Special Report: Creative City

Killing Development Dead

Our building regulations produce a staggeringly perverse incentive: we subsidize and incentivize the neglect, demolition and destruction of value, while punishing and disincentivizing the creation of value through reinvestment and redevelopment.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 02, 2011

Our Zoning By-Law is an autoimmune disease that turns the City's defences against its own urban tissue, mistaking healthy developments for pathogens, destroying valuable assets and debilitating the city as a whole.

Recently demolished building at 30 King Street West
Recently demolished building at 30 King Street West

Innovation is Illegal

I was out of the country when City by-law enforcement shut down Hamilton's only backpackers' hostel.

That story has a number of ugly permutations, but one part really jumped out at me. This is from the OpenFile report on the incident:

It's true that when the Ritchies opened their hostel last September, they did so without a license. But, Tanya says, not without doing their homework. They spent years planning the venture while simultaneously working full-time jobs, managing a locksmithing business and raising their now three-year old daughter. They spoke with lawyers, insurance brokers and staff at City Hall about how to license a hostel in a city with no definition of a hostel in its bylaws. The answer was (unofficially) the same everywhere they went - Don't tell anyone I said this, but you should just open.

Here's the crux of the matter: any use of a given building that is not explicitly allowed under the Zoning By-Law is forbidden by default.

What that means is that innovation in building use is illegal in Hamilton. The best we can hope for is that maybe, years after other, more creative cities have invented and proven new ways of using buildings and arranging their affairs, maybe, just maybe, Hamilton might revise its Zoning By-Law to include the new use.

Possibly. Eventually.

And please note that a backpacker's hostel is emphatically not a rooming house. It is a place where backpacking tourists can stay overnight when visiting a city. You know, tourists, the very people the City's Tourism office is supposed to be trying to attract.

Ridiculous Fees

Of course, it's always possible to go to the city and apply for a variance in the Zoning By-Law, but that way lies madness.

If you're foolish enough to go to the City and go through the proper process to renovate your building, you unleash an absolute fustercluck of fees and regulations, many of which are utterly ridiculous.

I'm not even talking about architectural drawings and engineering studies, which are at least defensible on the grounds of ensuring the building is safe. I mean:

It doesn't matter that the building you want to invest in is currently vacant and derelict, and that with new investment would come neighourhood revitalization, rising property values, job creation or any of the other things we claim to value.

The City is determined to raise the cost of doing the right thing so high that no sane person would ever subject themselves to it. Call it Liability Theatre.

Alternatives to Doing the Right Thing

The current state of affairs leaves just three alternatives:

As the old saying goes: When urban revitalization is outlawed, only outlaws will undertake urban revitalization.

A nasty side-effect of the unreasonable cost of redeveloping a building is that it drives redevelopment underground. How many thousands of houses have been illegally converted into multi-unit dwellings?

Clearly there's a market demand for converted houses, and it's an easy way to raise a neighbourhood's population density, but if the cost of doing it properly is overloaded with too many nonsensical fees, the important stuff - like building permits - gets bypassed as well.

Perverse Incentive

Is the deplorable, ongoing state of the lower city starting to make some sense now? Our zoning rules make any other outcome impossible.

Block after block of surface parking in downtown Hamilton
Block after block of surface parking in downtown Hamilton

Our regulations produce a staggeringly perverse incentive: we subsidize and incentivize neglect, demolition and destruction of value, while punishing and disincentivizing the creation of value through reinvestment and redevelopment.

Consider: a vacant, derelict building pays lower property tax than an occupied building, while demolishing a building lowers property taxes even more.

We generally fail to punish property owners who allow their properties to fall into neglect, and we also generally fail to punish property owners who illegally convert the sites of demolished buildings into parking lots.

Meanwhile, we punish each attempt at reinvestment and adaptive reuse to the tune of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and hasten to shut down offenders who go ahead and reinvest in their community anyway.

The City drowns investors in red tape and throws procedural roadblocks in front of would-be entrepreneurs.

The predictable result is that most people just give up and move to cities that aren't as determined to strangle growth. It's easy to point to this or that group as the "bad guys", but the real problem is the game, not the players.

A Way Forward

Doubtless I will hear from Planning and Economic Development that things are changing. They're reaching out to business and helping investors navigate the bureaucracy. They've even got some success stories about which they should feel proud.

But as long as our buildings are still ruled by the Zoning By-Law and its assorted dysfunctional mandates, no amount of marketing and outreach will be able to kick this city into a real, self-sustaining revitalization trajectory.

