Downtown Bureau

Hamiltonians Want Responsible Change and a Liveable Downtown

The City's adoption of a blanket 30-storey height limit for downtown Hamilton is a significant break from previous discussions with the community.

By Cameron Kroetsch and Shawn Selway
Published March 19, 2018

On March 6, about 200 people came together at the Central Library for an event organized by the People's Plan for Downtown Hamilton to talk about the City's proposed plan for downtown.

The event was organized over a couple of months by a small group of people, ourselves included, who reached out to leaders involved in distinct communities covering broad social areas like art, environment, heritage, immigration, music, neighbourhoods, small business, and tenants. We reached out to these people because we were concerned about what we saw in the new Downtown Secondary Plan.

There had been a dramatic shift in the proposed Plan when the City released a new draft in October 2017. We felt this was a big leap from what had been released in May 2017 and deviated greatly from the conversations that the City had been having with the community since 2011. We wanted to see what others thought about it.

Downtown building heights in the May draft of the Secondary Plan are given as a range.

Proposed maximum building heights, May 2017
Proposed maximum building heights, May 2017

In the October draft, the height range is largely replaced with 30 storey zoning.

Proposed maximum building heights, October 2017
Proposed maximum building heights, October 2017

People's Plan for Downtown

A group of about 20 people met at the Evergreen storefront on James North on February 6, 2018 to discuss the latest draft. To our surprise, there was a general consensus and a tone of concern about what was missing from the plan and who would be affected most by the changes. At the end of the meeting there was agreement that we ought to try to bring together a broad cross-section of Hamiltonians to talk about their downtown and the City's Plan for it.

We also thought that, if there were enough interest at the larger meeting, we ought to get together a petition and perhaps organize a workshop for people who wished to write letters to the City and/or delegate to the Planning Committee meeting on April 17 at which the final iteration of the Secondary Plan will be considered.

The second, much larger meeting, took place at the Central Library on March 6. We expected between 50-75 people to attend. More than 200 showed up to watch presentations about the Plan and its implications, and to get involved in the conversation. We had about 10 themed breakout tables with 10-15 participants at each.

People talked about what mattered in their particular communities, breakout chairs wrote this information down, and some of the organizers met over the weekend of March 10-11 to collate the material and draft a petition.

We're circulating the petition widely with the hope that the City will listen to what Hamiltonians have to say and that the next draft of the Plan, due to be released around March 19, will demonstrate that the City is listening.

Proposed tall building on the Kresge site on Gore Park
Thirty storeys on the Gore. LIUNA and a partner have permission to build something like this on the site of the now-demolished Kresge building on the Gore.

Who We Are

Apparently some find it troubling that there is no figurehead or leader of this group. Organizers, presenters, and bystanders were asked at the event about who the leader was, who sponsored this event, and what our intentions were. We are a loosely assembled collective of like-minded people who see a different future for the City of Hamilton than the one entailed by the current draft of the Downtown Secondary Plan.

We think we've been transparent about our intentions but to the rest of it: it's just a few community folks getting together to talk about something that affects us all. We're volunteers, we don't have a budget, and we're doing this strictly because we want everyone to be aware of what's being planned for their city and we want them to have a voice in the process.

We should add that this sort of event could not have happened without the previous efforts of groups, many made up of volunteers, like the Ward 2 Neighbourhood Associations, Environment Hamilton, the Hamilton Tenants' Solidarity Network, ACORN Hamilton, Immigrant Settlement Services, and the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic. Most of these organizations have been working away at the problems and challenges of our rapidly changing city for more than a decade.

We're happy to say that, at this point, both the petition and the workshop on letter writing and delegation are happening.

Position Statement

Although the March 6 meeting was about the Downtown Secondary Plan, those who attended had many other issues and problems to raise, so to accompany the petition we have compiled a position statement [PDF] that provides more details. We're still in the process of planning the details of the workshop.

There will be a very brief presentation, a chance to watch some successful delegations that have happened on similar issues, and then another opportunity to get into breakout groups to talk about strategies for ensuring that Council hears from the greatest possible number of us.

Conversations in Hamilton, of late, have been about tension, change, and what people envision for a possible future in this City. Many don't see a place for themselves in that future, and we want to change that. Every Hamiltonian who wants to be here should be able to stay, live, and thrive in this City.

For more on the March 6 meeting, see the article by The Inlet, who covered what happened at the event. Those who weren't able to attend on March 6 can check out our Facebook event page where all of the presentations have been posted.

Please sign our petition and come out to our workshop, which will be co-hosted by some of the Ward 2 Neighbourhood Associations, on April 3, 2018 at 6:30 PM at the Hamilton Public Library (Hamilton Room) to learn more about how to write a letter to the City about this and how to put together a delegation to City Hall for the Planning Committee meeting on April 17, 2017.

If you want to be added to our mailing list or to reach us for more information, send an email to or find us on Facebook.

Cameron Kroetsch moved to Hamilton in 2014. He's a labour relations professional, sometimes writer, and a passionate non-profit sector volunteer who cares about democracy in government and community advocacy.

Shawn Selway is a Stelco trained millwright who runs a consultancy in the interpretation and conservation of historic machinery. He lives in the North End with his family.


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By Wentworth (registered) | Posted March 19, 2018 at 08:53:35

The revised Downtown Secondary Plan (which is said to respond to comments relating to the Draft Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan, Zoning By-law, and Tall Buildings Study and Guidelines released in Oct 2017) is slated to be released to the public today.

If you're interested in reviewing the latest iteration of the DSP in person, documents will be available for viewing on the 5th floor of City Hall.

