The city has months, likely years, before shovels go into the ground "in earnest" for the largest boundary expansion in Hamilton's history, says the city bureaucrat overseeing the project.

Earlier in July, the Ontario Municipal Board gave the city to go-ahead with its plan to develop a 555-hectare parcel of land around the Hamilton International Airport for industrial and commercial use.

But Guy Paparella, the director of growth planning for the city, says  he and his colleagues have to redraw the boundaries for the airport employment growth district (AEGD) before it gets final approval for the plan.

During the process of making its submission to the OMB, the city pared down the proposed size of the AEGD from 700 hectares to the current proposed amount.

Paparella said he and city staff are "compiling two or three" boundary configuration options to present to city council by the fall.

"We're aiming for October by the latest." he said.

Council would then vote to select a configuration, and the matter would then go to the OMB for its final stamp of approval.

Even after the plan clears Phase III of the OMB process, it could be over a year until the city moves to install infrastructure such as additional roads and sewer systems to parts of the AEGD lands. 

'We want to make sure that all of efforts create a long-term legacy for Hamilton and not just a short-term fix.'  —Guy Paparella, City of Hamilton

"We're looking 2015-2016 to get the major upgrade to the area," said Paparella, adding the construction would be funded through development charges and not through the general tax levy.

In the meantime, he said, the city has to complete environmental assessments for the upgrades before work can begin and market the area to prospective investors.

The process, he stressed, would be "incremental" and would be based on "affordability" as well a demand from investors.

"This is a 23-30 year plan," he said. "We want to make sure that all of efforts create a long-term legacy for Hamilton and not just a short-term fix."

Aerotropolis opponents mull next steps

While the city tweaks its designs for the AEGD, local activists who oppose the project are mulling their next steps.

Two groups, Environment Hamilton and Hamiltonians for Progressive Development, faced off with the city during an OMB hearing in January.

Opponents questioned the economic viability of the plan, charging there wouldn't be sufficient demand among investors for land surrounding the airport.

They also argued the project would eat up valuable farmland, and suggested are enough vacant brownfield properties in the lower city to accommodate the future job growth.

In its July 3 decision, the OMB disagreed with the groups' assessment and ruled in favour of the city's plan.

"The board orders that the appeals of EH and HPD on Phase 2 are dismissed and that 555 net ha is required to meet the forecasted demand for employment land to the year 2031," wrote OMB vice-chair J.V. Zuidema.

Don McLean, a spokesperson for the groups, said he and other stakeholders are in discussions on whether to launch an appeal at the OMB or to try to influence shape of the project — a decision they need to make before the end of the month.

"We're still in discussions with our lawyer," said McLean. "At this point, we really haven't made a decision."

The groups, he said, raised around $50,000 to fund their case and would need to collect more in order to continue.

McLean described the last round of the process "was critical for us" and described the outcome "very disappointing."

"But we need to look at the decision in detail," he said, "and determine what options that are available to us."