Special Report: Parking

Hamilton Health Sciences' Controversial Plan For Surface Parking Angers Community

Hamilton Health Sciences is circumventing local decision-making in an attempt to frustrate and exhaust a group of concerned citizens who have already successfully made their case to a Council committee that new surface parking is not needed.

By Michael Borrelli
Published September 15, 2015

On Wednesday September 23rd, residents from around Hamilton General Hospital will be taking time off from work and other commitments to attend an Ontario Municipal Board pre-hearing at Dundas Town Hall.

The pre-hearing on OMB case PL150405 concerns an application by Hamilton Health Sciences to rezone land near Hamilton General Hospital for an additional 158 blacktop parking spaces. This application, opposed by Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr as well as the Beasley Neighbourhood Association and other area groups and individuals, was denied by Council, but HHS won't take "no" for an answer.

Because of a technicality, Hamilton Health Sciences is circumventing local decision-making in an attempt to frustrate and exhaust a group of concerned citizens who have already successfully made their case to a Council committee by publicly presenting the reasons why the asphalt lot expansion is not needed and will impede the development of a more liveable community.

The BNA has heard some questions about this grassroots opposition to the expanded parking lot because it will exist in the shadow of HHS's new Ron Joyce Children's Health Centre - a good news story if there ever was one.

But the new building is not big enough to hide HHS from its regrettable decision not to build parking below the new facility, and to externalize the cost of this short-sightedness to residents in Beasley, the North End and Landsdale.

One of the subject lands on Robert St.

Reasons Citizens Are Upset

Here are a few of the key reasons citizens are upset:

1. Bad Faith: In September 2014 the BNA was contacted by Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr who was seeking community consent for tradespeople working on the RJCHC to park on gravel lots adjacent to HHS's paid lot at Barton & Ferguson streets. Since North Enders had been complaining that residential street parking was being used by construction workers, the BNA did the neighbourly thing and agreed that a temporary lot would ease parking conflicts. Councillor Farr emphasized to the lot proponents that this indeed was a temporary solution to a temporary problem.

Despite this agreement, by December HHS had made a formal application to the City to change the lot from mixed-use zoning to surface parking. It wasn't until March 2015 that it attempted to comply with requirements to hold a "community information event" regarding the lot expansion.

For most Beasley residents, this was the only indication of HHS's plans

2. No meaningful public consultation: Perhaps most the disappointing aspect of this issue is that HHS attempted to pursue their application without any meaningful public consultation. It was only through the keen observation of residents that HHS's plans for the site were discovered.

Recalling details of the "public" meeting still inspires heated reactions from residents because:

This was poor public engagement, plain and simple. There is no excuse why an institution like HHS, with a large number of paid community relations and PR staff, would have to resort to such half-baked public consultation. Take a look at the letter HHS circulated to a few nearby residents to see for yourself how they attempted to bury discussion the parking lot expansion.

Undated HHS letter delivered to a few residents

3. No need for expanded lots: Despite HHS claims that "there is a demonstrated and documented need for parking", Jason Farr confirmed to the BNA that "at least 40 percent of spots" were available during peak times during a week-long survey of the lot that his office completed last year. Additional parking space was also recently created when HHS reduced the size of existing spots.

With the addition of 300 workers at the RJCHC, the frequent service of HSR's #2 bus along Barton and the new West Harbour GO station, there has never been a better time to take transit to work at the Hamilton General Hospital. But charging hospital workers, patients and families high parking fees has become a steady source of revenue for the hospital network, and it seems disingenuous to suggest that somehow HHS did not anticipate the need for additional parking when designing and building the RJCHC.

On the contrary, HHS reps have noted that the cost of building parking spaces within a structure is prohibitive, yet still expressed surprise that residents objected to having their neighbourhood treated as a cheap, compliant dumping ground for surface parking and all the social, environmental and health issues that accompany them.

Existing, largely empty 640-space HHS lot. The hospital network wants to expand the lot by 25%.

4. Bad planning: The new RJCHC can be a transformational facility for the Beasley neighbourhood. It is located in a sometimes forgotten corner of the community better known for institutional uses (jails, hospitals, and their parking lots). But people do live here - hundreds of us. The lands slated for asphalt are located right next to an existing residential block, and only two blocks from a proposed rental apartment development.