What Hamilton ought to do instead is consign its Zoning By-Law to the recycle bin and replace it with a regulatory code that incentivizes the creation of value while discouraging the destruction of value.

Other jurisdictions have had great success moving away from zoning and toward form-based codes and performance codes.

Form-Based Codes

Form-based codes regulate not what you are allowed to do with your building, but how it fits into its surroundings. It establishes public space standards for streets and sidewalks that promote walkability and pedestrian-friendliness, and it sets a building form that frames the public space in a coherent streetwall and allows diverse, compatible uses to co-exist.

James North streetwall: street-level retail and residences upstairs
James North streetwall: street-level retail and residences upstairs

The simplest form-based code looks like the King-Spadina Secondary Plan in Toronto: build to the street, have an open use at street level, maintain a setback and height that is consistent with the streetwall, and put parking (if any - there is no requirement) behind or under the building.

Form-based codes work. They provide a combination of simple, clear rules for developers and the promise that those rules will be applied consistently.

Before zoning pushed destinations far apart, every city ended up looking roughly similar: dense, multi-storey buildings fronting onto the street with street-level retail and residential or office use upstairs. Form-based codes seek to re-establish this pattern of development after a century of single-use mandates, setbacks, and parking requirements.

Performance Codes

Of course, our zoning rules were originally put in place in response to complaints about incompatible building uses in close proximity. Since then, the logic of separation has taken on a lunatic life of its own, but the underlying problem still needs to be solved: how do you prevent your neighbour from using their building in a way that harms you?

In the same way that your kids can't fight if you send them to their respective rooms, zoning solves the problem through the heavy-handed approach of telling each use where it is allowed to go.

However, this approach makes it unnecessarily difficult to repurpose an existing building if its zoned use stops making sense. It also kills the potential for innovative uses that were not anticipated by the zoning planners.

The real problem is those performances that hurt neighbours: loud noises, offensive odours, heavy local truck traffic, ugly industrial facades, ungainly structures that block out sunlight, and so on.

Instead of banishing our various uses to their rooms for an extended time-out, we could instead establish rules that directly target the performances we don't want.

We scratch our heads when the City targets the Pearl Company or Hamilton Guest House or Rolly Rockets, because these places are clearly not harming their neighourhoods (indeed, they are all positive developments that improve their neighbourhoods).

That is what matters, and our rules should reflect what matters.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.


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By slodrive (registered) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 14:26:05

Wow. Impressive. Informative. And damn well-written. Nice job. A link to this will be sent to my member of council.

Thanks for the enlightenment.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 23:02:57 in reply to Comment 64460

FYI...Mr. Lloyd Ferguson has been made brashly aware of how I feel about this subject -- and he's been provided the link to this article. Let's hope our elected employees/ subordinates perform their jobs and fix this.

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By Whatev (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 15:27:36

"Hamilton: The City That Won't"

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By oldcoote (registered) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 15:27:37

Two other things driving renovations underground. 13% HST and MPAC. Getting a building permit invites a visit from MPAC which will likely result in an increase in your assessment and property taxes. Hamilton is actually collecting money on both the front and back-end. Pretty good deal if you can swing it.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 16:10:06

We have made these very points over and over again to no avail. The City is still proceeding against us with the illegal use charges. Our fight is now entering year six. Are we any closer to a resolution? Who knows?

Gary Santucci
The Pearl Company

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 01:10:29 in reply to Comment 64465

This is very sad. Like the wave of new media we are bridging a new war against outdated conformity.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 18:03:56

if as they say art is the new steel then we (the city) better have a massive massive rethink about this... The loosening on zoning laws around king and spadina profoundly changed things, and it allowed for real money to invest in the buildings ( up till then they were vacant /loft spaces (illegal) or boozecans /After hours clubs ). Walking down king street around spadina used to be sketchy experience, it is now one of eye popping wealth ( less than 20 years later )

My thinking is that with so many bureaucrats working on the current system there is a huge internal resistance from within against any change. And there doesn't seem the same kind of resistance from the city to illegal residential conversions ( ie commercial to residential) it comes into play on the commercial side where every thing must be spot on. I think that this is one of reasons for such little street level commercial in hamilton. it is simply less work to set up in a mall , of course malls tend to lead to a pretty generic environment.

