the bus,” McMeekin said.

Meanwhile, Ward 13 Coun. Alex Wilson, who voted with Horwath,  said he was “a little incredulous” on the matter, arguing that opportunities to have a “dialogue on compromise” were never put “on the table.”

“Where was the opportunity to compromise? You voted against it,” Wilson said.

“So I sit here a little incredulous … that we’re disrespecting the work of colleagues that did hear from community members.”

As per a directive in December, city staff are now expected to begin “an open process” to negotiate with a non-profit housing provider to advance the development.

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