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Huge boundary expansion


Jul 12, 2017


The city is pushing ahead with a huge urban boundary expansion onto farmland in upper Stoney Creek. And despite long-standing provincial government opposition, city officials say the Elfrida Growth Area is not open to challenge and is necessary to accommodate expected population increases.

The 3100 acre (1256 hectare) parcel south of Rymal Road and east of Upper Centennial is more than twice the size of the aerotropolis expansion approved three years ago. It’s also considerably bigger than the Stoney Creek Urban Boundary Expansion (SCUBE) finalized a decade ago. At its maximum, the L-shaped parcel is more than 5 km long and 4 km wide.

It was selected by the city in a process that began in 2003, four years before the 2500-acre SCUBE got final approval. Unable to immediately justify more residential sprawl at the time, the city tried to bookmark the Elfrida area in its official plans as a ‘future growth area’.

Such designations are against provincial rules – partly because they result in the abandonment of agricultural investment and serious farming on the affected lands. So Queen’s Park removed the references to Elfrida from both Hamilton’s rural and urban official plans when it finalized them several years ago.

In response, the developers who own most of the lands appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board and also convinced a majority of councillors to commit the city to the same action. That was in 2012 but so far no hearings have even been scheduled.

It’s unclear why it is taking so long but city officials seem convinced that the Elfrida expansion will proceed. Provincial rules require municipalities to establish a clear need for new expansions before they are permitted to go ahead. At this point the city is spending heavily on consultants to complete all the required studies and assessments to finalize the expansion.

Installation of a major trunk sewer line along upper and lower Centennial Parkway from the Woodward Avenue plant to Elfrida is already nearing completion at a cost of more than $10 million per kilometre. Expectations by the private sector that the expansion is guaranteed are evidenced by the extensive big box commercial development that has been erected near the intersection of Rymal and Upper Centennial.

On the other hand, the planning assumptions behind the original Elfrida plans have been unraveling in multiple directions over the last dozen years as the Ontario government has tried to discourage more urban sprawl because of its consumption of foodlands and very high servicing costs.

The provincial Growth Plan imposed the same year as the Elfrida plans were approved by council, legislated that new Greenfield development must have a density of at least 50 residents per hectare. Then two months ago that was bumped up again to 80 per hectare. That means the 30,000 new residents the city says must be accommodated in Elfrida will now need only 375 hectares – less than a third of the proposed growth area. Higher percentages of young and old than previously forecast mean fewer new residential units are needed.

It’s now better understood that building on and paving rural lands increases vulnerability to climate change. The Elfrida plans were completed before the city was hit repeatedly with major flooding including a 2012 storm that dumped six inches of rain in three hours on upper Stoney Creek and Binbrook – a deluge that used to be expected no more than once every 1000 years. There are five significant streams in the area including tributaries of Red Hill Creek, Stoney Creek and Twenty Mile Creek – all of which have suffered downstream flooding problems in recent years.

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