Aren’t the zoning laws supposed to rewritten due to amalgamation? one can assume that this hasn’t taken 10 years because of overwhelming citizen input but instead because of bureaucratic stalling with each department trying to protect its turf and revenue. Seems one would help is ... NO tax breaks of demolished properties .. Quntuple taxes n any property demolished and used as a parking within 10 years ...

removal of accessibility requirements for any building more than 100 years old ( sorry not anti this but it is used as an excuse far to often, and at some point a choice must be made between inclusion and history)

Waiving of reassessment for a period of time after renovation.

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By Mr. Serious (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 18:22:24

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By Huh? (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 19:47:50

I think the point of the article wasn't about who takes over a building or what is done with it, but the outrageous cost and hassle attributed with creating a new a viable business or housing complex.
What kind of argument are you trying to counter with?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 19:53:51 in reply to Comment 64482

I think the point of the comment wasn't to make an argument but to fire off a cheap shot.

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By James (registered) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 22:56:27

I actually rather agree with Grom and Mr. Serious - all this talk of art being the new steel is pointless unless it starts employing thousands of people full-time and makes Hamilton internationally known for its product. A gallery is very nice, but today I saw about a dozen galleries on James St North, closed up and doing nothing. A small business would theoretically employ a few people and bolster the local economy, as well as get people out on the street more than one night a month - thereby enhancing business at other locations.

That said, zoning bylaws and regulations absolutely need to change. Anyone who lets his/her property go to wrack and ruin should be massively penalized. I think it's definitely time for that to change, but, like term limits for city councillors, I doubt it will happen any time soon.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2011 at 09:04:45 in reply to Comment 64489

The problem is that Grom/Mr. Serious is attacking a straw man. The essay is not about the role of art in an economic revival - though there is a lot of evidence that artists do successfully kickstart neighbourhood revitalization - but about the role of the zoning by-law in preventing anyone from investing in the redevelopment of old buildings to accommodate new businesses.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-06-03 09:21:04

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 10:14:39 in reply to Comment 64511

Apologies for chasing that straw man.

I should add that I agree wholeheartedly with your essay's observations and suggestions. It seems to me that if it really wants to leverage all of the attention and investment enthusiasm from quarters such as REIT, it should adopt a more enlightened approach to adaptive reuse, the kind of eye-opening repurposing of buildings that goes hand-in-hand with forward-thinking entrepreneurial investment -- and which would earn us a reputation as not just a cheap, cool city but a city in which creativity and innovation genuinely take flight.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2011 at 10:16:21 in reply to Comment 64516

I'm going to go ahead and ask you to consider writing an essay for RTH. Please feel free to drop me a line: my name over this comment is a link to my email address.

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By Grom (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 23:10:53 in reply to Comment 64489

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 09:17:09 in reply to Comment 64494

It's about small businesses starting up and drawing people to the area, which makes it more attractive for more small businesses.

Look at Locke St and Ottawa St, no major corporations, just small businesses driving the economy. A few jobs here, a few jobs there, and things pick up.

The days of looking to huge corporations to supply all the jobs are gone. There is no such thing as "job security" when the head of your company has absolutely no interest in anything other than the bottom line, which can be better reached in a place like Mexico.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2011 at 09:19:57 in reply to Comment 64512

Small, high-growth companies are producing all the net jobs in our economy and have been for the past couple of decades. Large established corporations are net job destroyers.

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By Morg (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 00:02:24 in reply to Comment 64494

But do they not draw people to an otherwise unvisited area? Am I missing why art galleries on James Street are the focus of some of these comments? Downtown is not just James North. Is the point of Mr. McGreal's article completely missed? Specifically when he's using the unfortunate closure of a Hostel and a probable example for our city to mimic in Toronto's Spadina/King area. How does a negative fixation on art galleries and fair trade coffee spawn from this article?
I shake my head in bewilderment. Be a little more proactive and adult in these comments. Use it as a forum for forward thinking. Disagreement is fine, but using terms like "nursing the shit out of fair-trade coffee" and "shysters" is a bit sophomoric, don't you think Grom? I challenge you to contribute by presenting in a more forward way. Tell us instead what you think is a better alternative to Ryan's suggestions or what you would realistically have replace or put alongside the galleries and cafes you feel aren't economically viable. Be progressive. Converse and articulate instead of criticizing with less than weak arguments.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 23:36:17

^ that is kind of funny, but I don't agree. I think there is good correlation, if not causation, between Richard Florida's Bohemian-gay index and economic activity. It's still early to tell with James Street, but I don't think the Architecture firm and Animation firm that chose that location recently is a coincidence.

