Builders seek urban expansion

The Hamilton Spectator The Hamilton Spectator September 28, 2004 - Mark McNeil

Hamilton home builders say the city needs to expand its urban boundary to handle projected population growth for the city.

The province's discussion paper Places To Grow: Better Choices, Brighter Future forecasts Hamilton's population will grow by 200,000 people by the year 2031. It doesn't rule out further city expansion into the countryside but it argues for greater intensification to accommodate growth and raises caution about urban sprawl.

The Hamilton-Halton Home Builders' Association (HHHBA) fears when municipal official plan deliberations are completed and provincial plans for a greenbelt are put in place, that there won't be enough new development land available.

A HHHBA submission to the province's ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal argues "intensification alone will not be able to accommodate Hamilton's housing needs for the next 30 years. The province must ensure there is enough land allocated for future growth which will be unaffected by the proposed greenbelt."

The home builders group, which is being supported by the Hamilton-Halton Construction Association and the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington, is urging the province to authorize Hamilton to designate "sufficient land within the City of Hamilton for future urban growth through its official plan that are outside of the proposed Golden Horseshoe greenbelt."

But expanding the urban boundary is controversial. The boundary is a line to which city water and sewer services are currently provided and urban development is allowed. Municipalities decide their official plans but decisions can be appealed to the province.

Another expected curb on growth is a proposed greenbelt through the Golden Horseshoe, which could also contain development. Boundaries for that are still being worked out.

"It is our position that the creation of greenbelt around the Golden Horseshoe will have a disastrous impact on both urban and rural areas," the HHHBA report says. "Experience has demonstrated that urban growth boundaries severely affect housing affordability, and dramatically increase the price of land. This, in turn, encourages 'leap frogging' into rural communities that are unable and unprepared to handle the increase in growth pressure."

But Don McLean, of the group Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) disagrees.

"For someone to say Hamilton needs room to grow is absurd."

He contends the city can handle growth for many years without going into rural areas. He says Census figures show the population fell almost 45,000 in the lower city between Red Hill Creek and Dundas from 1971 to 2001. Mohawk Road to the edge of the escarpment lost 20,000 people.

He says Hamilton could at least accommodate 65,000 people moving back into those sections of the city. And he says there are all kinds of greenfields that have not been developed in the urban boundary.

But Fred Toy, president of the HHHBA, says "we need to be able to work with the municipality to have that urban boundary expanded to allow for this growth. The concern is if the greenbelt goes in place and it freezes the urban boundary where it is, then we are not going to be able to attain the population growth that they are looking at."

The HHHBA submission also seeks Ontario infrastructure funding to help revitalize the downtown core. It wants Ontario to designate Hamilton's airport as a Provincial Employment Node and allow it access to provincial infrastructure financing. HHHBA also calls for Ontario to commit to the construction of the proposed mid-peninsula highway and make a timetable for its completion.

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