Shocker: City Rolls Over for Home Builders

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
Oops: The Spectator web page on the Losani Homes deal includes an ad for Losani Homes

Whither Demand?

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.

Missing Businesses

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.

Definition of Insanity

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.

Tragedy Becomes Farce

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'
"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.

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 Frank (registered) | Posted April 09, 2008 at 08:55:33

I'd be interested to know where these lands are. Aside from Barton in Winona, there's no mention of the actual location.

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By HaveYourSay (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2008 at 09:16:29

Hello everyone,

The City of Hamilton is holding open houses in relation to the possibility of expanding the urban boundary to create more "employment lands" (industrial parks). This is part of the attempt to justify a need for a giant "aerotropolis" industrial park to the south of the City.

In order to justify the conversion of our City's farmlands into an aerotropolis, the City must demonstrate that there is insufficient industrial land withing the existing urban area. A big part of this relates to "brownfield" opportunities (breathing new life into unused or underused industrial land), because for every acre that we can find within the bayfront or other historical industrial areas, an acre of farmland is spared.

Hamiltonians for Progressive Development is concerned that the City has vastly underestimated the extent of brownfield opportunities within the urban boundary, resulting in a vast overestimation of the amount of farmland that we need to industrialize. Indeed, it is not clear that any urban boundary expansion is necessary to accomodate Hamilton 's future employment growth; if we, as a community, decide that we want to put an end to urban sprawl and want to refocus our efforts on rejuvenating our lower-city employment areas, this is the time to communicate this to our City representatives.

Please do consider attending one of the open houses and expressing your interest in seeing a larger role for brownfields. The details regarding time and place are set out below.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008
2:00 PM to 4:00 PM
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Parks Canada Discovery Centre
Multi-Purpose Room
57 Discovery Drive, Hamilton

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By MediaWatch (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2008 at 10:50:37

Strange. Some of the same elements that are bemoaning the lack of activity on the Glanbrook Industrial Park fought the Maple Leaf Pork Processing plant locating there. Ironic, I think.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 09, 2008 at 11:04:22

this is so typical. our EcDev guys make big speeches about the 'lack of shovel ready land' being the thing that's holding us back.
No it's not. We've had a TON of shovel-ready land opened up in recent years along the QEW, Linc, Red Hill and 403 extension. Funny thing....all of those spots look identical now - pointy tops of homes as far as the eye can see. Our huge list of companies beating down the door to come here was reduced to one - the afformentioned pig plant. It should come as no surprise that Maple Leaf gave up trying to find a Canadian locale for that plant. I guess people in other Canadian cities weren't enamoured with the idea of a pile of filth being built in their backyard anymore than Hamiltonians. The nerve.

We always knew who the "list" consisted of. And they're loving every minute of it now.

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By Staffer (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2008 at 13:22:06

Jason said:

the afformentioned pig plant. It should come as no surprise that Maple Leaf gave up trying to find a Canadian locale for that plant. I guess people in other Canadian cities weren't enamoured with the idea of a pile of filth being built in their backyard anymore than Hamiltonians.

A pig processing plant is now a pile of filth. I guess Kitchenerites, Burlingtonians and Torontonians enjoy their 'pile of filth' and the jobs it has created.

Jason, are you a Janus by any chance?

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 09, 2008 at 14:42:20

yes, those cities all enjoy it so much that none of them were willing to take Maple Leafs' new plant. By the way, what ever happened to that proposed plant? And one more thing - how many people work at the Burlington plant today in 2008?

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By Staffer (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2008 at 14:58:41

Jason, you are wrong on your first point. Burlington was bending over backwards to keep the plant. In fact it is still there. Maple Leaf is getting out of the pork business the papers said, but others will be in it. And who knows if they had invested in Hamilton, their plans might not have changed. The point is you can't argue for industrial growth and chase industry away at the same time, as an earlier post hinted.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 09, 2008 at 22:49:43

ok, so before we beat Maple Leaf to death...what about the rest of the "list"?? Where are all these companies that were so desperate for Red Hill?? I live here and don't plan on leaving....I'd like an economy for my kids when they get older (one with more options than slicing pigs in half of rolling steel). Where's the list people?

