A survey of aerotropolis residents has found more than 80% oppose the rezoning of their lands to industrial uses and at least a third say they’ve never been notified by the city about these changes to their properties. The nearly 150 residents who answered questions posed by the Hamilton Civic League occupy close to half the private lands earmarked for the controversial boundary expansion now before the Ontario Municipal Board and nearly all of them are also the property owners.
Civic League volunteers visited nearly 350 homes inside the 4574–acre area that council decided to add to the urban boundary at its last meeting before the 2010 elections. Most of the responses were obtained at the door, but residents not home had the option of mailing in the seven–question survey.
Two–thirds of the respondents live on properties of less than three acres, with 57 per cent occupying one acre or less. The questionnaire also got responses from thirty properties of greater than 10 acres that together made up 78 per cent of the 1326 acres represented in the survey. Most of the aerotropolis is officially designated as prime agricultural land.
The boundary expansion now before the OMB includes the 1460–acre Hamilton airport and some properties purchased by the city to facilitate its future expansion. There are also 648 acres of wetlands, woodlots and other natural features where provincial law forbids development.
Close to half those surveyed, including many with smaller properties, live on either Dickenson or Glancaster, two rural roads that intersect near the centre of the aerotropolis and are characterized by long strips of single family homes. The Civic League notes that most interviewed are long–term residents who have occupied their lands for an average of 28 years and that many “cited concerns for the loss of their much desired, rural lifestyle”.
City officials say the airport employment growth district will be needed to accommodate new industrial jobs over the next two decades, but 85 percent of the surveyed residents don’t believe Hamilton has a shortage of industrial lands. Opponents of the expansion have long argued that underused industrial lands along the bayfront should be the priority.
The questionnaire began by asking if residents were aware of the aerotropolis plans. While 86 percent answered yes, only 66 per cent believed they had been notified formally by the city and the League believes “many had clearly confused recent Hamilton Civic League mailings as notice from the city.”
The aerotropolis plans date back to a 2001 focus group “including Tradeport International Corporation, multinational courier companies, airport consultants, manufacturers and small airlines”, but the commitment of city officials to appropriately including the public in this central vision of the economic future of Hamilton has been controversial.
The aerotropolis was identified as the city’s key economic development strategy in May 2002 after a consultation limited to business interests. Its first public review came during creation of the Growth Related Integrated Development Strategy (GRIDS). Despite a consultant report that concluded it violated seven of the nine guiding principles of GRIDS, the six growth ‘options’ presented to citizens in late May 2005 each included the aerotropolis as the only choice for expansion of industrially–designated lands.
The summary “public and agency consultation report” released in May of 2010 points to “stakeholder meetings” that were limited to three resident groups outside the aerotropolis lands, the Ancaster Chamber of Commerce, and a landowners group trying to convince the city to do another boundary expansion that includes their properties.
There is no indication that city officials considered those living or holding property inside the aerotropolis to be stakeholders in the decision–making process. V