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 14:00:33 in reply to Comment 64496

Not a coincidence, no.

I’m sure that the cultural wavelength of James North was a key part of the draw, but in terms of correlation/causation, real estate values might also have an effect on decision-making. Thier Curran Architects reportedly needed more space at a time when scraping together square footage could’ve been prohibitive in their former location: Getting the current James North square footage out of the 86 Herkimer conversion ($200/sq ft) seems like it would have cost more than buying the entire 24,000 square foot building at 118 James ($700K).

That and, going off an old Streetbeat, TCA’s Bill Curran took on the old Dominion Furniture Building as a restoration project explicitly aimed at urban rejuvenation, in an area that has been essentially adopted by the city as an enterprise zone/investment showcase (Lister Block, 2206066 Ontario Inc.), and which has been the site of numerous projects by DFB project partner Tim Potocic.

There are other correlations, I’m sure – Toronto transplants, for example, cluster economies such as you'd see in Hess Village. But as has been pointed out elsewhere -- and leaving the straw man alone entirely -- it’s small, high-growth companies that are moving the yardstick. That's not something the city has traditionally been very good with, but they'll have to make it a comfort zone if they hope to make good on their economic projections through anything other than osmosis.


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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 10:05:50 in reply to Comment 64496

Leaving the gay equation out of the picture, in Florida's creative class hierarchy, art is not the new steel – creative capitalism is. Traditional bohemian art represents a somewhat marginal enclave of individuals who fit under the umbrella of "creative class" and who contribute decorative ambience but who have comparatively little economic clout.

Hamilton's top two employers, Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University, are high-value examples of Florida's "creative class". The same can be said of Hamilton's plastic surgeons, lab techs, pharmacists, optometrists, veterinarians, engineers, architects, lawyers, bankers, accountants, insurance underwriters, claims adjusters, marketers, PR agencies, broadcasters, programmers, etc. In other words, the well-paid professionals who, when geographically clustered, can significantly improve the economic profile of their host community. Florida posits something fairly unremarkable: Those cities able to attract a large number of well-paid professionals will experience economic growth.

Not only that, but "creative class" jobs permeate traditional market sectors such as manufacturing. Florida himself has argued as much, saying that “the dichotomy between industrial and post-industrial service and manufacturing economies is a false one. As our report says, the distinction is between creative and routine work." Dofasco is a creative class success story.


Arts, design, and media workers constitute a small subset of the creative class (using 2006 census data, Hill Strategies Research estimated that artists contributed $3.2 billion to a $660.7 billion economy, taking home less than half the wages of their non-artist counterparts). Smaller still are the bohemians whose chief value is in creating experiential zones and unique consumer environments such as boutiques, galleries and cafes. (Hill pegs artisans, craftspersons and visual artists at under a quarter of the arts sector

While it is true that cultural workers do belong to the creative class, it is abundantly clear that they by no means have a lock on creativity. Richard Florida, in his keynote at the 2008 Hamilton Economic Summit, said as much: “Entertainment, today, is a bigger economic sector on the world scene than automotive or steel... That’s how big this thing is. And the creative sector of the economy accounts for more wages and salaries than the manufacturing sector, agricultural sector and the service sector – personal service, retail trade, hotel – combined.” Entertainment is the new steel.

Though accorded naming rights on the index, Florida's "bohemians" are a small population whose chief value is in its ability to create experiential zones and uniquely stimulating consumer environments: That's the buskers, specialty boutiques, cafes, galleries and whatnot. What's lost in a lot of the analysis is the broader dynamic of gentrification – that by virtue of their limited earning power (62% are under LICO, with 17% of all visual artists reporting no earnings), bohemians tend to earmark areas of affordable real estate, and all things being equal, investment tends to accrue in areas where there is active development potential and the promise of favourable ROI.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 11:40:53 in reply to Comment 64515

Hamilton's top two employers, Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University, are high-value examples of Florida's "creative class". The same can be said of Hamilton's plastic surgeons, lab techs, pharmacists, optometrists, veterinarians, engineers, architects, lawyers, bankers, accountants, insurance underwriters, claims adjusters, marketers, PR agencies, broadcasters, programmers, etc. In other words, the well-paid professionals who, when geographically clustered, can significantly improve the economic profile of their host community. Florida posits something fairly unremarkable: Those cities able to attract a large number of well-paid professionals will experience economic growth.

