Opinion

Is Hamilton Destined for Yet Another Big Box Development?

At what point will our council decide that enough is enough and make an honest-to-goodness effort to turn our community into something other cities can look to for leadership?

By Frank Borger
Published June 16, 2009

Just recently, Hamilton council directed the Planning Committee to take another look at the deferred plans for a Walmart development at Fifty Road and the QEW in Winona. While this decision appeared to be a step in the right direction, council faces another big box development decision this week as they are to look at the plans for the Walmart development being proposed at Centennial Parkway and the QEW on the old Waxman site.

I live just down the road from this location and have contacted Councillor Chad Collins about the proposed development with some questions mostly related to the current lack of accessibility to anything other than a personal vehicle.

His responses were that the proposed changes are “an extension of the commercial development that’s existed on Centennial Parkway for decades” and that an extension of transit services to the development (which should include a hotel and a commercial office building) and sidewalks will be constructed in the Centennial Parkway reconstruction tentatively slated for next year.

In addition to that, he claimed that it would be a “poster child” for brownfield development as the old Waxman site was once one of the most contaminated sites in the City.

It’s not a stretch to think that our culture will soon start shifting from the use of personal vehicles to other modes of transport, whether it be on foot, bicycle or bus/light rail - as Jeff Rubin has stated in his book Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller. So why does Hamilton City Council refuse to promote development that will be sustainable in the future rather than development that while effective in the short term won’t be in the future?

In terms of being a poster child for brownfield development, am I wrong to think that it’s not a very good one if the new development on the site is not environmentally sound or forward-thinking?

Big Box: Economic Drain, Environmental Damage

I came across a report by the State of Maryland’s Department of Planning entitled “Big Box” Retail Development [PDF link] published in 2001, in which the effects of Big Box development on the community as a whole are investigated. The findings in this report closely paralleled those in a book called The Impact of Big-Box Development on Toronto’s Retail Structure by Ken Jones and Michael Doucet.

Proponents of the big box style of development often cite things like economic benefit and job creation as a reason for their support. In contast, these studies found that while they create an overall increase in employment in the related category (i.e. general merchandise), they actually cause a decrease in employment in the non-big-box retail employment.

In short, more people work at the big box stores, taking employees away from the smaller stores in the town. Studies also found that there was an immediate decrease in sales at the smaller stores as a result, plus a decrease in the sales of the big box stores after three years, as well as a high closure rate for smaller stores in the area.

In terms of environmental impacts, they found:

A 110,00 square foot shopping centre can generate as many as 946 car trips per hour and 9,710 trips per day. While this may be somewhat comparable to conventional retailers, big-box retailers generate far more truck trips due to higher sales volumes and merchandise turnover. For example, a home improvement store can generate 35 tractor-trailer trips per day.

In addition, they found that they increase the demand for sewer and water services, create developments that are designed to be inaccessible to pedestrians, cause increased traffic congestion (think the Meadowlands on a Sunday afternoon), higher accident rates, excessive noise … and the list goes on. All of these present a financial toll on the local economy.

How Much Is Enough?

My question now is this: How many big box developments are necessary? At what point will our council decide that enough is enough and make an honest-to-goodness effort to turn our community into something other cities can look to for leadership in sound, forward-thinking development practices, rather than forcing us to repeat other cities' mistakes?

Frank Borger is an engineering technologist who lives in Stoney Creek. He moved to Hamilton when he was 18 and has lived in East Hamilton, the West Mountain and Downtown. He grew up in Beamsville.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 16, 2009 at 19:02:40

great piece Frank. Very enjoyable read. Welcome to the RTH stable!

Sadly, reports like the ones you quote have been coming out for years. Unfortunately, the public is still 'split' on whether these examples are true because the box stores have endless cash to throw around with 'studies' of their own, endless media time and expensive public relations that no researchers could ever dream of matching.

It's becoming more and more embarrassing to call Hamilton home with all of these backwards developments.

You'd think it was 1990 all over again....which I guess is better than most of the time when council makes it feel like it's 1950 again.

Regardless, I'm holding out hope that the city can fend off the big boxers at the Innovation District and I'm less hopeful that big boxers (Walmart is the latest rumour) will be kept out of the other box project planned for Barton and Ferguson. Living downtown I feel like an encroaching army is slowly advancing on all sides. Give me a boarded up Lister Block any day of the week over a 200,000 square feet slab of stucco blue.

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By TJessop (anonymous) | Posted June 16, 2009 at 23:37:19

The Neptis Foundation has just released another really good report on this topic. It was written by Ron Buliung and Tony Hernandez and is called 'Places to Shop and Places to Grow: Power Retail, Consumer Travel Behaviour, and Urban Growth Management in the Greater Toronto Area'.

The report is available on their website, neptis.org.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 17, 2009 at 08:55:52

Reported today on CHML:


Issues involving WalMart continue to dominate the city's planning committee.

The retail giant's application to build in Winona remains on hold, but it has gained approvals for two other stores in Hamilton.

