City rushes to stop fast food, gas stations along LRT line

Gas stations. Fast food drive-thrus. Single-family homes. These are all things city planners don’t want to see along Hamilton’s future LRT line, but currently, there's no way to stop it.
City Council voted Wednesday night to enact an interim control bylaw that would restrict the types of developments along the LRT line. (Steer Davies Gleave)

Gas stations. Fast food drive-thrus. Single-family homes on parcels of land that could easily be home to more lucrative developments.

These are all things city planners don't want to see along Hamilton's future light-rail transit (LRT) line. And now they're rushing to get a temporary bylaw in place to try to prevent them.

Developers are already approaching the city wanting to build along the route, said Jason Thorne, general manager of planning and economic development.

The city wants the right projects to be built along the King Street corridor — namely, not ones that focus on car traffic. The ideal is a multi-storey condo or apartment building with businesses on the ground floor.

We're starting to see interest for student residences east of Westdale now that they have that connection through the LRT.- Jason Thorne, manager of planning and economic development

But current zoning laws are lax, and if a fast food restaurant wanted to build a drive thru on a commercial space, there isn't much the city could do, Thorne said.

"It's pretty permissive zoning that allows a wide range of things, and some of those things aren't appropriate for the corridor now that there's going to be LRT," he said.

By fall, Thorne hopes to present an interim control bylaw that will specify which undesirable elements the city should avoid along the 10.8-kilometre route.

LRT is bringing interest from developers more interested now that the $1.2-billion project is a go.

"A good example is we're starting to see interest for student residences east of Westdale now that they have that connection through the LRT," he said. "So it's definitely generating development interest generally.

"Our fear is there could be development projects that will come and plop down on one of our key development sites. That's what we're trying to stave off."

Who develops where is key to LRT being a success in Hamilton. Economic spinoff is a major argument in favour of the system. But for LRT to pay off, the city has to allow the best projects on the best parcels of land.

The transit line itself will run along King Street from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle. A 2.3-kilometre A-line will run from King Street to the waterfront, and a three-kilometre track will connect the main line to the Wentworth maintenance facility.

The city will also build a pedestrian walkway from the Hunter GO station to the MacNab transit terminal.

LRT dominated discussion at city council's general issues committee on Wednesday, when staff recommended some next steps.

The city will set up a downtown office with Metrolinx for staff just working on LRT. It's also establishing a subcommittee that will include the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and six city councillors.

Thorne's presentation on Monday included the idea of incentives for builders along the line. Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster had a problem with that. If LRT is such an economic generator, Ferguson said, then why does the city need incentives?

Thorne said incentive grants would help bring the right development to the right areas. Even so, councillors agreed with Ferguson and scrapped that from the report's recommendations for now.

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