Special Report: Aerotropolis

Aerotropolis a $500 Million Pitfall

We can have more jobs at less cost by investing in our existing infrastructure than by spending half a billion dollars on a greenfield development around the airport.

By Larry Pomerantz
Published November 29, 2012

How will the City of Hamilton's Airport Economic Growth District (AEGD) plan impact your business? The AEGD, or "Aerotropolis", is a City of Hamilton approved plan to rezone 4,500 acres of prime farmland around John C Munroe Hamilton International Airport for employment purposes. The City claims we do not have enough industrial zoned lands to provide jobs for the anticipated growth of our population.

AEGD proposed land use map
AEGD proposed land use map

Individuals and community organizations have challenged the City's plan by appealing to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The OMB is scheduled to hear the case in mid-January 2013.

Everyone supports more employment opportunities, but at what cost? The main problem with the Aerotropolis plan is that it is extremely expensive and financially risky for all taxpayers. The City has admitted the costs will come in around $350 million, but 25 kilometres of new sewer lines and required upgrades to our wastewater plant will push the total to over half a billion dollars!

The City has a history of discounting development charges to attract new business, which heaps more debt onto existing businesses and homeowners. This time it will amount to $1,000 for every single resident.

Shortage of Business Activity

Hamilton Civic League volunteers recently reviewed 35,000 pages of municipal tax assessment data to identify all industrial employment lands. We don't have a shortage of available industrial land: we have a shortage of business activity to provide jobs on existing vacant and underutilized employment lands.

Adding more industrial lands won't guarantee more jobs, but it will guarantee an increase in debt, taxes and rents.

We all want more jobs and we can have them at much less cost than the City's poorly-located Aerotropolis. Our legacy industries once employed tens of thousands more than they do today. These lands and our other business parks are already serviced with roads, sewers, water, hydro and public transit.

It will cost significantly less to increase employment density where infrastructure already exists and where a significant portion of our workforce can walk, cycle or take public transit to work.

Residential Sprawl

Does anyone really believe there is a shortage of industrial land or that the Aerotropolis will be our future economic engine? Mayor Bob Bratina opposes the plan and recently said, "We all know in our heart of hearts that's going to be sprawl residential development."

The City has a $2 billion deficit in maintaining our existing infrastrustructure, which is growing by $200 million per year. This plan would invest another $500 million in new infrastructure to get us out of the hole.

Why not prioritize repairs to infrastructure that already supports existing businesses, the economic engine of today and tomorrow? Why should local businesses be additionally taxed to attract new and potentially competing business?

Your Help is Needed

The City has allocated $300,000 of taxpayer funds to hire experts to defend their plan before the OMB. Your donation is needed today to cover legal and professional planning expertise to defend all Hamiltonians and existing businesses against the City's Aerotropolis plan.

Do not permit the City to accept your silence as consent to spend your taxes on the Aerotropolis. Let them know you support more jobs, less cost as an alternative job creation strategy.

Larry Pomerantz is the Chair of Hamilton Civic League.

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By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted November 29, 2012 at 08:29:07

I would gladly pay $1000 to see this happen.

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By dsafire (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2012 at 09:09:46

"Industrial" zoning means manufacturing right? Factories?

If so, when the hell will politicians get it into their thick heads that manufacturing is dead in North America? It's too expensive to make stuff even in Mexico these days. Everything is being manufactured in China and South East Asia. It sucks, but there it is, and that's not going to change unless Canada makes some drastic changes to it's import laws.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 30, 2012 at 09:28:50 in reply to Comment 83300

The mayor's full quote is dead on here:

If this council is serious on addressing the problems that you have brought forward I would make a motion right now that we freeze the urban boundary and not expand and create urban sprawl. [applause] That’s the … And we haven’t’. We’ve built expressways and right now we’re fighting the province over turning farmland into development land and we all know in our heart of hearts that’s going to be sprawl residential development. It’s not going to be 52,000 jobs, it’s going to be a bunch of houses around the airport.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:12:37 in reply to Comment 83300

There are manufacturing places in North America. They primarily assemble and paint things made from parts imported from Asia, but they still use factories here. Less shipping that way.

Still, they don't ship by plane, obviously.

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By j (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2012 at 09:31:08

clarification question, the $1000 for each resident is just dividing the projected servicing costs by Hamilton's population, right? If so then the reality will be more like $150 per resident due to the DC discounts - if we're only talking about direct costs.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2012 at 09:40:11 in reply to Comment 83301

First, we have to pay the entire cost of servicing the AEGD. Then we can seek to recover some development charges from developers who decide to locate in the AEGD. The amount of DC recovered will depend on how many companies decide to locate there, though by provincial law we're only allowed to charge a maximum of 80% of the DC for a site, and Hamilton provides additional discounts on top of that.

Of course, the most likely conclusion if we go ahead and service the AEGD is that it will end up mostly going to low-density single family residential development, which means we will recover even less DC than if it went to industrial use.