The committee has voted 5-to-2 to allow for construction of a new WalMart on Centennial Parkway near the QEW, replacing the store that is currently at Eastgate Square.

Wal Mart has also received approval to expand the size of its store on Rymal Road in Glanbrook.

An O.M.B. appeal of the new Centennial Parkway location is considered possible, due to the rezoning of that land from industrial to commercial.

http://www.900chml.com/Channels/Reg/News...

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 09:08:46

Yup, I heard that to. I can't find the list of who voted what tho. I'd be almost 100% that Collins voted for. Hurray for the big box dump...

Don't they realize that developing like this is like curing cancer with kidney disease? It's still poor practice and not sustainable in the world we're heading towards.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 09:10:47

Jason, the problem is that the city isn't even really trying to fend off anything. They're stalling in Winona because aside from the obvious (building in the middle of no where) the Province sent them a letter about the development. City councillors have dollar signs in their eyes...

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 09:50:15

actually, believe it or not, they are fighting the big box proposal for the Innovation District. Granted, they don't have much choice. The local neighbourhood associations and business districts are very engaged along with an active downtown/west end populace that wants none of this in the Innovation District. The proposed jobs at WHID are too precious to waste on temporary box store developments that are destined to become our newest brownfields in a couple of decades.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 09:55:52

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 10:59:00

Capitalist, the developers are actually forcing the demand into their favour. If you take a look at the study I mentioned above, you'll see that the rate of failure for business in related industries to the big box development increases to almost 17 percent in the first year. Also, jobs migrate into the big-box developments. In effect, what a big box or power centre style of development does is shut down smaller associated business creating its own monopoly.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 11:06:25

yea, I'm sure all the local citizens would be outraged if one of our box plazas was 'de-malled' into a pedestrian-oriented shopping district with fountains, patios, apartments, green space and walkable streets. They'd march downtown on King St demanding a return to the glory days of box stores separated by 2,000 parking spaces.

Cities, warm and cold, all over the continent are doing this. Hamilton is still doing things 15 years behind....as usual.

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By H Magazine (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 11:23:58

Hamilton the same. Hamilton the ugly. Hamilton the uninspiring. Hamilton the boorish relative who just doesn't get it. Hamilton the blind.

Regardless of how many creative catalyst, downtown renewal or bike lane surveys and open houses they do - those positive developments will never be able to transform our city if council continues to support big box style developments on the fringes.

Wouldn't it be amazing if Winona decided it wanted a true town centre with shops, tourism activities and real local initiatives. Perhaps a Farmers' Market or something to welcome visitors to the wine region of Niagara?

Really how far is it to drive from Winona to the new Great Canadian Superstore in Grimsby to get those essentials that these people say they need close by?

This is very short sighted thinking and the history books will be telling in twenty years time just as we saw the modernization in our core stunt this city's progress 40 years ago...

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By JonC (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 11:37:58

In addition to Frank's comments, the city goes out of their way to build infrastructure below cost for new "power centres" while creating an environment in commercial districts that is not conducive to conducting business.

On a related note, this is an interesting piece about the failure of downtown malls, reminding me specifically that the Eaton Centre was sold for 5% of it's cost a decade after it opened. http://www.fes.uwaterloo.ca/planning/pub...

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 12:32:30

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By The Nightmare is Real (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 12:35:54

^ He's baaa-a-aaack!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 12:56:20

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 13:34:24

Logical comment: after a nice breath of fresh air during which people could actually have a polite discussion on RTH you've suddenly returned to spam the board with your one-note obsessive fixation on tax rates as the cure for every problem in the city even though there are no cities anywhere on earth that have become prosperous by cutting their tax rates to the bone, eliminating all public services and privatizing their essential infrastructure (but a lot of poor, oppressive, horrible places to live that have done this).

Now do us all a favour and go back where you came from. Your commentary is irrelevant and disruptive and insulting and nobody else cares about what you think, since you obviously don't care about what anyone else thinks. Better yet go start your own Hamilton blog and promote your low tax libertardian haven until your fingers fall off. In the meantime people who care about reality are trying to have a conversation.

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 13:39:07

jones i sympathize but everytime you reply to the troll you just encourage him to keep posting. stop feeding the troll and he'll eventually get bored and walk away. if you want to express your disapproval do it with the downvote button.

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By caesar (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 13:55:54

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 13:57:49

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 14:17:51

Good lord, someone block his IP... Anyway, it's quite obvious that you didn't read what was written previously because what you call sensible just overlooks the reasons for the comments you quote.

H Magazine, I don't like calling Hamilton all those things. Partly because I don't that Hamilton is like that, it's the politicians we have that decide to make our city appear that way and partly because it gives them the opportunity to leave things at the status quo rather than stepping up. The general populace doesn't want our city to remain this way. Methinks, time for some new blood at City Hall.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 17, 2009 at 14:25:30

A Smith wrote:

In Massachusetts, Oregon and California where the voters capped government spending and taxation...

Let's take a single example. Boston's residential property tax rate is around $10.75 per $1,000 of assessed value, or 1.075 percent - a bit more than double what you're proposing that Hamilton adopts. (Its commercial property tax rate is around $26 per $1,000 of assessed value, or 2.6 percent.)

