The consultant defending the city’s aerotropolis plans at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has reduced the amount of land that he believes is defensible. Two citizen groups as well as a group of large landowners have both challenged the size of the proposed boundary expansion that at 1852 hectares (4574 acres) is nearly as large as Hamilton Harbour.
OMB hearings begin on January 14 into the controversial expansion onto farmland in and around the airport – the largest in Hamilton’s history. But witness statements and replies going back and forth since November between the city and the other parties to the hearings already indicate a shift in the city’s position.
The boundary expansion has a number of components including the 591 hectare Mount Hope airport, an extra 138 hectares designated for “future airport expansion”, and a proposed airport employment growth district covering 828 hectares of developable land. City council tacked on an additional 40 hectares for development when it approved the expansion eight days before the 2010 municipal elections, while woodlots, wetlands and other protected natural features make up the remaining 262 hectares.
Antony Lorius of Hemson Consulting has been hired by the city to defend the expansion and is arguing the neither the airport or its expansion zone needs to be justified, nor does one–fifth of the developable lands that he says will be required for roads, sidewalks and other city services. That leaves 662 hectares of “net developable land” for industrial growth to 2031 plus the 40 hectares added by council that Lorius was expected to support.
But in his latest statement filed in mid–December, Lorius says only 575 “net developable hectares” are required to accommodate the industrial expansion forecast to occur by 2031. That position appears to abandon at least 127 hectares (314 acres) of the proposed expansion. Lorius says the change corrects a calculation error in his earlier reports that had backed the 662 hectare figure.
The two citizen groups fighting the boundary expansion – Environment Hamilton and Hamiltonians for Progressive Development – argue there are a lot more errors in city calculations. And they appear to have an unexpected ally in a developer group composed of six owners of large properties inside the aerotropolis who claim their lands are “better suited for residential uses”.
The planners representing these developers have submitted a detailed examination of Hamilton’s actual absorption of industrial land since 2004 and found it has averaged less than 20 hectares per year. At that rate, the city still has 33 years of vacant land in its greenfield business parks alone, and even if there is a 50 percent jump in absorption rate, there would still be a 22–year supply.
In making their calculations, these planners accepted the city’s numbers for currently available land, and counted last year’s Maple Leaf and Navistar developments in the North Glanbrook business park in the absorption rate averages. Provincial rules require the city to have a 20–year supply, but the planners say approval of the aerotropolis would result in something between a 45 and a 69 year supply.
Witness statements filed on behalf of the citizen groups say the old industrial area along the bayfront has far more available land than the one percent alleged by the city, and contend that the airport expansion zone is unjustifiable. They are also challenging the city’s use of the “net developable” approach instead of the full area they say must be justified according to provincial anti–sprawl rules.
The OMB hearings are open to the public and are taking place in the Albion Room of the Convention Centre starting Monday, January 14 at 10 am. V