Special Report: Aerotropolis

Aerotropolis Secrecy Leaves Citizens and Councillors in the Dark

If our governments don't tell us what the debate is about, how can we reasonably be expected even to know what questions to ask?

By Don McLean
Published July 07, 2008

A bombshell letter from the provincial government landed on councillors' desks on the afternoon of June 23, just as they were about to debate staff recommendations on the size of the aerotropolis employment growth district.

AEGD Growth District Area
AEGD Growth District Area

The letter exposed a big problem facing citizens, and perhaps even councillors, in participating effectively in Hamilton's biggest planning decision of the decade.

A report given to councillors that afternoon by city planning staff advocated that 1134 hectares of prime agricultural land around the airport should be set aside for future industrial development.

That would be the largest boundary expansion in decades, would establish the central economic direction of Hamilton for at least the next 25 years, and would likely cost several hundred million dollars to service with water, sewers, roads and other public infrastructure.

The 1,134 hectare number was generated by consultants and staff, and is the result of a provincially-mandated exercise to determine how to accommodate projected employment growth to 2031. It has already generated controversy because consultants hired by the city decided that none of those new jobs will be located on old industrial lands along the bayfront.

Many citizens and several councillors objected when the 1,134 number was first presented in March. They argued that it's wrong to pave over more farmland before every effort is made to re-use the older lands, including over 1,500 hectares along the bayfront, which have seen the loss of more than 30,000 jobs since the early 1980s.

City Numbers are Fudged

The letter was received on June 20, but only given to councillors three days later - just as they began their decision meeting. Essentially, it says the city's numbers are fudged. Specifically, it identifies six city assumptions that "are not supported" by the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH).

The province doesn't agree with a staff decision to inflate the expected job growth by 20 percent - from 49,000 to 59,000 - thereby inflating the land 'needed' by about 283 hectares.

The province also doesn't accept the city assumption that ten percent of the existing industrial business parks and the one proposed at the airport will remain forever empty, or that another ten percent will be used for non-industrial activities such as coffee shops and gas stations. Those assumptions could add as much as 400 hectares.

The province disagrees with staff's decisions on "netting out existing uses" around the airport including infrastructure and utility corridors, as well as floodplains and future roads. It questions the city's use of "a net-to-gross factor of 20 percent". The latter figure alone is 227 hectares.

Add all that up and the 1,134 hectares could shrink to about one-fifth of what staff and consultants are arguing for. Keep in mind that the province is the final decision-maker on boundary expansions.

No Infill Development

Perhaps most significantly, the province disagrees with the city's plan to locate all the 'needed' industrial land in greenfield areas.

"The Growth Plan requires municipalities to prepare intensification strategies and plan to accommodate significant amounts of both future residential and employment growth in existing built up areas," says the letter. "To date [we] have not seen any intensification analysis related to employment lands."

In short, the provincial position could ground the whole aerotropolis - especially if the cost of servicing it can't be scaled back proportional to the acreage.

Since a key part of the servicing is extending water and sewer services 25 kilometres from the Woodward Avenue treatment facility, it would appear the servicing cost per hectare will climb dramatically as the aerotropolis shrinks.

Accountability Gap

So why did this 'difference of opinion' between the city and the province not surface until decision day? How come there's not a hint of this conflict in any of the multiple staff and consultant reports presented to councillors on this issue?

We might also ask why it took nearly three full days to deliver the five-page letter to councillors, and then only at the beginning of a meeting when reading it would require not paying attention to what they were supposed to be doing.

But it's worse than that - much worse. Staff and their consultants have apparently known about these provincial objections for eight months. When asked at the June 23 meeting to explain the conflict, the director of airport development freely admitted as much.

"Having been at those meetings over that six or eight months that we've discussed with the province about our assumptions, they have not provided any technical basis for their position," he declared.

"They have just indicated that they have a concern that it may not be, you know, sufficient to lead to a conclusion that meets the philosophy and the vision that they have."

Staff and consultants have prepared well over 700 pages of reports for councillors and the public without mentioning this fundamental conflict. We have no way of knowing if they have shared any of this privately with members of council.

The Mushroom Treatment

We do know that they've held a string of "public information meetings" without erecting a single display board that sets out the views of the province and the fact that those views and their implications are quite different from those of the city.

Citizens are asked to attend these 'information' sessions and provide informed input. How can citizens do that when they are not told about such critical issues? We are treated like mushrooms.

The city has spent over $300,000 on consultants and an untold amount on staff time to come up with the recommendations on the aerotropolis employment growth district. The only other participant in this process with similar resources is the province.

