Special Report: Aerotropolis

Recommendations to Planning Committee on Airport Employment Growth District

This presentation on the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) was submitted to the City's Planning Committee on behalf of Environment Hamilton.

By Don McLean
Published February 19, 2014

Focus on Brownfield Redevelopment First

1. A fiscally and environmentally healthy Hamilton requires that the bayfront industrial lands be Council's priority in expanding employment and industrial assessment.

It is irresponsible to delay the cleanup and reuse of these lands and dump this problem onto the shoulders of our grandchildren simply because it is easier to destroy more foodlands.

It is particularly fiscally and environmentally irresponsible to locate warehouses and trucking centres on greenfield lands while there are so many opportunities for these uses on under-used bayfront lands.

2. While the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) determined the size of the AEGD, it failed to understand that there is far more available land along the bayfront than calculated by city consultants.

The detailed review of the industrial tax records of the city by the Hamilton Civic League in mid-2012 revealed hundreds of acres of vacant and underutilized land.

For example, the city records show over 600 properties receiving vacancy tax rebates. This alone represents an enormous on-going current fiscal loss that should be a Council priority to end.

The October 2013 announcement of the end of steelmaking on US Steel properties adds another 800 acres to the available lands inventory.

3. Comments have been made that these lands are not available because the city does not own them and those who do may not want to sell them. But compare that to the AEGD, where the city also does not own the land and where the majority of those who do are quite openly stating that they don't want to use them for industrial purposes.

The owners of brownfield sites face large challenges in achieving re-use of their lands for anything but industrial purposes.

The owners of the greenfield properties in the AEGD (whatever its final boundary) face no such challenges and fully understand that residential and/or commercial development is far more lucrative, and in immediate demand, than acceding to the city's wishes for their lands to be used for industrial purposes.

4. The climate crisis demands that we quickly shift to less polluting means of transportation. Both water and rail transport are immediately available on the bayfront; neither are at the AEGD. Even major highway access is far greater on the bayfront.

Air transport is the most greenhouse gas intensive shipping mode and the one least likely to be replaceable by non-fossil fuel alternatives.

5. Hamilton has a $2 billion accumulated shortfall in the maintenance of existing municipal infrastructure, and is falling another $200 million a year behind on this critical task. In this situation it is irresponsible to plan for a half billion dollar expansion in pipes and roads.

This is another example of dumping unsolvable problems on our grandchildren, and should be seen as shameful.

Move Cautiously to Develop the AEGD

6. The cost per hectare to service the AEGD has most likely been increased by the OMB decision to reduce its size. Staff have determined that a portion of the AEGD can be serviced before constructing new trunk water and sewer mains.

The last Council wisely endorsed a phasing approach that limited development to the serviceable portion and until such time as it was largely complete before considering further AEGD development. Since the latter will require new trunks, the cost per hectare will be significantly higher, and Council needs to seriously re-examine the AEGD plans at that point.

In this regard, the pressure for residential and commercial development of airport area lands is a significant risk. The OMB, not Council, will ultimately make this decision. If it agrees with some of the landowners that their properties are "more suitable" for residential or commercial development, then the available capacity in the water and sewer systems could easily be captured by that development, leaving the city with a requirement to provide new trunks to service all or almost all the AEGD.

7. The identified service expenditures, plus the ongoing severe discounting of development charges by both provincial limits and Hamilton Council decisions, means the AEGD poses a significant financial burden on taxpayers.

The numbers are stark. City staff understand that provincial law denies municipalities 25 percent of growth costs. Hamilton's industrial development charge discount is currently a further 44 percent of the remainder.

The math shows we're only collecting 42 percent of industrial growth costs, with the remainder borne by existing taxpayers.

8. We have been told that burden will be much greater because additional subsidies will be provided to attract development, and the experience of the massive subsidies to Maple Leaf suggests this is a very real possibility. Council should not agree to this.