HHS and Mac have been our top employers for a number of years now, but our economic growth has remained stagnant because they are public agencies who don't contribute to the corporate tax base. We'll continue to languish if we rely solely on the health and education sectors to attract well-paid professionals, especially since we just elected a conservative government that will be bringing in massive cuts to these sectors.

We can't discount their value however, as they bring enormous prestige to our community and have an incalculable impact on our quality of life - a critical factor in attracting the aforementioned professionals. In this respect, they are not unlike the cultural sector. I don't think anyone is arguing that cultural workers have a lock on creativity, or that Florida's definition of 'creative class' is comprised solely of cultural workers. As Henry and Joe says, their presence is more correlational than causational. However, at this moment in time in our city, it is in the cultural sector that we are seeing the creativity, dynamism, and entrepreneurship that will need to spill over into other private sector industries if we are to rebuild our economic base.

And don't discount the manufacturing and agricultural sectors if any of Jeff Rubin's predictions come true. It would be just as unwise to put all our eggs in the entertainment basket as it is to put them all in the health/education basket.

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 12:20:10 in reply to Comment 64526

I'm not disputing the creativity, dynamism and entrepreneurship of the cultural sector, nor am I discounting or disputing their value, which I'll agree is seem primarily in terms of its ability to attract professionals to the community. It is of course, problematic to frame cultivation of the arts as an EcDev investment. More significant, I would contend, is the extent to which local businesses are able to incorporate creative practice to the betterment of their operational model and improvement of their market position.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted June 04, 2011 at 12:36:46 in reply to Comment 64534

I suppose the challenge for Hamilton is diversifying its creative class beyond that of health/education sectors, which are not generators of wealth on their own. I am curious as to how Ottawa moved from a sleepy government town to what R. Florida describes as the next Canadian super-city. Do we have the conditions for high growth in any of the emerging sectors in this city in a manner similar to what happened with software in Ottawa?

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 01:26:17

Our issue with the bylaw (I am the owner of HamiltOn Guest House in case anyone wonders) centers around us being shoehorned into a very limited use of our property. Rooming houses and lodging houses are in no way the same as what we have. No one seems to care about this. My belief is that the property is what it is: a 200 year old building that serves as a short term, low cost accommodation for travellers. I have no problem with fire inspections...if they inspect the same standard that a student house in Westdale comes under. Not a ccommercial requirement that a Lodging House would have. We didn't buy and open this property to circumvent laws and try and run a flophouse. We did it because we love our city and we live in our city and want to bring life to a ward that desperately needs it. I am reminded of a Bob Marley song I shot the sheriff: "sheriff John Brown always hated me, for what I don't know, every time I plant a seed he says kill it before it grows."

Seed: Pearl Company

Seed: Hamilton Guest House

Seed: Festival of Friends

Does anyone see a dark trend here?

Comment edited by TnT on 2011-06-03 01:28:07

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By Bender (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 13:01:08 in reply to Comment 64499

Morelli always hated me, every time I opened up an interesting place he said fine and shut it down before it brings young professionals into the neighborhood to vote me out!

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 02:29:27

I was curious as to how HECFI and Economic Development measured economic impact in our community. Through an FOI (freedom of information request) I was able to obtain the formula for such calculations. Using the City's own numbers we have calculated the Pearl company's economic impact to be 11.7 million dollars over the last five years. So much for the BS arts organizations refered to in an earlier post. We have achieved this along with others at a fraction of the cost compared to organizations like Hecfi.

Gary Santucci
The Pearl Company

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By Peter (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 07:43:08

I think there's a distinct possibility that the City has no idea what it's doing, let alone how to fix it. I've always felt we'd be better off with no zoning by-laws, rather than the ones we currently have.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 08:20:41

Bernie Morelli's Ward 3:

Opening an arts and cultural centre - no way.

Opening a backpacker's hostel - no way.

Refurbishing a pre-existing halfway house - no way.

Opening a Hell's Angels clubhouse - no problem.

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By citcle (anonymous) | Posted June 04, 2011 at 12:24:47 in reply to Comment 64507

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 12, 2011 at 14:10:45 in reply to Comment 64573

Sinkholes? None of these organizations borrow one dime of public money.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 08:26:17

In 1951 Hamilton City Council enacted the first comprehensive Zoning By-Law 6593. This By-law is still in force with a myriad of amendments and mutations. It is no wonder that we are hopelessly stuck. We may be the only City with a Zoning By-law that is 60 years old and counting. There was some initial optimism about the New Urban OP, with regards to adaptive reuse of older buildings, however this will not be the case. According to Al Fletcher one of the "architects" of this new zoning regime, the only relief will be the elimination of a rezoning fee. Everything else mentioned here in this article will remain.

