Hamilton to consider resisting Greenbelt facilitators after public meeting

Over 1,000 residents turned out to a public information meeting at the Ancaster Fair Grounds Sept. 14, 2023. Residents listened and commented on a provincial plan to develop Greenbelt lands in Hamilton, Ont. Global News

After spending several hours with hundreds of constituents, Hamilton, Ont., councillors could be facing a late September vote to reconsider a previous decision to engage provincial facilitators set to manage Greenbelt development.

City staff took a committee meeting on the road Thursday night and faced residents head-on in discussions over the development of local Greenbelt lands, part of a 10-year Ontario strategy to build 1.5 million homes.

Some three dozen in-person delegates and others stepped up to the microphone inside Marritt Hall on the Ancaster Fairgrounds to express concerns and share opinions on the Ford government’s intent to remove some 795 hectares of protected land in Hamilton.

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After some three and half hours, Ward 12 coun. Craig Cassar moved a notice of motion to revoke a July decision to engage with a provincial land facilitator — set to be deployed to prepare soon-to-be ex-Greenbelt lands for developers.

However, a city clerk ruled the motion was out of order since it had already been approved by council and could only be reviewed in the same setting.

Cassar will have to present again at a future full council meeting.

It will require the support of two-thirds of council members to pass.

A photo of demonstrators out front of Marritt Hall on Sept. 14, 2023 prior to a City of Hamilton committee meeting on site at the Ancaster Fairgrounds. Global News

The Ancaster session saw a majority of attendees and others joining virtually to urge councillors to fight the land removal, citing that some parcels are environmentally sensitive and could precipitate loss of species, food insecurity and negatively affect stormwater management.

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Phil Pothen, a delegate and counsel for Environmental Defence, went as far as to submit the lands have not been properly designated for development by the city and thus it is “illegal to destroy them.”

“So your job is to drag your feet, to kick and scream (and) to do everything materially … to prevent the progress towards development from proceeding,” Pothen told councillors.

Hamilton councillors and Mayor Andrea Horwath listened to over 30 delegates during a committee meeting inside Marritt Hall.

But there were also those who used the gathering to express dismay over a 2016 council decision that recommended the Book Road West lands, now earmarked for development, become protected under the Greenbelt protocol.

Fred Bristol, whose family has owned a Garner Road property in the Greenbelt since the ’30s, suggested to councillors there are “two sides to the story.”

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“The majority of people are against us going…out of the Greenbelt, but where is our side?” Bristol said.

“We’ve got the properties to sell … I think we should have a right to have a say in this too.”

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.

The province’s outline calls for the removal of Greenbelt in the Book Road Lands area located south of Garner Road West, west of Fiddlers Green Road and east of Shaver Road in the vicinity of Book.

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Hamilton is the only municipality in the province to officially request the Ford government follow through on 15 recommendations from the Auditor General, including one that Greenbelt lands removed should be returned.

Chief planner Steve Robichaud clarified that about 30 per cent of the city’s protected Greenbelt lands are in the Natural Heritage System and potentially contain species at risk.

The tag means a development proposal would be required to go through an environmental impact study to provide assurances some areas are protected from development.

However, he admitted a minister zoning order could override Ontario species at risk legislation.

He was unsure if similar federal legislation could be overturned by the province.

Last week, the province announced an upcoming provincial review of the Greenbelt via the province’s new housing minister.

The process not only could recommend more land be added to the protected area, but it could also see more land removed.

Click to play video: 'Ontario Housing Minister Paul Calandra addresses media amid Greenbelt scandal'
Ontario Housing Minister Paul Calandra addresses media amid Greenbelt scandal

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