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Hamilton mayor says local Greenbelt development ‘not necessary,’ asks Ontario to halt plan

Click to play video: 'Developers had direct influence over Ford government’s Ontario Greenbelt land removal, AG finds'
Developers had direct influence over Ford government’s Ontario Greenbelt land removal, AG finds
Developers had direct influence over Ford government’s Ontario Greenbelt land removal, AG finds – Aug 9, 2023

Hamilton’s mayor is calling on the province to abandon development of Greenbelt lands in and around the city after insisting the auditor general “echoed” the city’s position that the lands are “not necessary” to fulfill obligations to beef up Ontario’s housing supply.

In a statement following the release of Bonnie Lysyk‘s findings outlining the government’s dealings with developers, Andrea Horwath reiterated previous insights provided by the city, saying many of the proposed land parcels would be difficult to develop.

We know there are available lands right now, … some 34 to 37,000 units right now in the pipeline that could be built at this moment, not not to 2031, but right now in 2023,” Horwath said.

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She said housing construction could start in some areas around Upper Stoney Creek, Waterdown and Binbrook but generally submits that greenbelt inclusion will mean significant costs for infrastructure that will have to be “borne somewhere.”

“In terms of future burden on local taxpayers, as well as all of the environmental impacts of the climate impact of land, the species at risk, the watershed … this is not the right direction and I hope the government stops in its tracks and reverses,” Horwath said.

Lysyk’s report revealed a letter instructing Clark to “complete work to codify processes for swaps, expansions, contractions and policy updates for the Greenbelt,” in June 2022.

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After the report was released, Premier Doug Ford said the housing crisis drove his government to remove lands from the Greenbelt. He argued the land would deliver new housing without taxpayers taking on the cost of the new infrastructure needed to service them.

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He denied any wrongdoing but did admit the province “could have had a better process” in the details of what land would be removed.

“I approved it, at the end of the day I take responsibility for the process,” Ford said.

The premier said the government plans to implement 14 of the 15 recommendations put forward by Lysyk’s team.

In July, Hamilton staff outlined how the city would be affected by the province’s development of the Greenbelt and a goal of building 1.5 million homes over 10 years across Ontario.

The development will include large parts, around 727 hectares, of the Book Road area in Hamilton’s southwest.

In a November 2021 vote, Hamilton politicians opted to hold firm to the city’s urban boundary, and instead accommodate future population growth through a combination of infill and intensification.

However, housing minister Steve Clark and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing essentially overruled that decision and forced a “rural plan” with amendments to develop Greenbelt areas.

In all, Hamilton will see close to 2,200 hectares of agricultural, rural and natural heritage lands converted for residential development.

Ian Borsuk of Environment Hamilton said the development of the municipality’s agricultural land is the tough part, potentially taking land that will be needed by future generations amid a “food security crisis.”

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“I think, in reality, what you’ve seen yesterday is the mask off this government,” Borsuk said Thursday.

“It isn’t about housing, it isn’t about protecting farmland. It isn’t about doing anything that will benefit future generations. It’s really about lining the pockets of developers.”

Horwath doesn’t expect the AG’s report will convince developers to walk away from their deals submitting the Greenbelt acquisitions were something they wanted.

The concern now is providing “a mix of housing that people can afford,” which Horwath fears the city is not getting from the province, just “extremely expensive” projects that will require expansion of sewer and water infrastructure.

“At this point in time, there are no shovels in the ground, if you will, in these lands that have been opened up,” Horwath said.

“So there is time for the premier to take a second look and to back away.”

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