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 10, 2008 at 09:41:48

that should say "OR rolling steel". although perhaps Hamilton could open up the first ever steel/pig plant all in one beautiful facility. haha.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 10, 2008 at 13:50:17

Jay, I propose a hybrid plant where pigs run the plant and upon "retiring" receive a retiring package of plastic and paper. Long live bacon!!! I'd also like to hear the list as well and also I'd like to know what the city is doing to attract the businesses here in Hamilton??

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By trey (registered) | Posted April 11, 2008 at 09:59:17

Interesting that "staffer" went away as soon as you mention "the List".

This city is unbelievable.... we're located in the middle of the industrial and economic heartland of a modern and advanced country and we fail to grow (zero tax assesment growth) and attract business. Monkeys would do better.

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By Staffer (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2008 at 11:29:02

No, Trey I didn't go away...what is this list? Even if I knew the list, which I don't, the last thing I'd do is publish it so the critics like Jason and Don and Hamiltonians for Progressive Development (NOT) can chase them away?

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By William (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2008 at 22:24:07

The answer is that many Hamilton Staff and Council have no general idea about how to attract business. Economic Development and City Staff are so far off base on things that is why things never work out.

Spending money on servicing plans, go no-where directionless marketing ideas, biased studies which cost millions, and talk of hypothetical lists of businesses wanting to move to Hamilton, various people stating "if we do this or this", and going on trade missions and out of country conferences which do little to actually benefit the City does not work.

Why not just listen to citizen groups who may have better ideas, focus on existing business here and help them expand, develop on brownfield sites, say no to developers who really only have their best interests in mind, and look at privatizing non-essential municipal services and let the true free market alleviate problems.

The more I see things here, it is like we are living in a false economy with poor decisions being made all of the time and continual wasting of money taking place.

From what I have read in the papers, on this website and heard on the radio, there seems to be only a small number of the "Power Brokers" who can actually fix the problems of this great City, let's get on with it.

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By trey (registered) | Posted April 12, 2008 at 10:08:49

The city pursues 25 year old strategies which may have worked in the past in other cities but are outdated now.

The future is about "Lifestyle" or "Workstyle". The city could work on increasing the livability of Hamilton that would then attract businesses because they would be proud to locate and support a city that cares about itself and its citizens. They've been listening too long to the 'advice' from home builders and truckers -- this hasn't worked so maybe they should start listening to the advice of other people.

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By Higgledee piggledee (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2008 at 11:00:03

Hamilton & the GHA is the last place on Earth that I would invest in as an entrepreneur. By-laws that are either over-enforced or not enforced at all, will-o-the-wisp accountability, back room deals.. Who in their right mind would sink money & effort into a morase like that? Boss Hogg lives.

(No wonder the Maple Leaf plant didn't have a chance.;-) Of course, neither did Famous People Players.

But people in rural areas do have a right to protect their environment, & their homes.(Has anyone noticed the movement of those 'Green Space' billboards along the 403? Has anyone noticed that if you take the next exit from one of those billboards, you just might find new homes, or business's being built right behind those signs? ) It's all just window dressing, & why would anybody take it seriously?

If we want to develop, Take It Downtown! If we want to develop, for goodness sake adopt the same attitude that good parents do.
"Be Fair & Be Consistent!"
(Nobody wants to sink $$ into 'a pig in a poke'.)

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By councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2008 at 15:07:35

I am old enough to remember the many protests around the widening of York Street and in the years of destroying Hamilton's character, and the City's obsession with bulldozing and expropriation. Now I am of the opinion that in order to help with the revitalization of Downtown Hamilton expropriation and bulldozing may provide the answer. Take the busses away from Barton Street, and starting at James let the bulldozers do the work while "real" planners PLAN.

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