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Hamilton Aerotropolis - Airport Employment Growth District, Ontario, Canada


Description:

An Aerotropolis, described as a ‘master planned community that develops around an airport’ was identified as the ‘number one strategic priority for economic development in Hamilton’ in the City of Hamilton’s 2005 Economic Development Strategy. The Aerotropolis concept focussed on development of an industrial, commercial and residential community around Hamilton Airport, serving to support the airport’s and the City’s economic development objectives. Air freight activity was emphasized in the Aerotropolis plans, but there was an alternative view that it would be a business park without a strong relationship with the airport. At a June 2005 public meeting about the Aerotropolis concept several attendees raised concerns about how future energy constraints posed by limited oil supplies might affect the project. In response the City Council directed staff to prepare a strategy to deal with the potential fuel crisis and impacts on the Aerotropolis project.[1]

In September 2010 a report concerning the boundary for the Aerotropolis, re-named Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD), was released to the public for review. Hamiltonians for Progressive Development issued a press release listing 20 reasons to stop the AEGD, which would convert prime agricultural land into an industrial zone. An official admitted that the cost of servicing the project would be over $350 million (USD339.5 million), excluding construction of 25 kilometer water and sewer pipes to the airport district, which would be more expensive than typical water infrastructure as fluids would need to be pumped uphill. Storm water management costs were estimated to be over $100,000 (USD97 million) per acre because the lands form the headwaters of four significant streams. Projections of increased flights at Hamilton Airport had not materialized, exacerbating suspicions that the real agenda was not industrial development but residential sprawl. Even if the Aerotropolis did create employment it was expected to be primarily low-wage, with warehousing and trucking firms occupying 70 per cent of the land. The fact that the existing airport business park was 85 per cent vacant raised doubts over viability of the project. Beyond the airport hundreds of acres of industrial land was either vacant of grossly underutilized.[2]

Hamilton Airport is surrounded by prime farmland. Development for freight companies, on 830 hectares of this land, was approved, even though the vacancy rate at established business parks in the area was as high as 85 per cent. Projected infrastructure costs, including roads and a sewage pipeline, of $353 million (USD342.2 million), would be a high level of expenditure for a development anticipated to generate a fraction of this sum, just $52 million (USD50.4 million) annually, in tax revenue by 2031.

A ‘garlic bus’ protest

On 10th October 2010 Hamilton 350 Committee organized a protest to highlight the threat to local food production posed by the Aerotropolis; 50 activists travelled by bus to plant garlic on land opposite the airport, marking out a large 3-5-0 in a fallow farm field. Garlic was chosen because it is easy to grow in Southern Ontario. The coalition of environmental, community, labour and faith groups stated that converting productive farmland into more industrial land, whilst there are already 2,000 empty acres of greenfield industrial parks, was foolhardy in the face of climate change induced threats to global food security. Participants in the garlic planting action were invited to bring symbolic empty baskets to a city council meeting about the Aerotropolis, and a flyer said that farmland around Hamilton Airport ‘could be used to feed several thousand families each year’ was distributed.[3] During the municipal election campaign in autumn 2010 a 74-page report and 2,100 pages of supporting evidence, compiled by opponents of the Aerotropolis, landed on councillors’ desks.

Battle lines between Aerotropolis proponents and opponents – the latter led by Hamiltonions for Progressive Development and Environment Hamilton - hardened and Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) officials scheduled a meeting with interested parties for 23rd May 2012, with a full hearing to follow in the autumn. Opponents said the project should be stopped because of the high cost, brownfield area available for development, importance of preserving agricultural land and the environmental risks to watercourses, woodlots and wetlands. Hamilton Mayor Bob Pratina spoke against the Aerotropolis: “I continue to have grave concerns about moving ahead with the AEGD plan because of the serious risks involved to taxpayers should the promised development to occur at a level that would support the investment of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for the required servicing.”[4]

In October 2012 Hamilton Civic League volunteers conducted a door-to-door survey of 349 households within the Aerotropolis boundary on order to gauge residents’ level of awareness of and support for the plans. A large majority of 82 per cent of surveyed residents did not support the plan. Two thirds claimed to have received notification of the plan from the City Council but many had confused recent mailings from Hamilton Civic League for notices from the City. During door-step conversations most long-term residents cited concerns for loss of their rural lifestyle. The industrial rezoning was being legally challenged and the survey results were due to be presented before the OMB in January 2013. Hamilton Civic League began campaigning to counter the City’s claim of a shortage of land allocated for industrial development. The general public was invited to participate in research of 35,000 pages of tax assessment data to identify all industrial properties along with a land mapping project.[5]

Aerotropolis dubbed a ‘$500 million pitfall’

The review of the 35,000 pages of data confirmed that there was no shortage of available industrial land. The opposite was the case as there was a shortage of business activity to provide jobs on existing vacant and underutilized lands, already serviced with roads, public transport, water and sewers. Hamilton Civic League stated that more jobs could be provided at much less cost than the ‘poorly-located’ Aerotropolis. An article on Raise the Hammer website, by Larry Pomerantz, criticized the costs of the Aerotropolis, referring to it as a ‘$500 million pitfall’, stating that the City had a history of discounting development charges to attract new businesses, heaping more debt on existing businesses and homeowners. He wrote: ‘Why should local businesses be additionally taxed to attract new and potentially competing business?’[6]

