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City switches position on Winona blob

Jan 31, 2007

A last-minute in camera decision has switched the city’s position on the controversial Winona blob. The shift may have a significant impact on an upcoming Ontario Municipal Board hearing.

A resolution debated in secret at last Wednesday’s council meeting, and formally approved after the in camera session, states that “the city of Hamilton supports the Niagara Escarpment Commission’s denial of Hamilton General Homes NEPA [Niagara Escarpment Plan Amendment]”. That’s a reversal of an earlier position that said the lands were inside the urban boundary of the regional official plan.

Hamilton General Homes is a Peter DeSantis company that is trying to get permission to build estate homes on ‘blob’ lands south of Winona and east of Winona Road. They have appealed a Niagara Escarpment Commission decision blocking this development. The appeal is scheduled to be heard in March before a provincial consolidated board hearing.

Blobs are a planning tool used when the precise boundary is uncertain. The Winona one extends into fruit lands and stretches beyond the built-up area of Winona nearly to the foot of the escarpment. A 1994 OMB hearing clarified the boundary in this area and led to the elimination of the blob from the Stoney Creek official plan, but the mapping anomaly has persisted in the regional plan.

In March 2004, city council backed the persistence of the blob in the face of opposition from Winona residents. A resolution adopted then stated: “That the City of Hamilton inform the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) in  respect of NEPA PW-138-01 (Hamilton General Homes Ltd.) that the subject lands are designated ‘Urban Area’ by the Regional Official Plan, and the development of urban residential uses on such lands are considered appropriate.

Winona residents tried to get this position changed as recently as last September when city planners pushed through a new rural official plan that included the blob. The only concession they obtained was the addition of a notation on the city’s map saying that these lands were subject to an upcoming consolidated board hearing.

It is unclear why the city has altered its position, or if the reversal came as a result of the replacement of the mayor and several councillors in last fall’s municipal election.

The preamble to last week’s decision notes that the escarpment commission “circulated the city of Hamilton for comment” and that the city had “declined comment except insofar as outlining its interpretation of the regional official plan urban boundary limits”. It goes on to say that the city now “wishes to comment further”.

A second part of the resolution states that “it is only in the event that the Joint Board approves Hamilton General Homes NEPA that the city supports residential urban development” and that this would be at higher densities than those being sought by the developer.

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