Most of the OMB appeals are from residential property developers who either a) want their land rezoned to allow residential or b) want their land included in the AEGD and rezoned to allow residential.

Hamilton has lots of highway-accessible industrial lands, and for the past several years has been rolling over and allowing developers to put residential and big box commercial buildings on those lands instead of industry.

And just to be clear: there's no way in hell we can recover what it will cost to service the AEGD if we roll over again and allow residential use as we have been doing up to now. The whole thing will amount to a massive net loss for the city and a further capitulation and free gift to residential sprawl developers.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-11-29 09:41:11

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By j (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2012 at 13:47:50 in reply to Comment 83303

I think the number is actually 90% by provincial law, but then there are other discounts that are harder to quantify. Funnily enough I believe the residential discounts are much tighter than the industrial and McHattie recently told me they were maxing out industrial DCs. That's because commercial taxes are higher so they expect to recover those in the long run.

One interesting twist in this story is that one of the opponents of the AEGD is a group of Elfrida landowners who want their land to have preference for urban expansion - for exactly the same greedy little reasons.

Can there be a better argument that this is about sprawl than that heavy money is being spent by developers who know very well that will be the result. They wouldn't be doing it if it were staying commercial.

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By The X Guy (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:22:50 in reply to Comment 83303

My father seems to remember back in the 70’s that the Meadowlands shopping area was originally designated as Industrial, and the city had a long term plan for developing this area since it anticipated the hwy 403 extension and the Red Hill Creek Expressway completion, before eventually converting the land to commercial. Can anyone verify this? I can’t find a source...

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By Meadowlands, then (Spec,1992) (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2012 at 17:04:12 in reply to Comment 83309

Shea here,
This is a partial response to the X Guy, above, who wonders what the original plan for the Ancaster Meadowlands may have been. It's a bit geographically off-topic from AEGD and the aerofraudolis, but this July 7, 1992 Spectator article may be of interest for its own sake, since you asked:
'Last jewel' of wetlands under siege by progress
Hamilton Spectator, Tuesday, July 7, 1992 Author: ROSS LONGBOTTOM, THE SPECTATOR. See excerpts below.
Ryan may prefer that I not copy the whole article here--copyright concerns. But the Hamilton Spectator archive is available to any Hamilton Public Library card holder. Ask by phone or at a branch, or follow this from HPL's home page Discovery Tools tab; then click on Magazines & Newspapers; then click on The Hamilton Spectator title; insert your library card number. Then click on the name of the newspaper (Spectator). This is simpler than it sounds. What's NOT simpler is that the various search boxes are not immediately intuitive to use--click in the boxes to the right of the one you just tried that didn't do anything. The archive goes back to 1991 which is as far back as the Spec database archive goes.
--------------------------------
---"Conservationists hope Meadowlands ' owners might even give up the land in return for some favorable zoning elsewhere, or have the town include it as part of the land developers are required to give the town for park purposes.

The big Meadowlands subdivision will double Ancaster's population to 40,000 in the next 10 years. With its development, and the encroaching Falkirk West neighborhood in Hamilton, elimination of the natural area would leave no wilderness on Hamilton Mountain, west of King's Forest Park, or in the neighboring area of Ancaster, except a band along the brow." ...

---"There is a far better chance the area will be saved than in the 1970s, when Ancaster fought the whole Meadowlands concept.

The Ontario Municipal Board, and later the Ontario cabinet, ruled the then-owners could build, and approved the road alignments.

But today, environmental matters take precedence. A environmental assessment by the region is underway, and Ancaster has already had a study done. Ecoplans Ltd. of Waterloo has determined it to be an environmentally sensitive area worth saving.

Mr. Kelly said Meadowlands supports such concerns, but worries sometimes if the environmental pendulum has swung a little too far.

"With the advent of the environnmental issues, your land is not really your own." "

----..."(Managing partner Alec) Mr. Kelly said such requirements, while cumbersome and expensive, are part of life today. "These things are here and let's do the best with them."

Brian McHattie, conservation director for the naturalists' club, said it realizes it's hard to "play catchup" with a plan already much in place, but hopes for compromise. He argues that natural areas enhance the marketability of the area.

"The option is to design with nature."
Caption: Mike Baldwin, Spectator graphic Proposed new roads intersect the heart of a 58-hectare environmentally sensitive area //

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted November 29, 2012 at 09:41:51

Why not prioritize repairs to infrastructure that already supports existing businesses, the economic engine of today and tomorrow?

Very good question. With our infrastructure deficit at $2B in Hamilton only getting worse, the thought of putting off much needed infrastructure upgrades in places where people already live and work so we can lure a bunch of warehouses to the land around the airport seems absurd.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but the Mayor is dead-on. This is only a recipe for sprawl. Expensive sprawl.