If our governments don't tell us what the debate is about, how can we reasonably be expected even to know what questions to ask?

The majority of councillors went ahead and voted to accept the 1134 hectares, rejecting a motion by Mayor Eisenberger to rezone only 50 percent for industrial use initially - although still adding all of it to the urban area.

It is quite possible that the councillors didn't have enough information to do anything else.

It's absolutely certain that the public consultation was a farce.

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.


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By tt (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2008 at 08:21:50

This is ridiculous.

We know that all that land will not be used for employment. Something tells me that the usual suspects (our local home builders) own that land and want to build what they know best.

How can one find out who owns the lands?

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 08, 2008 at 08:38:37

^become an expert at tracking down numbered companies.

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By w willy (registered) | Posted July 08, 2008 at 09:05:07

This is scandalous.

City EcDev types always complain about how city planning processes go off the rails and end up in a schmozzle. It might help if they chose projects that did not require all sorts of subterfuge and cloak-and-dagger crap to get around provincial regulations and the public's right to know. It might also help if they chose projects that were a little less pie-in-the-sky, and thus not as likely to soak the property-tax payer for years to come.

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By Moi (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2008 at 09:54:06

This is old news--old "public" news.

You may recall, back when the Province announced it's South Ont. master plan with new green belts etc. that the narrowest part of the belt limiting Toronto-centric development curved by Munro International, restricting and conflicting with the city's plans to develop industrial space there. City council announced its intention to ignore the Provincial plans then, and continues to do so now, probably with the expectation that, at some point, even Liberals get voted out of power.

Hey, it took fifty years to build an out of date expressway so it could go in the wrong place. What's another four years to build an industrial park in the wrong place?

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By granny (registered) | Posted July 08, 2008 at 12:52:25

Well ... if I am right and I sure hope so ...

there are some 'names' that are closely wedded to the mud-pie-in-the-eye-in-the-sky fantasy of the 'aeryfery-stupidary-tropolis' ... and there is a process to go through until the obvious answer ... NO ... becomes apparent to said 'names'.

"And the province has the final say" and ... um it appears ... that the province saying NO.

Aero-trucko-tropolis is not a happening thing these days, nor in the future.

Nor is pumping friggen water up and sewage down when we already have MORE INDUSTRIAL LAND THAN THAT SERVICED AND AVAILABLE downtown ... and on the railway too, which is absolutely necessary.

In this case, it appears it's going to be a quietly dying 'deal'-that-never-was.

I certainly hope so.

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By its great (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2008 at 23:15:04

i think it's a great idea! Hamiltonians got stop being soo negative about economic development.

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By CityJoe (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2008 at 22:07:09

Don McLean's final comment: "It's absolutely certain that the public consultation was a farce."

Doesn't this comment sum up every topic covered on 'The Hammer'? Light rail, public transit, bike access, the CBC,passive/muzzled media, City Hall, 2 way downtown streets..etc., etc., It all amounts to the same thing, every single time.

"It's absolutely certain that the public consultation was a farce."

The problem is like all of Pavlov's dogs, we have all become too well trained, & expect nothing else of the people we elect, & the media we ingest. We know what to do when the bell rings, but we also know mostly we will likely get nothing when it does. (& we don't seem to care! :-(

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By michaeld (registered) | Posted July 25, 2008 at 15:51:11

In response to By its great posted 7/19/2008;

It is so unfortunate that the simple desire to exercise our right to know is perceived as being negative. Having a different opinion doesn't necessarily make the questioner right or wrong it simply makes them different. There are so many things about the proposed industrial park development that are inherently negative it leaves you wondering what is it that we are missing. I know the writer of this article is heavily in favor of Bayfront development on remediated Brownfields which have been proven thru studies to be far more beneficial to revitalization of the community. How can we label him as being negative about development?


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By Flyboy (anonymous) | Posted July 26, 2008 at 09:27:53

Michaeld said: "I know the writer of this article is heavily in favor of Bayfront development on remediated Brownfields which have been proven thru studies to be far more beneficial to revitalization of the community. How can we label him as being negative about development?"

It is easy to dismiss the airport lands by this writer and you and point in the direction of existing lands in the industrial area. It isn't correct to do so. All the experts agree that brownfields redevelopment is a must but isn't sufficient to meet Hamilton's needs. The 'writer' as you charitably call him and yourself are misleading all with your straw man.

That is why Council disagreed with him, his cronies and you; that is why he is labelled 'anti business' as are you if you fall for his polemic.