Boundary Configuration Advice

9. Two options are being recommended by staff. They are not equivalent. Option 1a exceeds the maximum legal AGED size of 555 net hectares determined by the OMB. The reason given for option 1a is that it will accommodate the potential expansion of Redeemer College onto a 30 ha parcel on Garner Road.

There is no need to expand the AEGD to achieve this goal. This can easily be done by option 1. The existing AEGD zoning allows for institutional uses.

10. The previous Council unwisely overruled staff and expanded the AEGD at the last minute beyond staff recommendations. This Council should not make the same mistake. The configuration set out in Option 1 seems most likely to achieve the objectives of minimizing servicing costs and providing a logical and defensible boundary.

Stop Opposing Provincial Smart Growth Policies

11. Environment Hamilton objected to the AEGD and appealed it entirely on grounds of its violation of provincial policies, especially as set out in the Provincial Policy Statement 2005 and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe ("Places to Grow").

We are extremely disappointed that the OMB chose not even to rule on those issues, but they remain absolutely crucial to the future of Hamilton and the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Council must implement them in good faith, not just provide lip service.

12. We can't afford more sprawl, and the AEGD as planned is the very definition of sprawl: a single-use, low-density development dependent on private transport.

The stated target of 37 jobs/persons per hectare is far below the level required for viable transit service, and the AEGD plans are sadly very unlikely to come anywhere close to achieving even this inadequate density.

13. It is very short-sighted to sacrifice foodlands if that can be avoided. Climate change is seriously undermining global food security. The current drought in California is an example. That state supplies half of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States.

Canada imports over 40 percent of its fruits and vegetables. The City's own studies on the future of agriculture in the Golden Horseshoe underline both the insecurity of food supplies in the face of climate change, as well as the problems with reduced agricultural lands.

Don McLean is chair of Friends of Red Hill Valley and coordinator of Citizens at City Hall, a volunteer group that has monitored city affairs since 2004 and distributes free news articles via email. The group can be contacted at info@hamiltoncatch.org.

16 Comments

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By Wondering (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:02:03

Well put. Thank you. Quick question: is it a feasible option to relocate the airport to the Bayfront industrial lands?

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By brinntache (registered) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:29:26

Well written, concise. Easy to share. More please. Maybe explain why the spec is anti-transit.

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By Pearlst (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:30:21

Why on earth would you want an airport flying over your downtown?

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By Wondering (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:39:50

Again, is it more feasible to relocate the airport to the industrial lands?

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By Reality (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:36:19

More crying from the losing side. You have been discredited at every turn on every issue you have ever opposed.

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By boats (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2014 at 13:28:15 in reply to Comment 97707

you mean like the red hill floodway? odd that we have had multiple "100 year" rainfall events in the last couple years. even the former mayor agreed that he was wrong and it was a mistake.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:44:48

So, why do we have to come up with elaborate "revenue tools" to pay for the transit expansion, but this massive hand-out to suburban developers is coming out of the general coffers?

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted February 19, 2014 at 15:56:07

The airport used to be located on the waterfront, no reason it can't be put there again. WRT planes over the city - look up some time - the entire city is in the flight path - and it's not like airplanes are more or less polluting than what's already on the lake front.

On the entire idea of better use for the brownfields, the reality is that the majority of that land is effectively a sacrifice zone - unless you're willing to excavate to bedrock and deal with the hazardous waste problem. Wouldn't a use that is compatible (paving it for airstrips, putting in manufacturing/warehousing) and cap it over, largely preventing water flow through it.

Or we can just pave farms and put in houses with 42' frontage on roads that lack sidewalks and make sure we're the last city in north america that is car dependent.

The AEGD & LRT are hundred year decisions - and they're both being made by people who are unable to see past the next election cycle who are influenced primarily by people who are unable to see past the next quarterly earnings report - that's not how you run a society.

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By Wondering (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 16:55:42 in reply to Comment 97713

Thank you. Relocating the airport to the bayfront industrial lands seems to make good sense, but I'm not sure what the space needs are for the airport, etc. I was just wondering if it had been seriously considered recently. Any information on that would be nice.

