Environmental Defence seeking judicial review on province’s changes to Hamilton’s land-use plan

Province added 2,200 hectares to the city's boundary

Environmental Defence seeking judicial review on province’s changes to Hamilton’s land-use plan
Laura Bowman, Ecojustice

Environmental Defence Canada has applied for a judicial review of the Ontario government’s changes to Hamilton’s official plan, the city’s land-use planning document.

The environmental advocacy organization says the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, unlawfully used his authority under the Planning Act to amend both Hamilton’s Urban Official Plan and the Rural Official Plan. Environmental Defence also argues that the minister’s amendments were unreasonable.

“Our clients, Environmental Defence, have launched this judicial review to try and hold the minister accountable for his decision to interfere with this very significant planning decision in Hamilton,” says Laura Bowman, staff lawyer at Ecojustice.         

Under Ontario’s Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, she says municipalities around the Greater Toronto Area were required to do “land needs assessments” to determine whether they needed to expand their urban land base to make room for new housing.

After Hamilton’s assessment, the city opted not to expand its urban boundary.

“The City of Hamilton had hundreds of members of the public come to their public meetings supporting maintaining the existing urban boundary, and Hamilton passed an official plan that didn’t expand it,” says Bowman.

But on November 4, the Ministry added 2,200 hectares to Hamilton’s boundary. The Ministry also announced the removal of 7,400 acres of Greenbelt, including near Hamilton, around the same time.

“Official plans are among the most important tools municipalities and the province use in partnership to prepare for future growth and housing needs,” says Victoria Podbielski, press secretary for the office of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “It is expected that the City of Hamilton’s population will grow to more than 800,000 people by 2051. That is why, after careful consideration, the minister took the necessary action to accommodate this growth and allow for more desperately needed housing to be built.”

“As this matter is before the courts it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

In adding the land to Hamilton, the minister failed to provide reasons and the “supporting analysis” required under the Growth Plan to justify the need for the additional land, says Bowman. She says that he also failed to consider the prescribed matters under the Planning Act and did not provide “transparent and intelligible reasons” for his decision to interfere in the city’s planning process.

In amending the Official Plans, Environmental Defence claims the minister has failed to comply with the Planning Act and the Places to Grow Act, and the amendments are unreasonable in light of ss. 1.1, 2, and 3(5) of the Act, according to the notice of application.

Environmental Defence seeks a declaration that the official plan amendments are unlawful, an order quashing them and remittance of the matter back to the minister for redetermination. The group also wants guidance from the court “requiring the minister to consider the policy statements referenced in subsection 3(5) of the [Planning] Act when exercising the powers as approval authority under s. 17(34) of the Planning Act.

“Government framed this as being about affordable housing,” says Bowman. “But the mix of housing that Hamilton predicted would be in demand in their official planning process was more compact development – apartment unit, garden unit – in the urban centres, which are transit-accessible and cheaper types of housing.”

“What the minister has done is really forced Hamilton to allow large, single-family homes in places where you can only own a car, which are not affordable types of housing. I think that this framing is misplaced. What the minister is really doing is allowing land speculators to benefit from his decision-making and creating a pattern of decision-making that lacks accountability to the public.”

According to Ontario’s Growth Plan, the province wants to achieve a “minimum density target” of 200 “residents and jobs combined per hectare” in downtown Hamilton by 2031.

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