City’s Council moves to plug loopholes Ford Government has created in planning rules to encourage sprawl
“The provincial rules approved (by the Ford government) in June (2019)allow any owner of rural property to initiate an urban boundary expansion of up to 40 hectares – a process that until now has been reserved to municipal governments.”
News from Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) in Hamilton, Ontario
Posted September 2nd, 2019 on Niagara At Large
Hamilton, Ontario – In the wake of new provincial loopholes, local developers may be lining up to convert their rural properties to subdivisions, but the city says it’s determined to block them.
That doesn’t mean an end to conversion of foodlands into residential suburbs just that this will continue to be driven by city initiatives not those of private landowners.
Indeed the main justification city planning staff are providing for their dramatic anti-developer moves is so they can uninterruptedly proceed with the GRIDS2 and MCR process whose primary purpose is to justify “orderly” urban boundary expansions.
Director of Planning Steve Robichaud told councillors that expansion proposals will be rejected so that his staff can “maintain control of the GRIDS2 and MCR process because … we don’t want to have resources being reallocated to fighting urban boundary expansions when we’re looking at all the other aspects of that GRIDS2 process. That’s the messaging that we’ve been giving to the development community – just let us complete our process and then make determinations at that point in time.”
The provincial rules approved in June allow any owner of rural property to initiate an urban boundary expansion of up to 40 hectares – a process that until now has been reserved to municipal governments. The surprise change to provincial law has city planners pulling their hair out at what developers might attempt to do.
“They could do one hectare to 39.9 hectares,” explained Robichaud, “but it could be a situation if they are numbered companies all owned by the same individual, each numbered company could make their own application for 40 hectare urban boundary expansion and you could end up with three or four contiguous applications coming forward at the same time but by different numbered companies.”
Attempts could be made anywhere in the rural area except Greenbelt lands and wouldn’t even have to be abutting the existing urban area. “They could actually look to leapfrog and have intervening rural lands between the existing urban area and some new future urban area,” noted Robichaud.
In each case the city would have only 120 days to make a decision, instead of the 210 days previously allowed for major changes. And prior to last month, there wasn’t even an application fee to cover staff time and associated studies.
That fee has now been set at nearly $68,000 per application and most of that won’t be refundable if the city carries through with its threat to deny all such applications. Waterdown councillor Judi Partridge wanted the fee to developers to be far higher “if they’re going to start digging into the rural lands” but the amount is limited by law to the actual cost of staff time in dealing with each application.
Developers would also have to pay for required studies such as traffic, archeological and hydro-geological, as well as for peer reviews of those studies. Robichaud said Hamilton’s aggressive response to the provincial changes have attracted substantial interest from other municipalities frustrated by the new loopholes.
“We were actually one of the first municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe that’s adopted that strategy,” he explained. “There’s a lot of great interest as to how we are dealing with that issue.”
Despite these hurdles, Robichaud told councillors it isn’t clear that the strategy will work. “I think that the developers, landowners and consultants are reviewing their options right now,” he reported.
The focus on GRIDS2 and MCR has also put the proposed massive urban expansion in Elfrida at least temporarily on hold. “All studies related to Elfrida have been put on hold” senior planner Heather Travis told councillors at an earlier August meeting, although it remains the city’s identified growth area up to 2031. She said the MCR-GRIDS2 process and the rapid-fire changes to provincial planning rules have led staff to delay further spending on the Elfrida plans.
Council will get an update in a public session on October 21, but the projected completion of the city’s preferred growth plan is now September of next year.
CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) updates use transcripts and/or public documents to highlight information about Hamilton civic affairs that is not generally available in the mass media. Detailed reports of City Hall meetings can be reviewed at hamiltoncatch.org .
You can receive all CATCH free updates by sending an email tohttp://hamiltoncatch.org/newsletter/ ?p=subscribe .
A Footnote from Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper – Here is then Ontario Tory Leader, now Premier Doug Ford early 2018 talking to a group of developers about his plans for the province’s protected Greenbelt –
Would someone please explain to this reporter why we have to gut “chunks” of what is left of Ontario’s natural heritage and crop-growing lands to provide affordable housing to people?
Or does this scheme have more to do with land speculators and developers wanting a larger canvass for pouring their cement and asphalt?
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