Gary Santucci
The Pearl Company

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By Peter (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 22:45:09 in reply to Comment 64508

I'm not entirely sure but I believe that Hamilton, like most cities, simply purchased their zoning by-laws in the 1950s from an American city...somewhere in Arizona perhaps? I'll look into that further but I recall reading about this years ago. It just shows how insane it all is.

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By PaulV (registered) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 08:50:39

Brutal yet motivating. PLEASE Ryan, we need you down at City Hall!!

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2011 at 12:02:43

What these massive costs mean is that only individuals or institutions with massive resources can undertake development projects. Anybody else - even if they have everything necessary to actually do the work - simply gets excluded. This isn't just a matter of the "creative class" - it's a much more old-fashioned kind of class exclusion, and it applies to at least 90% of the population of this city. How many among us even have the ability to borrow enough to pay the Pearl Company's six-figure rezoning bill?

These charges are a tax on originality - they drive costs up for unique designs and streamline the approvals of standardized structures (fast food, suburban tract housing etc). If you are going to attempt something unique, it will probably have to focus on higher-income customers if you wish to make ends meet - not the easiest task when you can only afford to set up shop in low-income neighbourhoods. And then there's the huge drop in building quality as prices are squeezed and cheap, standardized "conventional" construction techniques are given the easiest approvals.

I'm all for giving neighbours a say in nearby development, as well as performance based codes, and those which ensure structural safety. But as it stands, this department seems to be acting like some sort of bizarre bureaucratic extortion racket. It's stamping out small-scale, inoffensive uses like backpackers hostels and paying no attention to falling buildings directly off the town's main square. These laws need to be scrapped, and until they are we're going to see their gloomy legacy everywhere around us.

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By michel (registered) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 18:57:11

For what its worth.

Since the announcement of Sheila Fraser's retirement as Auditor General of Canada - a dark omen for Canada - I have fermented the idea that an immediate way out of our zoning/by-law constipation would be to hire her (well maybe someone else of her caliber and independence of mind, if they exist, but certainly from well outside this area) to do a forensic audit of these departments going back say ten years.

Amongst others things,these audits would follow the fate of permit applications from beginning to end, analyze time, cost, outcome, cause and impact.

We will never be able to get change if we expect restructure to be from within - to much enshrined interests.

Citizens need to DEMAND that a forensic audit be performed ASAP as an initial step towards the complete revisit of these pivotal municipal services. m.

Comment edited by michel on 2011-06-03 18:58:08

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By Mr. SErious (anonymous) | Posted June 04, 2011 at 19:59:32

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 04, 2011 at 21:22:47 in reply to Comment 64585

Rebuttal to what exactly? If you want a serious reply, you might want to a) start out with a little less sarcasm and b) do a smidgen of research before making accusations and assumptions.

When the Artist's Inc bought it, the initial inspection showed that there was some structural work that needed to be done in the second and third buildings from the corner (they bought 4 buildings in total).

After interior renovations and removal began, they uncovered the fact that a previous owner had removed the entire shared structural wall between the 2nd and 3rd buildings and added no support. The architects deemed it unfit for occupation.

THe corner building and the fourth building in still stand, and if you have been there lately you'll notice that the corner building is being renovated (including a new facade) an infill building is being built to link the two. Unfortunately city restrictions mean that the infill building can have very little glass and limited height etc.

Not sure what you are getting at with your previous comments, but perhaps it might be worthwhile to compare this renovation with, say, rokbar - where they requested a demolition permit, got denied, and then had a big whoopsie where they removed a structural wall by accident, causing partial collapse which then allowed them to get approval for full demolition in order to build the beautiful piece of architecture that stands there now

But I suppose in your view, we should blame all of the musicians in the city for that one...



Comment edited by seancb on 2011-06-04 21:25:29

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 04, 2011 at 22:09:00

Well said, and I think we are "seriously" sick of trolling on serious matters like this.

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By vamp (anonymous) | Posted June 04, 2011 at 22:30:52

Why post a picture of a vamp?

