A local Progressive Conservative insists the provincial government is not meddling in the City of Hamilton’s debate surrounding the proposed expansion of the urban boundary.
The issue of freezing sprawl has been in the spotlight with councillors, community advocates and provincial politicians over the last few weeks following an address from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing suggesting the initiative would not meet market demands.
Flamborough—Glanbrook MPP Donna Skelly says it was city staff who reached out to the Ford government with a technical update that included the No Urban Boundary Expansion (NUBE) scenario and that the ministry’s response was “not an unsolicited letter.”
“We haven’t meddled. We’ve responded to a request by staff, and the request came about after city councillors back in March asked staff to come up with a scenario that meant no expansion, no boundary expansion,” Skelly told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.
“The problem with that is we’re expecting massive population growth not just in Hamilton but across the GTA, and we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of more people in the city of Hamilton.”
The province has set a deadline of 2022 for municipalities in the Golden Horseshoe to respond to a land needs assessment set out in a growth planning initiative.
The report estimates Hamilton’s population will soar to 820,000, an increase of 238,000 residents, by 2051 requiring further residential intensification, as well as an urban boundary expansion.
Following concerns from residents and environmental advocates, the city launched a survey to get public feedback on two potential scenarios: adding 1,340 hectares of farmland to the urban growth area or no urban expansion.
After collecting over 18,000 submissions, around 16,000 Hamiltonians voted against expansion of the boundary with just over 1,000 in favour of the “ambitious density” plan.
Last week, Hamilton West–Ancaster–Dundas MPP Sandy Shaw suggested the Ford government was trying to “strong-arm” municipal council into making a decision that may or may not be in the best interest of residents.
“It’s been my experience with Doug Ford at Queen’s Park that he likes to get his way, likes to make decisions behind closed doors,” Shaw told Global News.
“It’s not clear that this decision, that they’re trying to pre-empt, is in the best interests of the people of Hamilton. But it’s clearly in the best interests of his buddies, if I could say so.”
Skelly argues that no expansion will simply not cover the mixed style of housing that will be needed to accommodate young families and new Canadians who want to have their feet on the ground.
The letter from the ministry asserts Hamilton will have as least a shortage of 59,300 units with no expansion based on numbers tabulated with data from land economist Antony Lorius’s study.
“Some young families, and I know my children are at the stage, they’re looking to buy their first home. They’re looking at a townhouse. They want a place to park a car or have children play in the backyard. We’re not talking about million-dollar properties. We’re talking about something around the 500,000 mark,” Skelly said.
During last Wednesday’s council meeting, West Central Mountain Coun. John-Paul Danko reiterated that the city’s probe into urban boundary expansion was based around alleged incorrect population projections and a “status quo” in the ongoing development of family homes in “sprawl development.”
He went on to suggest that the province has initiated a “charade” and falsely given the city perception there could be local authority over a decision to deviate from expansion.
“I think everybody around this council table kind of realizes that this really looks a lot like a setup, that we are being set up to take a fall for the provincial government,” Danko said.
Skelly says she doesn’t believe a plan without boundary expansion will get past the ministry and that the city will have to come back with some initiative combining vertical living with semi-detached and single detached housing.
“They have to come up with a plan,” Skelly said.
“We’re not suggesting — let me be very clear — we’re not saying build anywhere, we’re saying you come back and figure out how to.”
Zoe Green, a member of Stop Sprawl Hamilton, says the projected population numbers presented by the province for 2051 are being challenged and reviewed by the auditor general.
She says the major benefits for residents in going with a no boundary expansion plan is lower taxes since new dwellings would draw from existing infrastructure and potentially more customers for local businesses.
“Because having more people living in those areas of the city mean local businesses hopefully thrive again,” said Green.
Councillors are expected to further discuss the province’s correspondence and city survey numbers during a GIC meeting on Oct. 25. A large contingent of supporters against the boundary expansion are expected to weigh in at that forum, according to Green.