Stop Sprawl HamOnt pushes back against the province’s push for urban boundary expansion
Greenbelt expansion, Bill 23 and expansion order from the provincial government threaten Hamilton’s 2021 decision to maintain a firm urban boundary
On Nov. 4, the Ontario government posted its decision to expand Hamilton’s urban boundary by 2,200 hectares. This move would expand the city of Hamilton into the surrounding “Whitebelt,” an area between the city and the Greenbelt that is mostly composed of rural farmland.
This decision from the Ford government comes after a 2021 Hamilton city council vote to hold the urban boundary firm, a move that received massive public support, as well as support from local activist groups such as Stop Sprawl HamOnt.
Stop Sprawl is a volunteer organization that advocates against Hamilton’s urban sprawl. According to Nancy Hurst, an organizer for Stop Sprawl, the organization was founded in response to the province’s initial request to expand Hamilton’s urban boundary.
Hurst explained that when the Ford government released their market-based approach to urban development they asked municipalities such as Hamilton to resubmit their official plans. This prompted the city to ask residents of Hamilton for their input regarding the expansion of urban boundaries.
Originally, Hurst explained, the city took for granted that some level of urban sprawl would occur. However, the public pushed back on this, with over 16,000 people responding to the city online that they wanted to hold Hamilton’s urban boundary firm. Stop Sprawl was formed during this process and, according to Hurst, was instrumental in engaging the public on this issue.
On Nov. 19, 2021, Hamilton's city council voted to hold the city’s urban boundary in a 13-3 split. However, after the most recent municipal election, the provincial government has pushed back on this decision.
“All these new councillors were voted in. It was the very next day that the Ford government returned our official plan to us. They just crossed everything out and changed everything. [They] certainly crossed out the firm urban boundary part,” said Hurst.
The Ontario government is aiming to expand 5,000 acres into the Whitebelt surrounding Hamilton.
In a separate but related move, the province is also planning to remove 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt in areas across the province, in order to build more homes in these areas.
Hurst stressed that homes built farther away from cities are often single-family houses that require cars to reach important resources, such as grocery stores. Thus, she explained, this type of housing likely wouldn’t be affordable.
“Affordable housing needs to be built within a complete community. If it's if it's far away, first of all, you're going need to have a car to get to it — so, already, you've kind of lost your affordable part,” said Hurst.
Hurst also stated that building houses on rural farmland would cost the province more money than it would earn them.
“Farm fields don't have electricity, sewer water, built into [them]. That infrastructure needs to be put there. and it needs to be paid for by us. So that's why they say sprawl doesn't pay for itself,” said Hurst.
Hurst also highlighted the potential impacts of Bill 23, an omnibus bill that was passed on Monday called the More Homes Built Faster Act, which made changes to the Conservation Authority Act, the Heritage Act and numerous other pieces of legislation.
According to Hurst, Bill 23 poses an environmental threat, as it weakens the power of conservation authorities. Hurst also argued that a lot of the homes built under this act would not be truly affordable.
Hurst, who has attended numerous Stop Sprawl rallies, discussed the feelings of Hamilton residents towards the province’s push for urban boundary expansion.
“They're upset about Bill 23, and all [of its] disastrous effects, and certainly about the green belt—people are going crazy over that. But, here in Hamilton specifically, people are [upset] that he's messing with our local decisions,” said Hurst.
Stop Sprawl HamOnt held rallies on the weekend of Nov. 19 and Nov. 26, organizing hundreds of community members to voice their concerns about urban sprawl.