GRIDS Meets the Letter, not the Spirit, of Places to Grow

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 24, 2006

I've been writing for a while that the city's GRIDS growth plan violates the Provincial Places to Grow legislation, since less only 33 percent of Hamilton's forecasted growth is planned for within the current built-up area (Places to Grow specifies at least 40 percent infill).

In one of his replies to an RTH question about sprawl before the municipal election, Larry Di Ianni wrote, "We are intensifying according to provincial mandate."

When I challenged this, Di Ianni disputed my analysis and referred me to Steve Robichaud, the GRIDS manager.

I contacted Mr. Robichaud and asked him to explain how the city is following provincial mandate. He replied, "GRIDS meets and exceeds the requirements of Places to Grow."

Of 80,000 new households forecasted between now and 2031, 26,500 are "being accommodated through intensification." 35,700 of those 80,000 new households are expected between 2001 and 2015, and 46,150 are expected between 2015 and 2031.

Now, the intensification plan in Places to Grow takes effect in 2015, and 40 percent of 46,150 is 18,460.

Are you following me so far? As Robichaud explained, "GRIDS assumes that intensification rates will increase from the 15-20 percent rate today to 40 percent by 2016."

Between 2001 and 2015, GRIDS forecasts that 8,040 units will be built within the current urban area, i.e. through intensification.

Now, subtract that 8,040 from the 26,500 total infill households, and you get ... 18,460, exactly 40 percent of the 46,150 households that are projected between 2015 and 2031.

Attempting to draw a distinction between undeveloped land that is technically within the urban boundary and undeveloped land that is currently outside the urban boundary, Robichaud added:

In addition, the City is not getting credit for the fact that about 75 percent of household growth will be accommodated within the existing urban area - through intensification and existing vacant, but not developed lands.

What this means is that in 2031, 90 percent of the households in the City of Hamilton will be located within the existing urban area (this includes existing households, households in units created through intensification or households built in new neighbourhoods that are within the existing urban area).

If ever there was a case of meeting the letter but violating the spirit, this is it. By playing with dates, GRIDS just barely manages to meet the minimum legal requirements of the provincial infill legislation.

Political Will Required

In his address to City Council on April 18, 2006, Richard Gilbert spoke about the province's intentions with Places to Grow and about the compromises between what it wants and what it will allow.

Robichaud had just spoken about the GRIDS plan and its efforts at intensifying to meet the provincial mandate. Gilbert's comments warrant quotation at some length:

Well as Steve Robichaud mentioned, there is a new set of provincial guidelines just coming out. I've not been part of any of the discussions around this, so I don't know the exact flavour of what the province is expecting.

But in terms of the drafts and what is being reported, the province does not want greenfield development, as far as I can figure out. It certainly wants brownfield development. It certainly wants intensification. And it begrudingly in the earlier stuff allowed greenfield development to have a place, but it seems clear to me that it doesn't want it.

And I appreciate that developers are big and often seem bigger than the muncipality. Even Metro Toronto when I was there could be somewhat intimidated by developers. And I appreciate the need for some provincial support.

But I'm absolutely certain with this particular government and where it is now, if the city of Hamilton were to say to this government, we need help in having no more greenfield development in our city, I think the provincial government would provide that. It would draw the map in the way you want.

Because what's going to happen is there's going to be a map, and there's going to be a map that shows where the greenfield stuff can be and where it can't be and we've already seen some of that. And I think if this city wants the province's help in that direction, it will get it.

In other words, if Hamilton was really serious about stopping sprawl and intensifying the city, a goal that is achievable with enough political will, it would receive the full cooperation of the province.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By jason (registered) | Posted November 25, 2006 at 12:45:07

so in other words, we need Mayor Fred to follow through on one of his biggest campaign promises and deal with sprawl/infill growth. As I mentioned earlier on RTH, the city should be looking at somewhere around 70-75% infill, not 33%. Charge proper development fees for sprawl, draw an urban boundary that won't budge and watch what will happen - all these same developers who cry foul over the idea will start building and rebuilding within the city, and guess what? They'll still make gobs of money. Heaven forbid.

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By (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2006 at 20:15:14

Portland Oregon did it, why can't Hamilton?

But be careful with what the developocrats call infill. It often involves ripping down neighbourhood schools, selling off public land at bargain prices and building houses on greenspaces long considered park space, even though it was not "officially" designated as such.

Mixed infill (maximum 3 story buildings) must take place on the brownfields and neglected properties of the lower city before another survey on upper city schoolyard/parkland/greenspace space is granted. Some of the lower city space muct be reclaimed as park space and public squares or "piazzas".

Downtown/waterfront Toronto is NOT a model to aspire to here in reclaiming Hamilton's seminal urban spaces. European cities have long found the formula for human-scale, livable cities. Why pursue the failed US car-centered urban space any longer?

Take a trip out Rymal Road and Mud Street. See the sickening destruction of farmland to throw up crackerbox McMonster homes that will only remain affordable as long as interest rates and gasoline prices stay at current artificially low levels.

The City is broke because of Larry's Folly (aka the Red Hill Debacle). Funny how the amount for building Larry's Folly exactly matches what we are told the cumulative tax shortfall is. Selling off our public resources and spaces at bargain prices so developers can build sprawl is false economy. Each sprawl house costs Hamilton taxpayers more in infrastructure overloading/expansion requirements than those properties could ever generate in taxes or real economic "growth". There is not enough public land to sell off within the city limits, or taxes to be raised from sprawl housing to pay for the Red Hill idiocy.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted May 16, 2007 at 01:13:32

I totally agree with everything here.

I would be concerned about the green space in the city getting gobbled up first, as said. I think we should reclaim it all before that can happen! :)

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