Planning and the “golden rule” in Hamilton
Recently, Jason Allen gave Spectator readers an overview of the “golden rule” governing planning and construction in Hamilton: “Whoever has the gold, sets the rules”. (Hamilton Spectator, May 29, 2021, Hamilton Golden Rule on Zoning and Development By-laws).
His words resonated. He referred to “pretextual zoning” – a simulation game that claims that zoning and bylaws are fixed and factual when in reality they are just the initial negotiating position taken by the city before extracting the fees from the cities. developers in exchange for bigger, taller and more profitable developments. . He pointed out that municipal approval of these bylaw and zoning abuses, in return for money, is a recognized planning technique that has been in full swing for years in Hamilton. It was rather shocking to see the experience we have often had in our own community explained so bluntly.
When the housing market is booming and the provincial government removes regulatory limits on population density, as is currently the case, the city’s development costs are passed on to home buyers. The pretextual zoning fee becomes a hidden tax on new housing, filling city coffers while violating voter confidence and bypassing the diligent efforts of planners and communities to establish cohesive, well-planned bylaws and zoning.
Jason’s article explained that unscrupulous developers can negotiate with the City, agree to change their plans in exchange for demolition and building permits, then continue with their original plans and pay fines for failing to implement the changes. agreed.
And appeals to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal at this point are not possible. LPAT calls are often a waste of time and money anyway. A typical LPAT appeal can cost $ 100,000 in fees for attorneys, planners, and the LPAT itself. Additionally, the LPAT is a tool used by the current provincial government to implement its intensification policies, so appeal decisions generally favor developers anyway.
Faced with these challenges, communities wishing to maintain their current zoning regulations and rules must organize themselves to oppose each development as it arises, knowing that the chances of success in the face of these obstacles are thin. There is a lot of work to be done, even for those of us who have the time and the energy to be active. And the adversarial relationships that are an inevitable result of the functioning of the system lead to conflict, stress, and uncertainty for everyone in a neighborhood, despite development boundaries clearly written in black and white in bylaws and regulations. zoning. A win-win showdown with a developer means only one party is happy in the end. And trust in the City and the councilors wanes as the process takes shape.
In Ancaster’s efforts last year to address weaknesses in the town’s demolition settlement, after the Brandon House and other 19th century buildings along Wilson Street were brutally demolished, leaving holes gaping in the village streetscape, we learned a lot. We have seen that the City’s current demolition policy considers the developer to be the “client”. Everyone in the process is peripheral. We have learned that the intensive efforts over the past 18 months to develop an Ancaster-wide consensus on development policy in Ancaster, which culminated in the Ancaster Wilson Street Secondary Plan of 2011, was likely a short-lived victory. for our neighborhoods. As the developer, who is currently planning a massive 7-story building on the rubble-strewn Brandon House site in the Heritage Village, recently told us: “It’s old history, it doesn’t matter anymore. now. The secular relationship between the City and the developers, where both benefit from the Golden Rule, results in neighborhoods with a loss of quality of life.
In his article, Jason thinks that can be changed. He suggests that voters ask Council candidates in the next election where they stand on the “golden rule”. While replacing the Board is a good start, it will not be enough to address this issue. Communities suffering from the destruction of their neighborhoods need to be more specific about which policies to change, and become well informed and active in lobbying for those changes.
A revised town planning policy is necessary for neighborhoods to become “clients” equal in status and participation with developers. The City must challenge developers to comply with the by-laws and zoning regulations already in place. Hamilton’s vibrant communities and neighborhoods need to lobby strongly and persistently for change. Deselecting the current board will be a good start, but it’s not enough to fix this problem. The most complete answer lies in an assertive, competent and united team of neighborhood associations effectively representing their communities.