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By michaeld (registered) | Posted July 28, 2008 at 16:22:20


How about we just stick to the facts and here are some;

The city just completed a Historical Land Use Study and found over 4000 acres of "Sites of Interest". The need for the Greenfields around the airport are based upon projections which are already off target by about 10%. The consultant studies have no problem speculating how much land is needed but do not have an ability to model how much Brownfields can contribute to those needs. The whole purpose of conducting a "Land Budget" is to determine how much new land is required to meet the MMAH requirements as set out in the Provincial Policy Statement and the Places to Grow. The results of the study are heavily disputed by the province and on the very same day the studies were approved by council they also approved the reclassification of almost 200 acres of current industrial lands which is in flagrant violation of the PPS and P2G.

I don't think I am dismissing the airport lands but I am seriously questioning the magnitude of what is being considered in the absence of what is happening or not happening elsewhere.

If the taxpayers of this city are to once again be asked to invest heavily in yet another mega project I don't understand the confusion when serious questions are asked that demand serious answers.


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By Flyboy (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2008 at 17:16:09

michael, this is again not being totally honest. you have been quoted in the papers if you are the desnoyers Michael as not wanting any development. So now you are ready to accept some...and that is what the city is doing studying all to see what can be developed.

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By michaeld (registered) | Posted July 31, 2008 at 07:47:26


You make a very broad brush statement that I am opposed to development. If, as you have suggested, I have made this statement to the press then you will have no problem directing me to this. I doubt this will be the case so you should not use phrases such as "not want ANY development". I will not deny that I am may have stated I am opposed to the development around HIA for a myriad of reasons and I have publicly stated why. Both I and HPD have been asking the very serious questions I pointed out earlier that need to be asked for the past 3 years and are still waiting for answers. In your last reply you totally avoided the point regarding opposition by the province which is a fact and are more content to attack me personally. Just stick to the facts! I earlier stated that there are so many negatives about this proposed industrial park that it leaves you wondering what are you missing. If you take the time to read the 320 page Dillon report and all the reports and studies conducted since 2005 you will see what I mean.

The city desperately needs jobs and developement but we have very very limited financial means to achieve the objective. Do we spend our available resources around a facility (HIA) which is a questionable investment with an uncertain future that is unlikely to achieve the job density stated (MKI peer review) or do we focus on initiatives that have been proven to revitalize urban environments that inevitably attract job growth?


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By the other side audio (anonymous) | Posted August 01, 2008 at 21:54:14

For those that may have missed the audio from last week Grids, 2006 to Aerotropolis 2008

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By DoubleT (anonymous) | Posted August 11, 2008 at 08:40:44

I just read a blog on the BayObserver that says Don doesn't tell the truth. Hm! How true is that?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 11, 2008 at 11:33:02

If the anonymous individual/s behind the Bay Observer said it, it must be true!

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted August 11, 2008 at 16:19:03

Wow that BayObserver is one of the most inept blogs I've seen in a while. It has few outgoing links, no incomming, no names, no comments and no RSS feed or trackback. Google ranks it really low and for a good reason. It's not citing any named people or sites. And therefore should be taken with a spoonful of salt.

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By Stand up for the Grassroots, the people (anonymous) | Posted August 22, 2008 at 20:23:34

When does the government really ask the people anything, in reality? When do the people really have say in the negotiating process? Are the people allowed to sit at the negotiating table?

One of the major issues this community struggles with is poverty and the lack of living wage jobs are far and few between. Coupled with an social assistance system, that is akin to the mentality of the workhouses of a prior century. There have been a marked delined in workers rights across the board in the last 30 years and many in the middle class are losing ground and are living pay cheque to pay cheque, not truly understanding the true harshness and coldness of our social safety net.

So my questions would be:

What kind of jobs are to be created? Are they to be service sectors jobs that do not pay a living wage, that do not provide benefits, how about pensions? Are the jobs to be temp or contract jobs, where employment rights are routinely violated? Would there be transit for those workers, who do not drive?

If food security issues are prevalent in our community, why would we pave our farmland? How does this help our local farmers? How will we feed that people, if crisis was to appear?

If environmental issues, such as peak oil, GHG's and so on, how does building an airport address these issues? Why do they not deal with the brownfields? Other cities have!

Are the people really being fairly? represented?

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By American Pie (anonymous) | Posted August 27, 2008 at 22:15:11

I think Don should stick to writing music.

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By T (anonymous) | Posted September 05, 2008 at 15:24:35

I need to see the pictures

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