‘Serious decisions’ ahead for Hamilton as questions swirl around boundary expansion order

Click to play video: 'Anti-sprawl advocates make urgent pitch to prevent farmland from getting paved over forever'
Anti-sprawl advocates make urgent pitch to prevent farmland from getting paved over forever
WATCH: As the Ontario election fast approaches, there is a quiet battle brewing in the suburbs and rural areas around Toronto. – May 26, 2022

A week ahead of taking on the job as Hamilton’s mayor, Andrea Horwath admits “some pretty serious decisions” loom at city hall just days after Ontario overrided a 2021 vote by coucillors to hold the city’s urban boundary for future housing development.

Horwath told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton it was a much talked about topic during the first day of an orientation for her future post with concerns directed over the future of city parks, roadways, sewer, water and expense of new infrastructure.

“And then that costs a lot of money,” Horwath said.

Read more: Hamiltonians react after province orders city to expand urban boundary for homes


The former Ontario NDP leader also acknowledged the benefits of protecting farmland and food sources amid projections from some agriculture advocates the highest quality farmland in the province is about to be gutted.

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“I know that folks are up in arms and and we’re going to have to make some pretty serious decisions around how we try to get this rolled back by the province,” Horwath submitted.

“If that’s not going to happen, how do we do something locally to make sure that we are being responsible to, you know, to all of the things that we need to take care of, including environment and finances.”

A ruling late Friday from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing adopted a “rural plan” with amendments that pushes through a 2020 provincial growth initiative targeting the development of “white belt” and “Greenbelt” areas.

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In an effort to address a so-called “housing crisis,” landowners will be expected to develop new allocations “quickly” with construction beginning no later than 2025, according to housing minister Steve Clark in a release.

The aim is to build at least 50,000 homes on greenbelt lands to aid a province-wide target of 1.5 million homes in 10 years.

The development is in answer to estimates that the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) will see significant population growth to an estimated 11.2 million by 2051.

Hamilton is expected to see it’s population expand by 250,000 over the next 29 years. The province has set an initial target of 47,000 new units for Hamilton by 2031 as a start.

At stake is a permanent loss of farmland, according to the Ontario Federal Federation of Agriculture in a 2021 analysis.

The study says an average of 175 acres of farmland has been eradicated every day over the last two decades, equating to five family farms paved over every week.

The province is set to launch a 30-day consultation on removing the roughly 7,400 acres from 15 different areas of the Greenbelt.

Hamilton will see three pieces of it’s countryside affected, a patch south of Garner Road West, a plot south of White Church Road East and a space between 331 and 339 Fifty Road near Oakes Road North.

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Read more: Ontario to cut Greenbelt land for homes, add land elsewhere

In exchange for the Greenbelt cut, the province has promised to add some 9,400 acres to the Paris-Galt Moraine – a system running from Caledon to an area southwest of Port Rowan.

Executive Director of Environment Hamilton Lynda Lukasik contests that proposed add is “undevelopable” for farming and was something already promised to Ontarians in a 2019 act prior to the recent Greenbelt decision.

“So they’re not giving us anything new here in terms of their great claims that they’re going to grow the Greenbelt even bigger,” Lukasik told Global News.

“You have to ask yourself, what is this all about and what is the rush in in going in this direction when it’s just simply not justifiable when talking about the housing crisis and housing affordability.”

Phil Pothen from Environmental Defense told Global News that there’s about 350 square kilometers (35,000 hectares) of existing green space within cities that could be used to build in as opposed to building out.

“There is such a vast supply of unused greenfield land already within municipal settlement boundaries, and that vastly outweighs the amount of land that was used over the last 20 years in all of Ontario,” Pothen said.

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Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko, who characterized the province’s decision to circumvent council’s 13-to-3 vote against expansion in 2021 as a “betrayal,” admits there is a need for affordable housing but insists enough land (829 acres) already exists for such developments up until 2031 within the current boundary.

“So there’s absolutely no need for this in the short term,” Danko told Global News.

“Council approved, just in this past term, over 5,000 new housing units per year. So it’s not like we’re not already working on providing more housing. The only question is where we grow?”

However, the CEO of the West End Home Builders’ Association (WEHBA), says Ontarians need to see “the big picture” as his organization’s projections suggest the Greater Golden Horseshoe will expand from 10 million to 15 million by 2051.

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“This is really the equivalent of the entire population of greater Montreal moving here over the next three decades,” the WEHBA Mike Collins-Williams said.

“We’re going to need to build a lot more housing of all types and tenures … more studio apartments, more three bedroom condos, more stacked townhomes, more detached homes … and below-market affordable housing.”

In Hamilton’s case, the city has averaged just under 2,000 new units per year, with annual numbers sometimes over 2,000 and less in other years.

Collin-Williams submitted the “local interest is not the same as the public interest” and that the Ford government had to “step in” since the last council not only nixed boundary expansion in 2021 but also set height limits on new developments.

Read more: Hamilton’s 2051 growth projections would further expand urban boundary

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Height limits were retracted in last weeks re-writing of the area’s housing plan which will allow for taller buildings and intensification particularly along the BLAST network – the city’s rapid transit plan.

“There’s controversy to it, I accept that, but the province has made changes not only to allow the boundary expansion, but to allow a lot more intensification,” Collins-Williams said.

“So Hamiltonians are going to start to see their neighborhoods changing in the coming years to allow for more types of housing than previously.”

The CEO of the Ontario Home Builders Association (OHBA) says the province’s targets could mean a 50 per cent increase on his organization’s best year, year over year, for the next ten years.

Luca Bucci insists developers that the OHBA represents are still subject to “environmental checks and balances” amid the latest decisions from the province and that “important environmental features” are expected in new homes.

He also claims the narrative that “big monster homes” will be built with boundary expansion is simply not a “market reality” since the current economic conditions would not sustain such developments.

“What this does, it allows us to build more homes in a sustainable way, get more supply online,” Bucci said.

“It helps us reach that 1.5 million mark over the next 10 years and bring forward a more attainable and affordable product.”


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