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By why not vamp? (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2011 at 10:33:40 in reply to Comment 64589

looks like that kind of photo is about all that comes up in a google image search for "rokbar hamilton"

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2011 at 08:25:13

Just trying to tie your pictures in the article to others on the site. Are the second and third pictures in your article how we get our density right up there with places like Carcasonne and Dublin?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 07, 2011 at 17:00:29 in reply to Comment 64595

Still beating on that straw man, I see.

What I wrote was:

Downtown Hamilton has exactly the same form factor as downtown Dublin or downtown Galway: 2-4 storey buildings with street-level retail.

I also wrote:

You would have us continue making the same decisions that produced the current state of affairs, however deplorable, rather than study what other cities have done differently in order to produce different results.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 07, 2011 at 20:13:00 in reply to Comment 64685

It is anything but a straw man. We disagree about the density of Hamilton. Downtown, uptown and everywhere. There simply is no part of this city that has a structure and therefore a density like Carcassonne, or Dublin or any one of a thousand European cities. We have a very limited amount of the multi story buildings and many many single family homes. There it is the exact opposite. No matter how much you wish to ignore this it will not change and go away.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 07, 2011 at 23:09:10 in reply to Comment 64693

There simply is no part of this city that has a structure and therefore a density like Carcassonne, or Dublin or any one of a thousand European cities.

That is flat-out false. The form factor of lower-city Hamilton is strikingly similar to European cities that have thriving downtowns as well as extensive suburbs - places like Carcassonne.

The problem here is that our regulatory system provides a huge incentive to build low densities on suburban, single-use zoned greenfields, and a huge disincentive to renovate existing buildings or otherwise invest in infill development.

You seem profoundly reluctant to admit that while not everyone wants to live in an urban environment, many people do. Other cities seem to understand this, and they are busy taking advantage of that understanding to revitalize their downtown cores, attract huge numbers of new residents and significantly reduce their per-resident municipal operating costs while at the same time building up their local economic development engines.

Let me ask you: what do you think would happen if Hamilton established a secondary plan for the lower city that applied a King-Spadina style regulatory framework?

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted June 07, 2011 at 21:37:59 in reply to Comment 64693

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

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By Rebecca (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2011 at 10:06:03

This is just sad. It looks like this "grom" person has nothing better to do than attack one person- you're not interested in contributing meaningfully to this article and the discussion, you just want to level insults. If Mr. Jelly is just some clown that looks like Randy from trailer park boys, why do you seem to be so obviously envious of him and his place in the community? So much that you need to insult him though comments on an article that doesn't even mention him? Sad sad sad.

You need to get laid.

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By MEC (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2011 at 12:50:46

I can't help by lament about Mountain Equipment Co-Op when reading this (excellent, btw) article! Thanks for this, Ryan.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 06, 2011 at 19:35:58

Not sure how I missed this, but from February: http://www.dundasstarnews.com/news/artic...

Instead of allowing a two storey building with a cohesive streetwall to be built facing King and Millers Lane, our outdated zoning laws will ensure that a parking lot faces one of the streets instead.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 06, 2011 at 20:15:51

Meanwhile, down in Ward 3 where legit businesses are shut down every week, these guys have no problem setting up shop, and aren't even bothering to hide it. Why would they. They'll be welcome with open arms.


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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 07, 2011 at 21:57:59

Development charges 2011 Toronto vs Hamilton...

Single detached home ... $14,025/$26,182, 86.7% higher
Multiple Dwelling ... $11,240/$18,766, 66.9% higher
Apartment unit 2+ bedroooms ... $9,040/$16,064, 77.7% higher
Apartment 1 bedroom/bachelor ... $5,823/$10,735, 84.4% higher

High development fees are a great way to bring people to Hamilton.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 08, 2011 at 14:39:25 in reply to Comment 64695

And yet developers are still flocking to grab every last parcel of land in our suburban area. We have constant growth on the mountain wards converting green-fields into tract housing.

So, Mr. Smith, since you're so big on the Invisible Hand, what do the laws of Supply and Demand say we should do in this case?

Lower prices?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2011 at 17:28:15 in reply to Comment 64726

>> what do the laws of Supply and Demand say we should do in this case? Lower prices?

Exactly, we should scrap development charges. As you can see, as these charges have increased, housing starts in Hamilton have fell.

2005 - 1,683 0.0032/resident, $2.35M development fees
2006 - 1,407 $3.76M
2007 - 1,207 $382K
2008 - 1,146 $27.99M
2009 - 742 0.0014/resident, $11.1M,

Here are the numbers for Toronto...

