By Ryan McGreal
Published April 08, 2008
A short article in today's Hamilton Spectator illustrates both the folly of our economic development strategy and the disingenuousness of our employment lands strategy.
Losani Homes wants to build houses on Barton St. in Winona on land that is zoned for industrial and commercial employment.
Instead of duking it out at an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing, the city decided to accept a compromise in which "Losani agreed to service part of the land for employment and increase the density for the remaining residential portion."
This, of course, is exactly what Hamilton's land-use activists have been crying for years: the city services greenfield land ostensibly for industrial use, and then developers swoop in and build residential homes instead.
Oops: The Spectator web page on the Losani Homes deal includes an ad for Losani Homes
But the final sentence should give credulous boundary expanders pause:
Even if the city won the OMB fight, the land could have sat vacant for years, [said Tim McCabe, the city's director of planning and economic development]
Now why would that be? The site is close to the Queen Elizabeth Way, and now that the Red Hill Valley Parkway is open it is accessible by highway to the entire city, the airport, the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the USA.
Our economic development mandarins warn that we need to expand the urban boundary because there aren't enough serviced employment lands for industrial use - but the abundant employment lands we already have are not being used.
The main interest they are receiving is from residential and big box commercial developers.
Before Red Hill was approved, its proponents used to talk about a list of companies that would love to invest in Hamilton, if only we had serviced land with good highway access.
After the controversial highway got the go-ahead, that list of companies disappeared.
In fact, months after the RHVP opened, there is still no rush to move into the Glanbrook Industrial Park, of which close to two thirds still sits empty.
So it goes. The Flamborough Business Park is being overrun by big box commercial development and Stoney Creek Business Park is in danger of the same.
Meanwhile, in the first full year after completing the RHVP, the city projects that tax assessment will remain flat with no growth.
This was the highway that was supposed to complete our transportation network and open the floodgates to new development. In fact, there is at least one major development going ahead thanks to the RHVP: a billion dollar subdivision. Otherwise, most of the interest has been commercial - more big box plazas.
Like a broken record, our economic development planners remain stuck in the highways = jobs rut. In last year's HamiltonNext series, Spec writer Steve Arnold reported:
many argue that new employment land is needed, along with new ways of getting workers in and goods out.
That need has been one of the strong forces behind a series of major transportation projects in Hamilton - Highway 6 from the 403 to the airport, the Linc running across the Mountain and the soon-to-be-opened Red Hill Valley Parkway.
It's also behind local business support for the controversial Niagara-GTA Trade Corridor, a proposed highway running from the Fort Erie-Buffalo border crossing through Niagara and Hamilton, south of the airport to link up with the 403. It was originally known as the Mid-Peninsula or Mid-Pen highway.
"The chance for growth along that highway is one of the biggest opportunities this city has in the future," said Neil Everson, director of the city's economic development department. "Hamilton is in the best location to capitalize on that road."
That's right: our solution to the lack of new jobs produced by our network of highways is an even bigger network of highways.
Meanwhile, our consultants define brownfield lands out of existence so they can justify an additional three or four thousand acre boundary expansion to the province.
"Live and don't learn, that's us"
The city's economic development strategy is a farce. It has cost hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investments but produced only economic stagnation.
Instead of taking a hard, empirical look at the rosy assumptions that underlie its plans, the city is ramming through the next phase of development with overcooked studies, a rigged public consultation process and a blinkered institution of power brokers all marching in lockstep to the tune of the Airport Employment Growth District.