A Hamilton councillor is proposing to eliminate a controversial bylaw that limits the number of residential treatment beds that are allowed in a 300-metre radius.

Sam Merulla, councillor for Ward 4, said the radial separation bylaw has been rendered "feeble" after the Ontario Municipal Board allowed an eight-bed group home for girls with mental health issues to relocate to an existing facility in Hamilton's Corktown neighbourhood.

He plans to submit his motion to council as early as next week.

Council had voted to deny the Lynwood Charlton Centre's request, citing the radial separation bylaw. But the OMB's Aug. 23 decision overruled the city's wishes.

'The fact that they're getting rid of it as a result of our win at the OMB, that's a good thing."

—Alex Thomson, Lynwood Chalton Centre

Though OMB's verdict did not rule directly on the bylaw, Merulla said the decision sets a precedent for the breaking of the policy.

"We're at a point that, because of the ruling, we've deemed the bylaw futile," said Merulla, clearly unhappy with the OMB ruling. "So we might as well just eliminate it. We'll allow the market to dictate where these facilities will be."

Alex Thomson, executive director of the Lynwood Charlton Centre, said he's pleasantly surprised by Merulla's motion. Thomson told CBC Hamilton on Friday the bylaw is a "blunt instrument" and said there is "no science" behind how many residential care patients it permits in a particular area.

"The fact that they're getting rid of it as a result of our win at the OMB, that's a good thing."

'Open the floodgates'

The issue of the radial separation bylaw was set to go in front of the OMB as part of a Phase 2 of the Lynwood Charlton Centre's appeal.

However, it's unclear whether the hearings will go ahead after the city's planning committee recommended to give up the case against the relocation of the group home, and also to put the radial separation bylaw under review.

Councillor Jason Farr, who chairs the planning committee and whose riding includes the downtown core, said he "looks forward" to examining Merulla's motion, but said he doesn't at the moment support the immediate removal of the bylaw.

"My support is for a comprehensive review."

The Ontario Human Rights Commission, which was a party in the OMB case, decried the bylaw as example of "discrimination" against people on the social margins and said it should be revoked.

"For anyone to suggest in any way that the bylaw was intended to discriminate, they'd have to have their head up their ass," said Merulla defending the spirit of the policy, which was introduced in 2001.


The Ontario Municipal Board ruled in August that the Lynwood Charlton Centre will be able to locate an eight-bed group home for teen girls with mental health issues at 121 Augusta St. (Mark Chambers/CBC)

"It was implemented based on public pressure in the '90s to remove or mitigate the over-intensification of institutions in the core."

The bylaw, he added, was designed to manage how land is used and not to discriminate against groups of people. 

Merulla said he fears the OMB ruling has "opened the floodgates" for more residential care facilities to cluster in downtown Hamilton — an outcome, he said, that will rankle many of the same people who sided with the Lynwood Charlton Centre during its two-year battle with the city.

"The NIMBY effect will be on steroids when that happens."