It’s been years of fear and concern, debate and public meetings. But the city has finally approved a controversial plan to grow the Fruitland and Winona area by 15,000 people over the next 20 years.

City council voted Wednesday to move ahead with the Fruitland-Winona Secondary Plan, a sweeping blueprint that maps out future commercial and residential growth. The plan would expand Hamilton’s urban boundary into a partially rural area that contains tender fruit farms.

The plan has been a source of anxiety for some Fruitland and Winona residents, who fear issues such as loss of community character, traffic and the impact on agriculture. Coun. Brenda Johnson of Ward 11 was one of two councillors to vote against it on Wednesday.

“It’s dragged the community through a horrible ordeal,” she said. “I’ve met people at their kitchen tables. I’ve met people in their living rooms, in their backyards, in their front yards.”

The plan, also known as the Stoney Creek Urban Boundary Expansion (SCUBE), has been in the works for years. The city actually approved the plan — complete with a public consultation process — in June.

Second time around

But shortly after that, the province approved the city’s new Urban Hamilton Official Plan, which cancelled out the Fruitland-Winona one. So council had to go through the process and approve it again.

Air drainage is a phenomenon between the lake and the Niagara Escarpment that impacts fruit growers. Tall buildings impact air drainage, Johnson said.

Under the current plan, buildings will be a maximum of three and a half stories. Johnson wanted three. Initially, the limit was six stories, which would have added as many as 21,000 people to the area over 20 years.

The population density in the current plan will be about 70 residents per hectare. Johnson wanted 50. She’s also concerned about the placement of a community park and traffic flow.

Council was initially set to approve the plan in the fall, but Johnson wanted more time to consult with residents. About 250 attended a public meeting in February, and more have called and written letters.

'It’s just laying down a mapping saying ‘here’s what can go here.''- Coun. Maria Pearson

Not all are against it, she said. But those in favour “have been living with this for 30 years and said ‘get it over with.’”

Mapping out future development

In a letter to council on Wednesday, resident Paul Gaudet wrote that Winona is a “beautiful and family-oriented community.”

“I am not against development, but putting up two, three, four-storey buildings is not a good idea,” he said.

But Coun. Maria Pearson or Ward 10 in Stoney Creek said her area has experienced growth, and it’s worked out fine.

“It’s just laying down a mapping saying ‘here’s what can go here,’” she said.

In her ward, farms have become housing developments and it’s been “pretty complimentary over the course of the last 30 years,” she said.

OMB appeal likely

“If I drive around my neighbourhood, I can’t say I’m unhappy with any aspect of my neighbourhood,” she said. “And those houses don’t sit empty long once the for sale sign goes up.”

It’s likely not the end of the issue. Community members are expected to appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board. If that happens, it could take six months to a year for a hearing, said Steve Robichaud, manager of development planning.

Johnson predicts that could take years. “If we ever see a shovel, I don’t believe it’ll be in there for five years."

Community member Cal DiFalco called the plan wrong headed, preferring a “Plan C” that the city approved in April 2009.

“It is expected that this will be a very long fight,” he said. “The community is not giving up.”