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Province limiting sprawl options

Aug 21, 2017

Planning staff say updated provincial anti-sprawl rules have ignored city concerns and will restrict urbanization of more farmland such as the Elfrida expansion. They’re also worried Hamilton can’t meet the new rules requiring higher density housing and employment near LRT stops. 

A report delivered last week reminds councillors that the comprehensive review carried out by Queen’s Park over more than two years also rejected the city’s plea to remove lands from the protected Greenbelt. And it warns that additional protection of farmland may be imposed by the Wynne government.

“The Growth Plan promotes compact growth in complete communities, and focuses on intensification and the prioritization of growth within existing settlement areas,” explains the staff report. “To promote intensification, the province has increased the residential intensification target to require that 60 percent of all new residential units are to be built within the built boundary by 2031. The previous target in the 2006 Growth Plan was 40 percent.”

City staff calculate this means over 10,000 new residences must be located in the existing built-up area by 2041 and they forecast almost all of those will be apartment units. Toward the end of that period they expect over 2200 units a year will need to be built – twice the current average per year – and their report reminds councillors that the city opposed the higher target and “this concern remains valid.”

Staff fear that this predicted concentration will also jeopardize city plans because it will “result in all demand for apartments being accommodated in the built-up area”, leaving new growth areas like Elfrida “almost entirely comprised of singles/semis and townhouses.”  Such traditional “low density communities do not meet the provincial policy goals of planning for complete communities and a range of housing types” says the report and can’t achieve the required greenfield density of 80 residents per hectare.

The report notes that council opposition to this increase in greenfield density also “remains valid”. Previously the requirement was for 50 residents per hectare: “It is difficult to determine the impact that this increased density target, combined with the increased intensification target previously discussed, will have on the housing mix within the new growth areas and the ability of the City to plan for complete communities.”

Provincial legislation says that before the city tries to expand its urban boundary onto farmland it must prove “that sufficient lands to accommodate growth cannot be accommodated through intensification and existing designated greenfield lands.” This is another part of an on-going effort by the Wynne government to reduce expensive urban sprawl and make cities more transit-friendly.

A specific requirement in the updated growth plan is that population density within half a kilometre of “higher order transit” stops such as LRT stations must be at least 160 persons or jobs per hectare. It directs that these areas “will be planned and designed to be transit-supportive, including prohibiting land uses and built form that would adversely affect achievement of the density targets, planning for a diverse mix of uses, providing alternative development standards including reduced parking, ensuring connections to local and regional transit services, and providing infrastructure to support active transportation.”

These rules have Hamilton planners concerned. Although they are hopeful that alternatives can be considered such as averaging several stops to meet the target that option requires other transit-supportive measures.

Another looming issue between Hamilton and the province is the classification of agricultural lands. The city wants to do its own assessment and is worried that a provincial review will designate more lands as Prime agricultural rather than the less protective Rural classification.

“If the Provincial mapping identifies additional lands as ‘Prime’ beyond what is already identified in the Rural Hamilton Official Plan, this will result in the City losing ‘Rural’ designated lands,” notes the report.

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