A local environmental group wants the City of Hamilton to freeze its urban boundaries, as any outward expansion would decimate agricultural lands and make the climate crisis worse.
Environment Hamilton says it launched a petition because the city, in its draft land needs assessment, has put forward two scenarios for consideration, both of which involve very large boundary expansions.
“Given the fact that there has been a climate emergency declaration in Hamilton and the fact that the lands that they would want to add to the urban boundary is prime agricultural land, we’re saying that right now that’s just the wrong decision to be making,” executive director Lynda Lukasik told CBC News.
“We shouldn’t be pushing ahead with a very large boundary expansion, given the fact that we’re grappling with the climate crisis [and] we can’t afford to lose the agricultural land because we’re probably going to need that land to grow food into the future as the climate crisis becomes more problematic.”
Environment Hamilton is also making the argument that the more you grow out, the more likely people are going to be car dependent.
“Right now, when you look at urban Hamilton, we haven’t gotten a handle on providing proper, reliable, frequent transit service within the urban area that exists now,” Lukasik said.
“We’ve got work to do with the existing urban area, never mind expanding out and creating an even larger area.”
Elfrida should be put into the Greenbelt
According to the city, between 2021 and 2051, Hamilton is expected to grow by 236,000 people and 122,000 jobs, and a future urban boundary expansion growth area may be required to accommodate population growth.
The city says in reviewing opportunities for where growth could occur during its first comprehensive Growth Related Integrated Development Strategy (GRIDS) process, the Elfrida area was identified as the preferred location to accommodate a portion of future growth to 2031.
The city has retained a consulting team to develop a growth scenario for the area that manages impacts to the natural heritage system and surrounding agricultural lands, while protecting important natural features.
But Environment Hamilton is opposed to any portion of the Elfrida area being developed.
“Elfrida is prime agricultural land, why the heck do we want to be building houses on prime agricultural land? In Hamilton I think people have this misconception that we’ve got so much farmland, but when you look at, in a bigger picture Canadian context, Ontario has most of the country’s prime agricultural land, southern Ontario in particular,” Lukasik said.
“We’ve already lost so much so. In Hamilton, there are statistics that show that from 1981 to 2006, we lost 16 per cent of our prime agricultural land. We expanded the airport and that took us up to, I think, about 17.6 per cent of our [agriculture] land lost.
“If we go ahead with Elfrida and beyond … that would take us over 20 per cent of our agricultural land lost since 1981, and we’re saying enough. What are we doing here? This is crazy. At the end of the day, you can’t eat houses. Once you build a residential service and commercial buildings and everything else on prime agricultural land, you can’t undo that,” Lukasik added.
Lukasik said it’s time to intensify within the urban boundary to make more complete communities that are higher density and can accommodate good public transit service.
She said the model being used to build the city needs to be shifted to one that builds up instead of out.
“This method of constantly expanding out has caused so much harm already. To be climate resilient, we have to head in a different direction,” Lukasik said.
Last week the provincial government announced plans to expand the Greenbelt to include the Paris Galt Moraine as well as river lands in the GTA.
The Paris Galt Moraine is a glacial deposit of loose sediment and rock extending from Caledon to north of Paris, Ont. and Brantford and is home to critical groundwater resources.
Making the announcement, Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing said: “This is truly a unique opportunity to grow the Greenbelt and protect Ontario’s environmental, groundwater and agricultural resources for future generations.”
The plan also calls for increasing the Greenbelt’s footprint into high density urban areas including the areas around the Don River in Toronto and land around Duffins Creek in Ajax and Pickering.
The Greenbelt was created in 2005 by the Ontario Liberal government and is a permanently protected area of green space that surrounds the Golden Horseshoe area. Premier Doug Ford’s government has said it won’t allow any development there.
“We’ll certainly let them know, not that I think they’re going to do it, but we’ll certainly let them know that ideally we would like to see them integrate that prime agricultural land [Elfrida area] into the greenbelt,” Lukasik said.
“If they’re really serious about enhancing the greenbelt, that should include protecting more prime agricultural land.”
More than 600 people sign petition
More than 600 people have signed the petition calling for city council to freeze Hamilton’s urban boundary.
The city’s planning staff are going to the General Issues Committee on March 29 to present the final report of the land needs assessment.
“We’re certainly trying to get more signatures on the petition before then [and] we’ll be there speaking,” Lukasik said.
“There are a lot of other community members mobilizing around this issue who will also be there speaking to their concerns. But basically, we’re really hoping that our municipal council will stand up and do the right thing here and not to not allow more of that prime agricultural land to be gobbled up by urban development.”