'You can't eat money': Residents protest urban sprawl on eve of public input deadline

Protesters say it will mean less farmland. The city says it's necessary to accommodate an influx of future home buyers.

The initiative that would expand where houses can be built on what is now green space and farmland

Opponents of expanding Hamilton's urban boundary protested in front of city hall on Thursday. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

It was a symphony of car horns at Hamilton city hall on Thursday afternoon as anti-sprawl activists waved signs advocating their message at passing cars, a day before the deadline to provide input on a potential urban boundary expansion.

Dundas resident Caroline Hill Smith's sign said: "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot," an homage to a Joni Mitchell song, accompanied by a marker drawing that could have been a dog or a goat. 

"The pandemic has definitely shown us we need space and nature is so important for our mental and emotional well being," she told CBC Hamilton. "We need to preserve that." 

Another person's sign simply read: "You can't eat money."

Several demonstrators, including Environment Hamilton executive director Lynda Lukasik, were dressed as oversized "local" carrots, an homage to the farmland, the future of whch is in question. 

The gathering of about 100 people was the second of two demonstrations organized by local group Stop the Sprawl on Thursday, a final push to get residents to tell city council they oppose building subdivisions on rural land adjoining the urban part of Hamilton. The first was at Dundas Driving Park earlier in the day.

The city says it expects 110,300 more households in Hamilton by 2051. The provincial government is requiring municipalities to expand to allow for construction on urban outskirts, saying it will enforce such a measure if municipalities don't do it themselves by July 2022. Hamilton is considering developing over 1,300 hectares of "Whitebelt lands" — land outside the urban boundary that isn't protected as part of the Greenbelt.

NDP MPP Sandy Shaw, who represents Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, says next year's election, expected in June, should allow enough time to roll back that policy if a new government is elected.

"We're losing 175 acres of farmland a day and it never comes back," said Shaw, at the city hall demonstration. She said her party has asked the provincial auditor general to evaluate the growth calculations the province is using to justify the expansion.

Some residents didn't get the invite

Meanwhile, some Hamilton residents say their households didn't receive the citywide survey.

"I and many friends in various wards within Hamilton did not receive a survey to cast our vote," wrote Inger Hinz, Ward 8 resident, in an email to CBC Hamilton. "I waited in anticipation for this survey by mail but to date no such survey was delivered!"

City council's general issues committee voted to mail a survey to all residents in March, after hearing from about 200 residents who opposed furthering urban sprawl. Responses are due Friday, and can also be submitted by email at GRIDS2-MCR@hamilton.ca.

The survey asks for resident input on whether the city should extend its urban boundary into surrounding agricultural land to accommodate 28,660 new houses, a scenario it calls "ambitious density," or whether all new development should occur through intensification of the existing urban area. 

"That really fired me up because I worked in advertising years ago and we wouldn't even get away with that," said Ward 1 resident Richard Talbot, commenting on the use of the name "ambitious density" for the option that would lead to urban sprawl. 

The survey also contains a blank space for citizens to describe a third option of their own.

Accidentally discarded?

Stop the Sprawl's Nancy Hurst -- who arrived at City Hall in a white car decked out like a Holstein cow -- says her group has found that people who live in apartments are less likely to have received the survey than those in houses, as are people with "no fliers" signs on their mailboxes.

Hurst says she's heard of sections of Westdale that were not delivered the surveys due to a post office error, and says about 80 per cent of Ancaster residents she's spoken to have not heard of the survey, despite their proximity to the urban boundary in question.

"On our… Instagram and our Facebook we have done informal polls, asking people, 'Did you get one?,'" she told CBC Hamilton. "Both came back at 50/50."

Talbot says he did not receive the survey at his Ward 1 home. 

Hurst notes the mailouts did not contain the city's logo on the outside so could have easily been mistaken as junk mail. 

Online option too

"It seems like the people that knew what they were looking for maybe had a better chance of noticing it."

Hurst's group has a web form that allows visitors to submit the survey from there. She says 6,100 people have used that option so far.

City spokesperson Aisling Higgins says staff mailed out more than 230,000 surveys to residents through Canada Post "walkmail." 

"There have been reports of addresses that did not receive a copy of the survey, which may be due to the survey being inadvertently discarded or the homeowner opting out of Canada Post flyer delivery," she said. "To address these concerns, staff have updated the project website with a link to the survey and with information on how responses can be submitted.

"Responses received through both hard copy and email are valid and will be reported to council."

With files from Christine Rankin


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