As I and other commenters have noted previously, Boston is able to charge a lower property tax rate because its property values are higher. In fact, Boston has some of the highest property values anywhere in North America, particularly clustered in its surviving 18th- and 19th century urban neighbourhoods - neighbourhoods that survived the wrecking ball of "economic progress" because of strong public engagement by preservationists starting in the middle of last century.

If you compare various cities, you will find that the average dollar amounts charged in property taxes on equivalent properties is quite constant, with the respective rates varying based on property values (i.e. places with higher property values can afford to charge lower rates) to achieve that constant dollar amount.

That dollar amount, of course, is the money cities need to operate. Without that revenue, cities would have to cut or eliminate large swaths of the public services that residents have come to expect and which are necessary for a high quality of life.

Again let us recall that you advocate precisely this move: cutting or eliminating public services and letting the magic of unregulated free markets provide what people want.

It would be remiss, at this point, not to observe that Boston - that paragon of disciplined taxation and high property values - provides extensive and comprehensive public services. Of particular note is an excellent public transit system that includes five electric rail lines. This is not to mention a public library that is so well maintained and appointed it doubles as a tourist attraction.

caesar wrote:

if the mob doesn't agree with someone's comment it gets voted down

It may seem that way if you're not familiar with the history of A Smith's comments. In fact, he is being downvoted because of a long and unpleasant history of trolling, rude and insulting language, and disrupting civil conversations - no matter the topic - with his narrow, dogmatic obsession with tax cuts and deregulation.

Frankly, RTH readers have had enough.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 14:42:55

In Massachusetts, Oregon and California where the voters capped government spending and taxation...

Just another day in low tax heaven:

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/15/AR2009061503249.html?nav=hcmodule

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By hmag (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 14:47:41


Frank said "H Magazine, I don't like calling Hamilton all those things."

I didn't mean to offend. I should have prefaced those comments with those are the things that council and developers think of our great city.

Just had a few bad days of reading the news...

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 14:58:58

Thanks highwater. Here's the relevant part for people who don't want to spool through the whole article:

"(California) entered the downturn burdened with an inflexible budgeting apparatus, constrained by a state ballot initiative approved by voters in 1978 that severely limited property taxes in California. The signature example of "ballot box budgeting" left the Golden State inordinately reliant on the personal income tax, which accounts for half of revenue to Sacramento.

"California's budget is also heavily dependent on taxes paid on capital gains and stock options, which have been clobbered during the meltdown of financial markets. State budget analysts made their annual estimate of revenue a month before the crisis spiked in the fall and have been backpedaling ever since."

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By synxer (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 16:03:27

"your low tax libertardian haven"

Very important to note: all political sides have great ideas to offer. Left, right, centre or otherwise.

Not entirely supporting my argument, but definitely one of my favorite Chris Rock quotes: "We all got a gang mentality. Republicans are *ing idiots. Democrats are *ingidiots. And Conservatives are idiots. And Liberals are idiots. Anyone that makes up their mind before they hear the issue is a **ing fool okay."

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 19:04:21

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 01:20:39

Where this model of development is headed is already known:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/finan...

This region keeps going this way that is what is going to happen! Such waste ...

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By synxer (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 09:19:20

From The Spec, (http://thespec.com/News/Local/article/585921) thought this to be interesting regarding Mayor Miller's support for a Hamilton NHL team and thoughts on arenas in the suburbs:

"Explaining that a new NHL team needs to be located in the centre of a city, close to transit, Miller told the Star that "the only place to go is Hamilton ... an urban centre and that's where the team has to be."

He said he would "never support having a major rink in a suburban place in a rink that everybody has to drive ... a rink surrounded by parking lots."

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 09:39:36

Where this model of development is headed is already known:

That's why I keep nagging my architect friends and relatives to start building with biodegradable building materials. That way, when this business model fails, as it inevitably will, we can just plow the buildings under and start farming!

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By hgreenwood (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 15:25:19

Being no longer a Hamilton resident I will refrain from voting, however I do have a comment. I recall the times when the the members of City Council reflected the culture of Hamilton, a city with a strong Union base where the dignity of its citizens provided its strength, Dofasco even used the term in their advertising blurbs. WAL-MART violates every principle of human dignity by its presence in any community. It has the most unfair labour practices of any enterprise in the world, it cheats on government regulations and it contributes to the impoverishment of people and in the communities where they tend to exploit. Its big boxes are a scab on the lanscape, developmentaly, politically and socially and morally and even the most inept City government should be discussing those deficiencis before allowing them into the neigbourhood. Where is the spirit of the sixties which sent Mel Lastman and his Bad Boy Store running with his tail between his legs. I can't vote but I sure hope I can influence one and hope for a big NO to WAL-MART.

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By historian (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2009 at 13:44:26

I certainly endorse the comments of hgreenwood and they should be made into posters and placed on all of Hamilton's busses. I wonder if this is or is related to the Harry Greenwood the Hamilton activist from better days?

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