The City of Hamilton's West Harbour Secondary Plan was developed through a collaborative consultation with citizens over a multi-year period and approved by Council in 2005. The plan calls for these lands to be used for mixed-use live and work developments. As evidenced by the nearby Vrancor development, this is an area with a strong demand for housing, and the land should be reserved and remediated for this use.

But by slapping a layer of asphalt on top of potentially contaminated lands, the property owner will be able to avoid remediation for a generation. The lot's owner is believed to have a 10 to 20 year lease with HHS, which is a minimum estimate of how long the community will have to wait for the kind of development it desperately wants and needs.

There is already an established, community-developed plan for these lands, so let's follow it.

Vent stack installed in subject lands to address contamination issues

Wrong Message

Parking sends the wrong message about Beasley & Hamilton Health Sciences: The BNA's goal is to improve the quality of life for all those who work, live and play in the Beasley neighbourhood, and that vision includes the area around the General Hospital. That's why we have been a passionate advocate for reducing the amount of surface parking in our part of downtown Hamilton, and we are grateful to have the public support of Councillor Jason Farr on this issue.

Hamilton Health Sciences' mission is To provide excellent health care for the people and the communities we serve and to advance health care through education and research. But the hospital network's behaviour over the past year has residents concluding that either HHS does not consider itself part of the Beasley community, or it doesn't believe it owes a duty of care in providing a healthy community for its neighbours.

Residents in Beasley have told the BNA time and time again that large surface parking lots have a subtle yet insidious impact on nearby communities:

Given these impacts, it is disappointing that HHS is so intent on saddling Beasley with its unnecessary parking lot expansion. Residents now face the question, "What is the fundamental role of a hospital in our community?" As hosts to these amazing centres of healing and research, we believe that HHS should be concerned not only with the health of its patients and workers, but of the community in which it operates.

Townhouses on nearby Elgin St. represent the kind of development residents want to see

How You Can Help

These are just a few of the reasons residents oppose this unnecessary, unhealthy parking expansion. If you are also concerned about how HHS is exploiting a technicality to overrule the will of Council and its citizens, you can help us:

1) Write Ward 2 Councillor Farr and express your support for his defence of residents from this zoning change. Make sure to cc: HHS CEO Rob MacIssaac and the BNA.

2) Show up in Dundas on September 23rd. Whether you're a nearby resident or just a citizen concerned about institutions trampling local democracy, come out and show your support for residents and the neighbourhood associations that will be backing up the City's lawyers in defending Council's decision to reject the zoning application. Dundas Town Hall, 2nd floor (OMB room) at 10:00 am.

3) Firmly, but politely stand up for your neighbours. Hamilton Health Sciences does a lot of good in the community, but that doesn't give them license to take their neighbours for granted. Tell Rob MacIssaac and HHS's Vice President of Public Affairs Aaron Levo that HHS needs to work harder to build respectful connections with the Beasley, North End and Landsdale communities. If HHS began this saga with open and good-faith consultation of residents, imagine how much City and Provincial taxpayer money could have been saved from legal fees, and invested back into our Hamilton community.

Michael Borrelli is a social researcher living with his family in Hamilton's North End. He tweets @BaysideBadger.


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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2015 at 13:42:19

Micahel, best of luck to you in this dispute with HHS. I applaud the community for sticking up for itself, and agree that the techniques used by HHS as described in this article are unacceptable.

Ryan, you may want to update/correct what I will call the "header". It cuts off at "... and will imped"

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 15, 2015 at 15:02:08

I strongly support the BNA on this. The cavalier and disrespectful behaviour of HHS to a vulnerable community, who happen to be their neighbours, is reprehensible.

As we learnt in the Big Ideas in the City talk just last Friday, anchor institutions like hospitals should be using their huge spending power and other resources to enhance the community and do the fair and progressive thing. In this case, they are behaving in a completely irresponsible way to the community and demonstrating how NOT to show leadership on important social equity and environmental issues!

(The email links don't work ... they just point back to the article.)