2005 - 15,602
2006 - 12,726
2007 - 8,854 0.0032/resident
2008 - 19,710 0.0072/resident
2009 - 11,919 23.6% drop off from 2005-09, 56% for Hamilton.

Notice the per capita new housing starts. From 2005-09, Toronto's worst year (2007) tied Hamilton's best year (2005).

From 2005-09, Toronto had a total of 68,811 new housing starts, Hamilton had 6,185. If you assume we are 5X smaller than Toronto, we should have had around 13,600 new homes built. Instead, we had only 45% of that number.

Curiously enough, residential tax rates in Hamilton are almost double that of Toronto, while development fees are around 80% higher.

Ask yourself why Walmart is so successful? It's because it keep prices low for consumers. If the City of Hamilton ever clues into this winning formula, we may catch up to Toronto, or even surpass it as the place to live.

Or, we could follow the high tax Detroit model and watch as entire city blocks pick up and leave for greener pastures.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted June 09, 2011 at 12:54:42 in reply to Comment 64739

A Smith...wonder how this would explain Halton Region, which has instituted residential development charges which are nearly double Hamilton's (and still don't fully pay for all of the costs of suburban growth in the region). Yet one of the three communities there is the fastest growing city in Canada (Milton).

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2011 at 16:08:26 in reply to Comment 64765

>> wonder how this would explain Halton Region

You make an excellent point. Milton is growing very fast with far lower tax rates and higher development fees. Perhaps we should copy them and lower our tax rates to...

Residential - .851% from 1.479%
Commercial - 1.983% from 3.915%
Industrial - 3.125% from 5.563%

and then up our development fees.

When you consider that development fees only gave Hamilton $11M in 2009, compared to $675M in taxes, following this model would force the Hamilton to temporarily take on more debt and/or cut back on services.

But you're exactly right, if we want to enjoy strong growth like Milton, we should probably learn from what they are doing.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 09, 2011 at 16:39:50 in reply to Comment 64778

Great idea! To be more like Milton we could have no downtown to speak of, no existing infrastructure to pay for and a bunch of farmland we can cheaply convert to new houses and not bother to pay for until 30 years from now when they start to age and need expensive maintenance, then someone else down the road can jack up property tax rates to pay for them when there's no more cheap farmland to milk.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 00:12:48 in reply to Comment 64780

Mississauga's tax revenues grew 27.4% from 2005-2009, while spending only grew 18.7%.

Hamilton's tax revenues grew 17.4% in the 2005-09 time frame, while spending increased 45.7%.

In fact, Mississauga has approximately $17,359 in accumulated surplus per person, while Hamilton has just $7,760.

If lower tax rates are supposed to be bad for a city's finances, how is it that Mississauga is so much stronger financially than Hamilton?

Not that you're asking, but here's a way Hamilton could lower tax rates while also reducing the risk of revenue shortfalls...

Call Harper's bluff.

1) Harper professes to love tax cuts.
2) Hamilton has very high taxes/rates
3) Harper is a politician and therefore has no problem spending money to buy votes.

Knowing these three things, city council should introduce a massive tax reduction and then advertise this tax cut as a local version of Harper's GREAT vision for Canada.

If Harper supports this tax reduction, he is then on the hook if the added revenues don't show up. If he balks at it, he will have to explain why he supports HIS tax cuts, not just politically, but ideologically.

Who knows, if we become Harper's biggest supporter, we may even generate enough personal goodwill that he fast-tracks Hamilton's LRT.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 08, 2011 at 14:32:02 in reply to Comment 64695

But do even Hamilton's development charges actually cover the cost of a new building with roads, water, and municipal services?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 08, 2011 at 14:52:52 in reply to Comment 64725


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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2011 at 10:42:51

75% of the Municipal budget is tied up in compensation and benefits for municipal employees. In 1991 the Old City of Hamilton employed 3400 people. Now post amalgamation the New City of Hamilton employs 8500 people. Amalgamation was supposed to save taxes and produce efficiencies. Fees such as the ones stated above are charged at ever increasing rates to sustain the unsustainable. It is no wonder that our tax base is 88% residential (including apartments) and 12% commercial.

Gary Santucci
The Pearl Company

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By I like sports (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2011 at 16:46:15

Hamilton should build a professional size baseball stadium in the West Harbour.

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