OMB ruling clears aerotropolis plan for takeoff
The city has scored a decisive victory in its battle to reclassify hundreds of hectares of farmland around the airport for development — the largest urban boundary expansion in Hamilton’s history.
The Ontario Municipal Board has agreed with the city’s argument that 555 hectares of developable employment land is required for the so-called aerotropolis, dismissing appeals from Environment Hamilton and Hamiltonians for Progressive Development in a decision dated July 3.
The “absolute” victory brings the city “95% of the way to our goal” of making the airport expansion growth district a reality, said city airport development director Guy Paparella, even though the boundaries of the would-be employment lands must still be decided.
The city’s plan was opposed by Environment Hamilton and Hamiltonians for Progressive Development. They argued it was not needed, was too large, swallowed up valuable agricultural land and was not good planning.
Don McLean, a board member with Environment Hamilton, and Michael Desnoyers, a co-chair of Hamiltonians for Progressive Development, were disappointed in the decision by OMB vice-chair Jyoti Zuidema. Their lawyer Eric Gillespie is looking at the decision to see if there are any avenues of appeal, but McLean was doubtful that would happen.
They were critical of Zuidema for finding the work by the Civic League to find other employable lands in Hamilton as opposed to property around the airport to be wanting. The league went through tax rolls and determined there were vacant employable lands in the city’s industrial core. Zuidema found the information, without addressing specifics such as location and potential environment constraints, was neither helpful or persuasive.
“I’m not sure I agree with that,” said Desnoyers. “It basically says citizens groups are crazy to do this.”
McLean was upset the vice-chair determined that it was too late for the citizens to impact the decision and that aerotropolis was on the move in 2005.
“There’s no recognition that this was volunteers, raising a lot of money, to try and have some impact on the city’s decision making process,” he said. “We did not get listened to, I think.”
The city says the hundreds of hectares of converted farmland will generate jobs and $50 million a year in taxes if aerotropolis develops fully as planned by 2031. Paparella said, however, the boundaries remain up in the air because the city agreed to shrink the total amount of developable employment land to 555 hectares from 662. The latest phase of the OMB hearing was held January.
City planners will pitch “new lines on the map” to council this fall.
Those updated boundaries, in turn, will be subject to a third phase of OMB scrutiny and may even spur new appeals from landowners which could push a final resolution into next year. Some of the appellants at the recent OMB hearing were interested in seeing their properties in the district opened to residential as opposed to business development, and McLean expects that to crop up in Phase 3.
The city can’t afford to wait for new development lands for industry, said Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, whose ward encompasses part of the proposed urban boundary expansion.
“We’re gobbling up our shovel-ready employment lands at a furious rate,” he said, pointing to steadily increasing statistics on building permits and industrial investment over the past several years.
“No one likes to see agricultural lands go out of production, but we have an obligation to taxpayers to get new jobs, new assessment.”
Ferguson emphasized taxpayers won’t be on the hook for massive or premature servicing of the rural area. “We’ll be servicing as needed, as development dictates,” he said.
Councillor Brad Clark said the OMB process has addressed his main concerns with the plan: phased development and the potential for residential development.
“The fact that they’ve ruled out the potential for residential development is phenomenal,” he said. “This (expansion) is about one thing: jobs.”
Councillor Sam Merulla said the city is already pushing brownfield redevelopment in the industrial core, but added the airport lands are a “critical piece of the economic puzzle” for Hamilton.
“We need to do this if we want to continue being one of the best places to invest and create jobs — instead of relying on thousands of residents commuting to Toronto,” he said.