The fight over Hamilton's Airport Employment Growth District isn't over yet.

Hamiltonians for Progressive Development (HPD) is appealing the Ontario Municipal Board's (OMB) ruling that the Aerotropolis plan should go ahead in divisional court.

HPD and Environment Hamilton were two groups that argued the city's plan to expand its urban boundaries for industrial development by the airport was unnecessary, considering the amount of underutilized industrial land Hamilton has.

'This is about making fundamental choices about how we want to develop as a city.' —Michael Desnoyers, HPD chair

"Hamilton's industrial base has been in decline for decades, leaving Hamilton with opportunities for redeveloping properties which are already serviced and are ideally located for rail, truck, and ship transportation," said Michael Desnoyers, CEO of Etratech and chair of HPD. "Anyone who has driven along Burlington Street knows the extent of the opportunities for redevelopment within the existing industrial areas. To suggest that we have run out of room and need to use up our farmland is simply outrageous."

Last month, the OMB ruled in favour of the plan that calls for a net of 555 hectares of industrial and commercial growth around the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport by 2031. But HPD will be arguing in court that the OMB has failed to consider the availability of brownfield development as an alternative move to expansion.

Using the underutilized

Brownfields are underdeveloped or once-used industrial properties that might be contaminated — and Hamilton has a lot of them. The city estimates that there are hundreds of vacant "under-utilized" buildings and properties in the Bayfront industrial area alone.

Drew Blair, a broker and partner with the Blair Blanchard Stapleton Real Estate Brokerage told CBC Hamilton in July that it's easier said than done to get companies interested in redeveloping Brownfield sites.

"Certain industries just want to be on pristine, virgin sites," Blair said, adding that it's extremely difficult to get a company to purchase brownfield land. "If your industry wants a clean site - that image and that feel - you're not looking at brownfield sites."

Cost is a big factor too. The city estimates that developing a brownfield site is between 14 and 27 per cent more expensive than a comparable greenfield site. And if that brownfield site had, say, a 40,000 square foot building on it that had to be demolished (which isn't uncommon in Hamilton's older industrial area), that price actually rises to between 22 and 34 per cent more expensive.

Expanding the city's boundaries by the airport was a necessity, even with the brownfield sites in the lower city, says Neil Everson, Hamilton's director of economic development. He says the city has only a 2.4 per cent vacancy rate for industrial properties — a number that is just too low.

Meeting the criteria

Everson says says that while yes, there may be a lot of vacant industrial properties in the lower city, most of them don't meet the needs of modern businesses. Most need at least 25-foot ceilings, loading dock doors and immediate access to a major highway, he says.

"Yes, people might see a lot of empty buildings, but do they meet those criteria?" Everson asked.

Even so, HPD is still asking the city to voluntarily abandon the plans for expansion and find another way to develop brownfield sites.

"We're at a crossroads in Hamilton," Desnoyers said. "This is about making fundamental choices about how we want to develop as a city. We can either accept our responsibility to rehabilitate our brownfields or we can use up irreplaceable farmland.

"We can leverage our existing infrastructure and strengthen our communities, or gamble half a billion dollars servicing greenfield properties for developers."