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Councillors unaware of major bylaw change

Sep 29, 2008

Councillors say they didn’t notice a change to city rules that automatically zones school lands to single-family housing. A detailed citizen critique now appears to have kick-started a process to repeal the 2007 modification to the city’s comprehensive zoning bylaw.

Long-time parka advocate John Norris told last week’s planning committee on public participation that no citizen could have been expected to interpret a single line in a city ad to mean that they were losing their right to be notified of a zoning change in their neighbourhood.

“How could lands that our kids play on every day, suddenly be rezoned for housing without the adjoining landholders, the neighborhood groups, those living across the road, being informed or involved?” asked Norris. “What went wrong that no one told them or gave them an opportunity to comment on such a hugely significant land-use change in the heart of their own neighborhood?”

He recounted how the zoning rule change created an embarrassing incident in May of last year when several approved citizen delegations were informed at the beginning of a planning meeting that their comments would have no effect. They were opposing the rezoning of lands of James Macdonald School and discovered the city-wide rule change meant the zoning desired by the developer was already in place.

“The City notified the schools of these proposed changes and requested comments but not from those immediately affected right next door,” noted Norris. “Failure to involve those citizens, because they do not receive fair and reasonable communications, is not healthy.”

He circulated a copy of the city’s June 2006 advertisement notifying the public of a public information centre on the new zoning bylaw. The ad makes reference to a “Neighbourhood Institutional (11) Zone” but provides no specific information about the change to school properties.

Lloyd Ferguson agreed with Norris’ criticism.

“I read this [ad] and I don’t understand it either and I’m on the planning  and economic development committee,” said Ferguson. “I have no idea now of what a Neighbourhood Institutional 11 Zone is and to expect the public to understand that is not fair.”

The new rules also apply to the Lawfield School lands that have been declared surplus by the Hamilton Board of Education. They caught mountain councillor Scott Duvall off guard when he learned of it at a board information meeting earlier this month.

“I did not know, as a city councillor, that these institutional lands would automatically go to single-family dwellings,” Duvall said.  “In fact I took that information and asked some of my other fellow councillors right after and they had no idea either.”

That was confirmed by Brad Clark.

“I think everyone on council missed that one,” he declared. “I missed completely this issue with regards to giving the schools the right to put in single family homes – and then it blew up at the next planning meeting.”

There was no explanation offered at last week’s meeting of the purpose of the zoning changes on the school lands, but Norris contended there are clear winners and losers.

“As that land is zoned for single family residential it makes the land far more attractive to a developer; it makes the land cheaper for a developer because they no longer have to go through a zoning process,” he noted.  “And who is it most expensive for? The City of Hamilton who wants to buy a park, who wants to take that parkland over … finds that they now have to pay for it as if it was single family residential zoning.”

Duvall said he and other councillors intend to seek a re-examination of the zoning change.

“I know that we’re going to be taking it before this committee going forward to see what we can do.”

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