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-09-15 15:04:30

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted September 15, 2015 at 16:08:18

Thanks for the support, gentlemen, and I'll ask if the email links can be tweaked. For reference they are:

Jason Farr: jason.farr@hamilton.ca Rob MacIssaac: president@hhsc.ca Aaron Levo: levo@hhsc.ca BNA President Allison Chewter: chair@ourbeasley.com

Comment edited by administrator Borrelli on 2015-09-15 19:47:19

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted September 15, 2015 at 16:40:34

Why is the meeting being held in Dundas? Wasn't there anyplace that was inaccessible by public transit? Seems a bit odd to me.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2015 at 17:01:24

Social equity, cars vs people or is it middle class employees vs the people many who are the working class.

Is this what you mean?

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By Catherine (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2015 at 09:30:30

The hospital's position is particularly ironic given that it's a hospital when the evidence of the obesogenic nature of cars is unequivocal. Creating parking lots is in direct contradiction with thei mission to serve the health of the community.

Would someone please draft a template letter to send to Jason and others that outlines the key arguments?


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By anonymous hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2015 at 10:31:10

Best of luck in your efforts. Unfortunately the OMB seems to be an administrative process designed to wrestle local control of decisions away from elected councils and to let developers do whatever they want regardless of the community consequences. Perhaps the City of Hamilton can negotiate a compromise before the process is complete. It is sad that Hamilton Health Sciences does not at least want to feign interest in being a good neighbour (how hard would it have been to run a meaningful consultation and get actual feedback? Instead of the shame process you described). I wonder if they have any epidemiologists or public health researchers on staff? You have to suspect they don't because if they did they might realize the connection between the parking lot plan and the health of Hamiltonian's?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 17, 2015 at 12:49:18 in reply to Comment 113892

You have to suspect they don't because if they did they might realize the connection between the parking lot plan and the health of some Hamiltonian's?


They realize well enough that they would never tolerate it in their Ancaster and Burlington neighbourhoods.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted September 17, 2015 at 13:01:50 in reply to Comment 113907

You are correct, highwater. Fair or not, Beasley feels like it is being saddled with the bad decisions HHS is making while trying to build revenue streams. While we're watching a divestment in their properties on the mountain brow (likely to be sold and redeveloped into productive, community-desired purposes like housing and retail), we're seeing the functions of those facilities (and associated parking) being dumped in our 'hood.

Keeping in mind, we're all for having the Children's centre downtown, the problem is that HHS decided they couldn't afford to put the required parking under the building, so they're making it our problem to live with. Talk about net-zero community benefit.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted September 16, 2015 at 10:40:04

If you want a template, I'd be happy to oblige:

Dear Councillor Farr:

I am writing you to express support for City's position, supported by the Beasley Neighbourhood Association and other individuals and citizens groups downtown, that Hamilton Health Sciences be denied an application to re-zone lands near the Hamilton General Hospital to enlarge their existing surface parking lot at Ferguson and Barton streets.

Despite evidence that the enlarged lot is not necessary and contrary to existing plans for the lands, HHS continues to use taxpayer funds to fight the City and its citizens who have expressed their concerns about safety after dark, negative environmental and health effects, and the impact an enlarged lot will have on City efforts to make Beasley a more liveable neighbourhood.

I urge you to work with Hamilton Health Sciences, the lot owner, and Beasley residents to find a safer, healthier, and more community-minded alternative to surface parking lot expansion. Thank you for upholding a high standard for development in Hamilton's downtown.


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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted September 16, 2015 at 12:34:18

hospitals are hooked on parking revenue thanks to declining resources from the government and increasing expenditures related to chronic illness treatment. in every way possible they are trying to save a dollar, and it's wrong. that being said the city doesn't even play hardball with the most low-life of developers and corporate stakeholders in this city so expect to be disappointed.

also, naming the west harbour go and barton bus as good commuting options for hospital workers is not appropriate. the west harbour go is useless for hospital shift workers, and is basically useless for anyone who isn't a toronto-bound desk jockey. the barton is still notoriously late and perceived as being fairly unsafe/unkempt. i don't necessarily disagree with that sentiment. actually developing a rapid transit line for barton would be an amazing idea that would help foster long term growth in a disadvantaged part of the city but that seems to be a non-starter

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 19, 2015 at 21:20:38 in reply to Comment 113894

I have never felt unsafe on the Barton bus, but I have frequently been disturbed. There are some characters. That said, the Barton bus is probably the single highest-frequency route in the system. Occasionally it backs up and you get 3 leap-froggers instead of the desired every-eight-minutes service, but still - service is frequent.