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By MVH (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:13:40

The only comment I don't understand is the reference to the use of the land as residential. On June 1, 2012, the OMB ruled that all lands within the AEGD are precluded from being Residential. This is consitent with the places to grow plan and the OP and zoning bylaws approved by the City. I also know of a few residential developers who own land in the AEGD that are trying to unload it. So if everything points to a ban on residential sprawl, why is that always mentioned? I don't care what Brantina says is in his heart. I care about what the planning authorities have to say.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 30, 2012 at 09:31:19 in reply to Comment 83306

Once the land is brought into the urban boundary, it becomes Hamilton's responsibility to zone it. We have seen time and again that the city is ready, willing and able to rezone industrial land for other purposes.

In other words there is no law to protect us from ourselves. This is why the land must not be brought into the urban boundary.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:19:17 in reply to Comment 83306

Simple: what happens when the commercial and industrials plans fail and the city has all this conveniently serviced and uncontaminated lands waiting for development?

Hmmm....

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:17:18 in reply to Comment 83306

From CATCH, August 12, 2012:

Staff are assuring councillors that the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has blocked new residential subdivisions in the aerotropolis. That may come as a surprise to several land developers who believe the same OMB decision allows them to move up to 875 acres of land that they own within the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) toward new housing.

The June decision of the Board – appended to the staff report – was actually jointly written by lawyers for the city and multiple residential land developers and subsequently approved by Board chair Jason Chee-Hing. Its first clause does preclude the “designation of lands within the AEGD study area for new residential uses in this hearing”. But in the third clause the city and developers agree that this “does not preclude the consideration of evidence on the suitability of lands for other urban uses, including residential uses” within the proposed AEGD.

That leaves the developers free to argue that their lands are better used for subdivisions, something Mayor Bratina and other aerotropolis opponents have long argued is the hidden objective of the 4500 acre urban boundary expansion that has been presented as just for industrial uses. The potential for residential uses has also led multiple other developers to jump into the costly OMB process to prevent AEGD landowners from getting ahead of them in the high stakes battle over whose properties will be added next to the city’s urban area.

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:24:05

MVH

I think you need to read very carefully the OMB order from the PHASE 1 hearings. The agreement reached between the city and the residential developers (at the 11th hour by the way) was that the city would agree to allow the developers the opportunity to argue the suitability of their lands for residential at the Phase 3 hearings. This is not a slam dunk but the developers have a huge amount of money and land at stake and they will conceivably be successful for some of the lands.

This is just a backdoor approach to more sprawl!

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By viennacafe (registered) | Posted November 29, 2012 at 21:42:45

If the municipality and those behind this effort argue a need for industrial development space and are prepared to sink hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into it, then they should then be able to tell us what forms those industries will take, what they will be producing and for what markets. Surely they can demonstrate a demand, can't they?

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By M. Desnoyers (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2012 at 12:24:13 in reply to Comment 83319

To viennacafe;

According to the exhaustive and very expensive marketing study conducted by Dillon, approximately 70% of all jobs that the Aerotropolis is expected to create will be warehousing, distribution and logistics. This category will also utilize the largest land areas and will negatively, generate the lowest density of jobs per acre. In the words of Counilor Ferguson - there are no companies lining up to get in! The on-site "Aeropark" is approximately 85% vacant and has been availabel for development for over a decade and yet has not been filled.

I am fairly confident that an equally exhaustive study of HIA would demonstrate that the countless unrealistic growth projections have indeed not been realized and yet HIA is touted as the anchor pin to the success of the Aerotropolis.

We can ill afford to risk the $500 Million but if we really did have that much capital - is this the best long term use of the available funds. I have no confidence that this basic question has even been considered.

Michael Desnoyers
Co-Chair
Hamiltonians for Progressive Development

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2012 at 00:36:09

Now that we're hearing again about B-Line LRT being a Metrolinx priority, why don't we take that $500m and figure out how best to finance the LRT with the province. LRT will be far more transformative than more costly sprawl.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 30, 2012 at 09:32:43 in reply to Comment 83322

A very good question.

I'd like to hear each and every councillor's response to it in fact.

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By stand up fight back (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2012 at 03:20:25

I thought I would respond to dsa, considering the fire that killed 112 people in Bangeldesh (sp)?

Given the mantra of globalization where labour standards have not been standardized, pushing all to good working conditions, including health and safety issues,
one does have to look at history, check out the Triangle Waistshirt Factory Fire in 1911. In comparing the two events, we are moving backwards.

do some research adn the same conditions exist now in North America, for workers. Such as bosses locking doors that are fire exits, you know workers cannot take unauthorised breaks, so that is the excuse.

You give up to easily



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By david88 (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2012 at 10:02:25

I completely disagree with people who are against residential sprawl. These people forget about children, especially boys who need SPACE to play in around their home with their friends in the neighbourhood, just like children did decades ago. I'm so thankful for the sprawl of the forties and fifties. I had gardens to make, creeks to play in, streets to bicycle in, and lots and lots of grass around my home to play in. Sprawl is worth every penny to children. Don't even think of families living in condos.

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