Shortly after US Steel announced the permanent end of steelmaking at Hilton Works, city manager Chris Murray provided an update on the city’s strategic plan. One councillor bluntly pointed out that “if someone was to come to us and say what’s your strategy to deal with your brownfield properties, we don’t have one.”
Chad Collins went on to observe that omission is pretty significant “for a city like Hamilton that has as much contaminated land as we have; for a city that has as much industry still operating on those lands, knowing that one day when and if some of them leave, we will have a problem on our hands.” He suggested “it’s a reality that we’re going to have to come to grips with”.
The east end councillor prefaced his comments by noting the existence of city strategies for the airport lands, the waterfront, transportation, poverty and others. He also quietly recalled that several years ago he had unsuccessfully tried to get more attention on the nearly four thousand acres of old industrial land spread along the bayfront.
“Last term I tried the notion of coming up with a brownfield office as part of economic development and we studied that and maybe the timing wasn’t right. It didn’t happen.”
Collins’ comments didn’t inspire any response from his council colleagues, but the city manager assured him that things will change in the next strategic plan after the current one runs out in 2015.
“It’s a bit of a gaping hole,” Murray acknowledged. “Why we were afraid to deal with it earlier, I don’t know. Is there that reticence now? I would say absolutely not. You know we are in steadfast commitment to building the economy of Hamilton and so just by virtue of the fact that it’s been mentioned here, then it becomes something that’s going to be in our minds, and I’d be shocked if it doesn’t appear as a priority.”
Others have been arguing the re–use of old industrial lands should be the city’s main development priority and should take precedence over further greenfield expansion plans such as the aerotropolis backed by the majority of council. This contention was central to the unsuccessful Ontario Municipal Board appeal by Hamiltonians for Progressive Development and Environment Hamilton.
The city’s case for expansion onto airport area farmland assumed less than 50 acres of bayfront lands will be available for redevelopment between now and 2031. The two citizen groups found 235 acres currently registered as vacant by the city. That was part of an exhaustive study of city tax records carried out by the Hamilton Civic League that also found industrial properties comprising a further 2200 acres were receiving vacancy tax rebates in 2012. The study was completed before last fall’s shutdown announcement by US Steel that opened up over 800 acres for potential re–use.
Views differ on redeveloping Hamilton’s old industrial properties. The consultants planning the aerotropolis argued that it’s unrealistic to expect any industrial re–use of this area and that it is more likely to be converted to residential purposes. On the other hand, a prominent Hamilton businessman calls them “goldfields” that city officials are foolish to ignore.
“I was astounded to learn that the huge potential for employment lands in the traditional manufacturing areas of our City has been almost entirely discounted by council and its planning department,” the president of Turkstra Lumber declared in 2008 in response to the aerotropolis plans. “It is very hard to understand why the city would ignore its potential for industrial and commercial development in favour of undeveloped land on the edge of the city.” V