That said, the LRT will bring a b-line stop to Victoria. Hopefully we'll get a proper north-south HGH/clairmont/upper-james bus then, providing a better commute for both the b-line and the mountain.

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By ryanplestid (registered) | Posted September 19, 2015 at 02:38:42 in reply to Comment 113894

Perhaps after the construction of the LRT the B-line could be diverted to Barton. Also I find the 2 to be very reliable (although I take it infrequently) and it is definitely safe.

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By CatherineAhern (registered) | Posted September 16, 2015 at 12:55:05

Thanks for the great letter Michael. I'll adopt it so it doesn't appear too "boilerplate" and send it along.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted September 16, 2015 at 13:22:44

I strongly support the BNA and Councillor Farr's opposition to surface parking expansion by HHS and will be in attendance next week representing the North End Neighbours. We need mixed-use development in the Wellington-Ferguson corridor as envisioned in Setting Sail. We don't need more urbanism killing surface parking lots in Beasley or elsewhere in the core.

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By CatherineAhern (registered) | Posted September 16, 2015 at 15:38:52

Here's what I ended up sending to Jason Farr:

Dear Councillor Farr:

I am writing you as a concerned resident to express my support for the City's decision to deny Hamilton Health Sciences rezoning application to enlarge their existing surface parking lot at Ferguson and Barton. I firmly support the position adopted by the City, the Beasley Neighbourhood Association and other individuals and citizens groups.

Hospitals should be leading the way to support active transportation and healthy communities, which protects communities against high prevalence of chronic disease and mental illness. It is shocking that Hamilton Health Sciences wants to build further infrastructure so people who don't live in the area can drive through the back yards of poorer neighborhoods, leaving a barren wasteland of asphalt behind them during non-business hours.

Yet another surface parking lot will only serve to further entrench the many health problems that face many people in our "code red" neighborhoods. This motion before the OMB is in direct contradiction to the hospitals's mission to provide excellent healthcare and its stated values of respect, caring and accountability.

I thank you in advance for working with Hamilton Health Sciences and Beasley and North End residents to find a safer, healthier, and more community-minded alternative to surface parking lot expansion. Thank you for upholding a high standard for development in Hamilton's lower city.


Comment edited by CatherineAhern on 2015-09-16 15:39:57

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By ryanwestdale (registered) | Posted September 17, 2015 at 10:00:07

It should be illegal to book meetings that involve the public between 9am and 5pm. How many people can make it to a 10am meeting on a Wednesday??

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2015 at 10:54:04 in reply to Comment 113902

And in a ward that is nowhere near the affected location.

The situation is in Ward 2, so consultation should be in Ward 2. Ward 2 is a big place, surely they could find *somewhere* downtown to talk about this parking lot.

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2015 at 11:08:20

There are several incomplete cycling connections to HGH - Victoria Street North has a 1-way bike lane that does not connect to Cannon, and no counterpart on Wellington. Ferguson has no bike path to HGH (and the city's consideration of Barton as a cycling route is laughable) but a connection could be built on the RJCHC grounds. The city and HHS could easily work together to close those gaps.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted September 17, 2015 at 12:32:52

Revenue, and revenue growth, is the mantra -- formerly only for private businesses, but it has caught on in our public institutions as well.

Hospitals and universities need to rethink their priorities as community members and neighbours. Hospitals definitely need to have parking available for patients and their families, but surface parking is NOT the preferred alternative. Parking rates should be lowered for patients and visitors and increased for employees.

Employees should be encouraged to find alternative transportation, which is difficult because of shift working -- better transit would help in this regard. It seems improved transit is at least a partial answer to a lot of our issues as a city.

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By Fund Raise (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2015 at 16:23:28

Let's start a find raiser to pay for an underground parking lot.

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By G. Ranalli (anonymous) | Posted September 22, 2015 at 20:25:57

Good article. You forgot one more negative point about asphalt parking lots.
They result in a 'heat island effect' by absorbing sunlight and converting it into heat.
Surface temperature 1m above these lots is significantly higher than it would be on gravel, grass or even concrete.
Another thing local residents will have to contend with - as if it is not already hot enough in the city.
I know. I am an elementary teacher in North Hamilton and many of my students live a mere few blocks from this proposed lot.

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