OMB Settlement Puts Brakes on Aerotropolis Expansion

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 26, 2006

Yesterday, Hamiltonians for Progressive Development (HPD) and the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing reached a settlement with the city over city council's decision, in 2005, to expand the urban boundary by 1,254 hectares around Hamilton International Airport.

Raise the Hammer asked Michael Desnoyers and Jack Santa-Barbara, the co-directors of HPD, to explain what the ruling means for the city's plans.

Study Area, Not Boundary Expansion

Desnoyer explained that the settlement establishes clearly that the 1,254 hectares is a "study area", not an "urban boundary expansion".The council decision had specified that once the studies were complete, the area would automatically open up for development without a further City Council decision.

This is no longer the case. Once the studies are complete, the matter will have to return to City Council for further debate and approval before final urban boundary is expanded.

In addition, the settlement stipulates that the study period must include "extensive public consultation," a process that may take another five years to complete.

Desnoyers wrote:

We believe it does protect these valuable agricultural lands in the short term from any sort of automatic expansion and at least gives the public another opportunity for input. A significant task for us as a group going forward will be to press for the public consultation and ensure that the process is transparent.

The studies will also be able to establish more accurately how much the city will have to pay to service the aerotropolis lands. Last year, Mayor Larry Di Ianni said, "I can tell you this, categorically, that if the city has to come up with a hundred million dollars to make this project go, it's not on for me. I'd be against it."

However, the final decision will ultimately rest with a different Council after at least one, and possibly two, more municipal elections.

Peak Oil and Transportation Planning

Desnoyers and Santa-Barbara both suggested that the economic assumptions that underlie the aerotropolis concept may change before the studies are complete. Desnoyers wrote, "we cannot predict with certainty the impacts of declining fossil fuels on this airport but the industry in general is suffering under the high cost of fuel."

Santa-Barbara went further, arguing that Hamilton's entire transportation strategy will have to adapt to reflect the changing global energy situation. He pointed out, "the costs and availability of liquid fuels will affect not only the airline industry, but any business dependent on cheap transportation.

If employment lands are developed around the airport (regardless of whether they are related to air transport), reductions in the availability of cheap liquid fuels could have a dramatic impact on their future profitability, and therefore on employment.
Santa-Barbara believes that as the availability of cheap fuels declines, the economic model underlying globalization - on which aerotropolis development ultimately depends - will become less viable.

He noted that an economic development plan based on relocalization of energy and goods production "would look very different in terms of types of businesses which will thrive, and therefore the types of employment that will be attractive, vs. the City's current approach."

Earlier this year, Richard Gilbert made a similar argument in his report to city council on peak oil and energy planning.

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 jason (registered) | Posted September 26, 2006 at 09:31:37

yeehaw. we get 'public consultations' and so called unbaised 'studies'. Yea right. I'm sure this process will be as open and transparent as Vision 2020 or GRIDS. In other words, a decision is already made, now the city will go through the charade of having you and I waste our time coming out to meetings thinking that our opinions actually matter, when in reality, they don't.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 26, 2006 at 09:58:19


The important issue here is that aerotropolis is no longer a fait accompli, and it will probably be at least five years before city council is ready do discuss it again.

In that time, the global energy situation may change significantly, and the city may no longer be able to ignore the declining long-term feasibility of aviation. Alternately, as the cascade of direct evidence for climate change builds to a crescendo (sorry for the mixed metaphor), it will get progressively harder to ignore how air transport contributes to that crisis.

This forces the planners to slow down, and gives groups like HPD and RTH a real chance to make our case, not only to the politicians and planners, but also to the public, most of whom already support sustainable development and relocalization in principle.

By that point, the city may finally have recognized the vast economic opportunities such a development plan would provide.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 26, 2006 at 11:22:31

good points. should be an interesting few years.

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By Jelly (anonymous) | Posted September 26, 2006 at 13:31:07

This is exciting news. It's been interesting to see how citizens groups in Hamilton are starting to get the idea of how to affect change in Hamilton, and how to stop developers from railroading through giant projects without enough (or sometimes any) real public consultation: get the province involved.

I think for anyone who has been active in municipal politics in Hamilton knows by now that there is a massive collusion of interests at city hall, and our city government operates in it's own special way, ignoring many of the mandates of Vision 2020, or in this case, a provincial policy statement.

After working on the Lister project, I can say for sure that some members of city staff are tied to this collusion as well- or are at least afraid of losing their jobs if they don't play along with council's direction... it makes for a bad environment, one that is impenetrable to anyone with different ideas about the city's development.

The more and more the city operates this way, and the more and more citizens groups are given no other choice but to involve the province, perhaps someone at Queens Park will eventually ask "so, what the fuck is up with Hamilton?"

With the province's help, maybe we can break down the old boys network that has had a stranglehold on this city since the 1950's. A provincially-appointed municipal ombudsman would help, then at least we wouldn't have to call in Alan Wells every month.

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By steeltown (registered) | Posted September 26, 2006 at 21:06:57

Hey Jelly nice job on the job fair commercial haha

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By Jelly (anonymous) | Posted September 26, 2006 at 21:41:01


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