Because new high-density development is still a bit of a novelty in Hamilton (unlike in neighbouring Burlington), the City has not made use of the Planning Act's Section 37 provisions, but it would be inaccurate to suggest that s.37 is the way to ensure that a community is well-planned. It's an added-value item that includes a number of different options and outcomes, with community benefits most typically expressed as public art or parkettes, negotiated by the councillor on an à la carte basis. If increasing access to affordable housing is your goal, s.37 is a pale substitute for inclusionary zoning (which has its own limitations, in part because the definition of "affordable" is indexed to market rents for new development, which reflect increased real estate valuations).

On top of this, s.37 is an imperfect response to reining in density, if only because it is invoked in exchange for green-lit increases in height and density of a development beyond what is permitted under the applicable zoning by-law. In other words, even if you considered s.37 to be an ace up your sleeve, you would only get a chance to play it if a development wanted to blow past the zoning cap (e.g. 30 storeys). And best intentions can go awry. Last summer's OMB appeal of Burlington's Nautique condo showcased s.37 in action. The building's site was zoned for four storeys with an option of eight storeys if s.37 community benefits were included. Last month, the OMB approved it at 26 storeys.

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By lyndalukasik (registered) | Posted March 20, 2018 at 11:35:30 in reply to Comment 122590

I agree that s37 is not the only answer here. But it is one tool in the toolbox that the city should be using! By establishing such huge areas of the downtown at thirty stories as of right, the city is throwing away any possibility of making effective use of s37. Check out how other municipalities (and believe me, lots of them are benefitting from s 37 in very effective ways) use s37. The City of Guelph has rules in its downtown secondary plan that make it clear that, in the 10 storey zone, if developers want to build to 12 storeys, they are expected to provide benefits to the community. The list is extensive - and includes support for social housing, for more parks, for buildings that conform with the city's Community Energy Plan, etc. Why would Hamilton throw away any negotiating leverage by simply painting most of the core in 30 storey as of right?

And, while the use of s37 in some municipalities has turned into a bit of a gong show (Toronto comes to mind) - that's not reason enough to dismiss it outright. Other municipalities have set out well-structured processes for applying s37 - City of Vaughan is a good example of this. The more innovative tools available for downtown redevelopment, the better! We need to push for our city to do better for the community.

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By Wentworth (registered) | Posted March 20, 2018 at 14:06:42 in reply to Comment 122628

It certainly wasn't my intent to dismiss s.37 outright or suggest that it not be used. I was just adding a pinch of salt to the conversation in light of The Inlet's account of the PPDH meeting, wherein s.37 is the sum total of "proposed solutions".

Obviously s.37 can be used as a tool to extract concessions from developers, but the options selected do not in themselves answer the needs of the community. Your example makes that clear: It's Guelph's articulation of preferred options in the DSP that enables those outcomes to be more likely. As such, it's not s.37 that's the solution but rather a DSP that reflects the aims of the community and the larger long-term goals of urban development. If the zoning heights in the City's draft DSP remain unaltered, and the PPDH contingent simply look to s.37 for remedy, they will only extract community benefits where developers seek to surpass the zoned cap. If you revise the height map but retain developer incentives, then it's taxpayers subsidizing or paying for the provision of s.37 benefits. So IMHO the "proposed solution" would involve a substantial rework of the DSP over the next month.

Comment edited by Wentworth on 2018-03-20 14:07:27

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 19, 2018 at 14:57:04 in reply to Comment 122590

the new plan is available online, and once again the city is using an artificially low escarpment top height as their height limit. Drop a pin on one of the homes west of Sam Lawrence park perched over downtown and you'll get a height of around 195metres. Ditto for the homes overlooking the Jolley Cut just east of Sam Lawrence Park....the city is using 182-190 metres as their escarpment height limit...that's partway up the Jolley Cut.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 19, 2018 at 13:33:29 in reply to Comment 122590

Not to mention that s. 37 is an excellent tool for municipal corruption. Here is how it works:

Suppose that an unpopular municipal Councillor is up against a popular candidate in an upcoming election. He reckons he is about to lose the election. What to do?

So he starts doing a whole bunch of s. 37 deals with developers, on rather favorable terms to them. Then when he is out of office, he becomes a "consultant" to those same developers who pay him lots of lovely money. This may be corrupt, but it is perfectly legal in Ontario today.

I must add that this particular variety of corruption is nothing new. Jesus describes an ancient version of it in Luke 16:1-8.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2018-03-19 13:34:04

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By lyndalukasik (registered) | Posted March 20, 2018 at 11:36:52 in reply to Comment 122591

Kevin- you should check out how other municipalities - like City of Vaughan - are doing this. There has been lots of bad press about Toronto and s37 - but it doesn't have to work that way. Other municpalities have better approaches to learn from!

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 19, 2018 at 14:54:55

Seems to me that words like 'people's plan', 'liveable' and 'common sense' are being used to mask what's really happening: height NIMBYism.

I don't bemoan anyone's right to dislike tall buildings, although I might suggest not living in the downtown core of a major city if that's the case.

I'm a person, who I think uses common sense in my city-building views and I def want a liveable downtown core...and I want many, many more tall buildings filling our empty lots and parking lots downtown.

If tall buildings automatically equal an unlivable city, then please explain Hamilton's ranking on the world's most livable cities lists vs. Vancouver, Toronto or Calgary with all their towers and skyscrapers???

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 19, 2018 at 15:51:17 in reply to Comment 122596

My problem is with the hypocrites who complain that housing is too expensive as they fight against new housing being built. Ever heard of supply and demand? Everyone who prevents new housing being built is someone who is causing high housing prices.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 19, 2018 at 20:15:03 in reply to Comment 122599


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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 19, 2018 at 15:55:04

The Spec has just published an article about the latest revision of the Downtown Secondary Plan.

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