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By Awe-struck (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 21:12:06

Maybe they should clean up Chippewa creek.
It flows right past my house and is so polluted I don't even want my kids to go near it and it's all thanks to the Hamilton Airport. That doesn't make sence though does it Hamilton???
Hamilton is like the person who's car breaks down and they go buy a new one instead of fixing the old no matter how simple.
Shame on Hamilton May this Airport fiasco doom us forever!

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:59:07

Don McLean? I'm surprised your still posting. I though you would have stopped after RHVP was built and the world came to an end?

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By mdesnoyers@etratech.com (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 16:25:07

Capitalist - please tell us what you have done of ANY significance that might lead us to attribute even a minor amount of significance to anything that you say.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 18:07:57

Thank you for your comment Mr desnoyer.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 16:57:30

Ok Don McLean,

You and a number of people on this site always talk about how we should focus on brownfields first however they are not attractive to most businesses for the following reasons:

1. Cost of cleaning contaminated land (both money and time) would harm business competitiveness and they would look to other locations
2. Proximity to polluting industries is not attractive to food processing, high tech, bio etc
3. Most brownfields are in small land parcels that don't accommodate larger developments.

I am not against brownfields development and would love it if Hamilton's old waterfront industrial was teaming with business again and all brownfields are gone but that is not going to happen for the reasons I mentioned.

You need to face the market realities and work within them. Some businesses may be attracted to the waterfront brownfields (usually port related) but not many. If we focus on brownfields at the expense of AEGD or other greenfield then we will lose a whole generation of investment (again!) to neighboring municipalities. We would not have gotten the Canada Bread and Maple Leaf investments if we did not develop greenfield sites. They would have just moved on to other munis taking there jobs and tax assessment with them.

Hamilton will not attract commercial and industrial assessment unless we have greenfield sites. That is a fact of life that you all need to accept or business will by-pass Hamilton once again. If you don't beleive me then go for a drive along the QEW in Burlington and Oakville and you can see all the business that by-passed Hamilton because we did not have greenfields with highway access.

Business doesn't care about "smart growth", "sprawl" or any of this other nonsense. They operate in the real world where they have to compete to stay alive. If Hamilton doesn't provide what they need they will move on.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 24, 2014 at 17:52:39 in reply to Comment 97876

Brownfields are actually cheaper to develop than greenfields and are easy to fill once they have been developed. The main challenge is that it is harder to get financing for a brownfield development, although this is starting to change as financial institutions learn more about them.

The big issue in Hamilton is that City policy is to spend hundreds of millions of dollars preparing greenfields for development while simultaneously ignoring its existing stock of brownfields. The ERASE program provides some incentive to a developer already remediating a brownfield, but there is no broader strategy and the amounts are tiny compared to what we plow into greenfields.

Even worse, every time a property owner demands that we rezone an industrial greenfield next to the highway for single-family residential or big-box commercial use, the City caves and allows the rezoning. Have no doubt that this will continue if and when we develop the AEGD.

Individual businesses might not care about smart growth but city leaders should. Every brownfield that is developed helps the city's long-term finances by making more productive use of existing civic infrastructure; whereas every greenfield that is developed hurts the city's long-term finances by increasing its infrastructure obligations.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2014-02-24 17:54:07

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 11:48:27 in reply to Comment 97879

Your link was a very good article. However, by cost I am also referring to the time involved with remediation and development of brownfields. The added time involved increases the risks in a construction project that could potentially drive up dollar costs, also you will be later in providing your goods or services to the marketplace, this can place you at a competitive disadvantage.

I don't think it is fair to say that the city ignores brownfields. Remember these are mostly privately owned. Hamilton Economic development probably gets very few inquires from business on developing these sites but many seeking greenfields (thus the push for AEGD).

I love seeing brownfield redevelopments into anything productive (even parkland would help) but greenfield is what is required to attract new business. That is the reality. If we don't have it than Hamilton loses.

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