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.
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
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
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:
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.
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