Two local activist groups are gearing up for an Ontario Municipal Board hearing this month where they'll fight the largest urban boundary expansion in recent memory. In the meantime, they'll update people on what's happened so far.

Environment Hamilton and Hamiltonians for Progressive Development will battle the city in a three-week hearing starting Jan. 14. The groups have joined the Council of Canadians and the Hamilton Civic League for a public meeting next week updating Hamiltonians on what to expect.

The OMB hearing "is going to determine whether this proceeds, and if it proceeds, how large it is," said Don McLean, a director with Environment Hamilton. 

The meeting at city hall on Jan. 9 "will give people an update on what has happened until now."

The Airport Employment Growth District, also known as the Aerotropolis project, is the city's plan to expand the urban boundary to open up about 700 hectares around the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport for long-term development.

The city says the land will attract jobs, economic development and as much as $70 million per year in taxes by the time it's fully developed in 2031. Opponents' worries include the environmental impact, the economic effectiveness, the loss of prime agricultural land and the contribution to urban sprawl.

The city argues that the project represents an opportunity to diversify Hamilton's economic base. The growth plan will also reduce local dependence on commuting and take advantage of airport infrastructure, said Guy Paparella, director of growth planning.

Paparella foresees advanced manufacturing, logistics and transportation businesses locating there, as well as warehousing and distribution companies.

"This land is of strategic importance in terms of employment area for the whole city," he said.

Environment Hamilton, which is fundraising about $50,000 for legal fees for the OMB challenge, says the city should intensify and revitalize brownfield sites before it develops arable land.

"We're all hoping for a commitment to more sustainable development," executive director Lynda Lukasik said.

The public meeting will be from 6 to 9 p.m. in the council chambers at city hall.

The OMB hearing will be Jan. 14 at 10 a.m. at the Hamilton Convention Centre.

The city has budgeted about $300,000 for the OMB challenge.