Local environmentalists are fighting a city of Hamilton plan to take more than 100 hectares of tender fruit land out of the greenbelt and open it up for suburban development.

Hamilton officials will ask the province to remove 104 hectares (257 acres) from greenbelt designation. The two lower Stoney Creek properties are currently tender fruit farms, and if approved for removal, would be a step closer to development.

The city also recommends removing 28 hectares (69 acres) of farmland in Waterdown. In both cases, the properties are surrounded by urban activity, making them less suitable for farming, said Steve Robichaud, the city's director of planning. 

'I think having food to eat is pretty important too.' - Lynda Lukasik, Environment Hamilton

But Lynda Lukasik isn't so sure. The executive director of Environment Hamilton says the province has specifically designated the Stoney Creek properties as tender fruit lands. Tender fruit grows best in that specific location between the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario.

So the properties — one at Glover and Lewis roads, one east and west of Fifty Road and north of Highway 8 —  are specialty farmland, Lukasik said. But she sees an obvious push to eventually offer them up to developers.

"If you ask me what I think, I think that's what's happening," she said.

"But I think having food to eat is pretty important too."

The Stoney Creek parcels have been in line for potential development before. In 2003, the city included the land in the Stoney Creek Urban Boundary Expansion (SCUBE), a plan that could see as many as 15,000 new residents in Fruitland-Winona in the next 20 years. Its new iteration, the Fruitland-Winona Secondary Plan, is being fought at the Ontario Municipal Board.

The province objected to the SCUBE-related official plan amendment, Robichaud said. After negotiations, the 104 hectares were removed.

Now the city will ask for them to be put back in the mix for development. If the province OKs taking the lands out of greenbelt protection, Robichaud said that doesn't immediately prime the land for development. It would still require an official plan amendment to expand Hamilton's urban boundary.

But it's a step closer, Lukasik said. Hamilton already isn't meeting density targets in existing urban areas, she said. And "once those lands are gone, they're gone."

The city isn't proposing a net loss of greenbelt land. The plan removes 132 hectares, Robichaud said, but adds another 200.

Farmland would be lost

The Stoney Creek parcels are located near a major road, a staff report says. And there's transportation and infrastructure to accommodate future growth.

"Some productive agricultural land will be lost," the report says. 

The Waterdown land, meanwhile, is "disjointed and isolated" farmland east of Centre Road and north of Parkside.

Initial public consultation floated larger properties for removal from the greenbelt, including 323 hectares of rural land north of Twenty Mile Creek.

But planners aren't recommending that to city councillors, who will vote on this at a special meeting on Thursday.

They'll also vote to do a comprehensive local review of the greenbelt, and ask the province for permission to ask for boundary changes afterward. 

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC