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City wants Greenbelt changes

Jun 15, 2015

City staff want significant changes to the provincially-protected Greenbelt including removal of parts of the recently-approved aerotropolis as well as lands in upper and lower Stoney Creek. They are also pushing to enlarge some rural hamlets, seeking weaker rules on protecting vegetation near streams, and calling for a shift to the city of some decisions governing the ten-year-old protected agricultural zone.

The proposals respond to a provincial review that ended May 28 but have only been made public in the last few days as part of the agenda of the June 16 planning committee. However the report indicates that “preliminary staff comments” have already been sent and the report and its appendices will also “be forwarded to the province once they are endorsed by council on June 24”.

The report argues that some lands outside the Greenbelt are “encumbered by noise contours from the john C. Munroe International Airport, [and] natural heritage features as well as isolated pockets” and recommends that the province “remove [Greenbelt] lands that are better suited to establish a more compact urban community (i.e. lands in Lower and Upper Stoney Creek, adjacent to the existing/future urban area)”.

Other deletions include “areas around Highway 6 South that capture large tracts of farmland and a major highway bisects the system and therefore should be deleted.” The extension of the Greenbelt along the south side of the Highway 6 extension has long been a sore spot for some city councilors and local developers who believe the properties along the road should be used for industrial development rather than protection of the tributaries of the Welland River.

In the same vein, the staff report says vegetation protection zones which prevent development with 30 metres of streams “are very rigid and do not provide any flexibility to change the mapping or provide alternative vegetation protection zones (buffers).” They argue the city “should have the discretion to alter the buffers” on the basis of environmental studies produced for development proponents.

There is also a call to permit “rounding out” the boundaries of rural hamlets – a phrasing understood to mean enlarging the urbanized areas. Other parts of the staff review reiterate council complaints over lands protected by the Niagara Escarpment Plan that the city thinks should be designated for urban uses such as Olympic Park in Dundas and the Ancaster park where expansion of Morgan Firestone Arena ran afoul of escarpment protection policies.

Another recommendation affecting land protection calls for a large block on the north east corner of Martin Road and Jerseyville Road to be removed from the escarpment plan and made urban. According to the staff report, additional comments on the Greenbelt boundaries are being prepared and “Dillon Consulting has been retained to undertake a preliminary review of the long term land needs in the City to accommodate future growth.”

The province-wide three-month review of Greenbelt legislation and other planning policies officially began in late February although the staff report says that the city response began to be prepared last November. While the city kept its response secret during the review period, the province collected comments on-line and through both a stakeholder and a public meeting in mid-April – a consultation process repeated in cities and towns across the province.

According to one local group concerned with preserving and expanding the Greenbelt, at least 75 Hamiltonians submitted comments individually prior to the deadline. Environment Hamilton organized seven public presentations and workshops to facilitate and encourage resident input and itself made a substantial submission to the provincial review without knowing the positions or arguments of the city which appear to be quite different.

The city also held four consultation meetings – three in the rural area and one downtown – to gather resident comments which are also being submitted to the provincial review.

Environment Hamilton has been advocating particularly for expansion of the Greenbelt protection into urban stream valleys – a measure adopted by some other municipalities. The staff report makes no mention of this effort to increase the size of the Greenbelt.

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