On 3rd July 2013 the OMB ruled in favour of the Aerotropolis plan, the largest urban boundary expansion in the history of Hamilton. Appeals from Hamiltonians for Progressive Development and Environment Hamilton had been dismissed. Don McLean, a director of Environment Hamilton, described the decision as “a frustrating one” which did not fully address the group’s concerns over availability of brownfield land in other parts of Hamilton. But McLean said engagement in the process had not been a waste. Since the inception of the Aerotropolis in 2005 opposition to the project had motivated the City to decrease the land area in the AEGD by about 42 per cent. He said: “If citizens hadn’t intervened, we would have had a much larger Aerotropolis in place.”[7]

Hamiltonians for Progressive Development took the battle against the Aerotropolis to Divisional Court, appealing the OMB decision to allow the massive project on Hamilton’s foodlands. Chairperson Michael Desnoyers pointed out the underutilized and abandoned industrial land within the present urban boundary, already serviced and ideally located for rail, truck and ship transportation. The appeal argued that OMB failed to properly consider the availability of brownfield redevelopment opportunities as an alternative to more urban sprawl and that the City had not demonstrated a need for an urban boundary expansion. Desnoyers said the controversial Aerotropolis placed Hamilton at a crossroads: “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.”[8]

Appeal against Aerotropolis unsuccessful

The attempt to overturn the Aerotropolis was unsuccessful. The judge did not accept Hamiltonians for Progressive Development’s arguments that the plans were ‘economically risky as well as environmentally unacceptable’. Hamilton City moved to the third OMB hearing to delineate the specific area to be developed for the AEGD, covering approximately 1,340 hectares of land encompassing a 555 hectare urban boundary expansion. An article in Global Airport Cities stated: ‘Land uses could include conference and convention centres, trade schools, commercial rental establishments, hotels, private health and recreational facilities, restaurants, motor vehicle service stations and other commercial uses’.[9]

Councillors approved an OMB settlement agreement at a special meeting on 14th January 2015. The settlement prevented any kind of residential incursion in the lands designated for the Aerotropolis. After OMB granted permission for the development in 2013 a number of property owners had appealed the 555 hectare urban boundary expansion but a final agreement had been reached. Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, representing one of the wards in land allocated to the AEGD, said the agreement had involved “quite a lot of land swapping” and that not all of the details would be made public.[10]

Development on the AEGD land was stalled for over four years. It did not commence until October 2019 when Panattoni, a major property developer, officially broke ground on a $30 million (USD22.6 million) 24,576 square meter warehouse. No tenant was lined up for the ‘speculative investment’. Panattoni intended that the warehouse would be the first phase of development, of a total of 148,644 square meters, on AEGD land.[11]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Hamilton Aerotropolis - Airport Employment Growth District, Ontario, Canada
Country:Canada
State or province:Ontario
Location of conflict:City of Hamilton
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Other industries
Ports and airport projects
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

An Aerotropolis was identified as the ‘number one strategic priority for economic development in Hamilton’ in the City of Hamilton’s 2005 Economic Development Strategy. Air freight activity was emphasized in the Aerotropolis plans, but there was an alternative view that it would be a business park without a strong relationship with the airport.[1] In September 2010 a report concerning the boundary for the Aerotropolis, re-named the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD), was released to the public for review. It was estimated that the costs of servicing the project would be over $350 million (USD339.5 million), excluding construction of 25 kilometer water and sewer pipes.[2] On 3rd July 2013 the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) ruled in favour of the Aerotropolis plan.[7]

The AEGD area encompasses a 555 hectare urban boundary expansion.[9] An OMB settlement agreement was approved on 14th January 2015. The settlement prevented any kind of residential incursion in the lands designated for the Aerotropolis.[10] Development on the AEGD land did not commence until October 2019 when Panattoni, a major property developer, officially broke ground on a $30 million (USD22.6 million) 24,576 square meter warehouse, which the firm anticipated to be the first phase of development totalling 148,644 square meters.[11]

Project area:555
Level of Investment:339,500,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:14/01/2015
Company names or state enterprises:Dillon Consulting from Canada - Preparation of Airport Employment Growth District Transportation Master Plan Implementation Update, 2016
Panattoni from Canada - Broke ground on warehouse in AEGD in October 2019
Relevant government actors:Ontario Municipal Board (OMB)
Hamilton, Ontario City Council
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Hamiltonians for Progressive Development
Hamilton Civic League - http://civicleague.ca/
Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society
Council of Canadians - https://canadians.org/
Environment Hamilton - https://www.environmenthamilton.org/
Hamilton 350 - http://www.hamilton350.org/

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Farmers
Trade unions
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Landless peasants
Fisher people
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
A ‘garlic bus’ protest: 50 activists travelled by bus to plant garlic on land opposite the airport, marking out a large 3-5-0 in a fallow farm field. Garlic was chosen because it is easy to grow in Southern Ontario.
Hamilton Civic League volunteers conducted a door-to-door survey of 349 households within the Aerotropolis boundary on order to gauge residents’ level of awareness of and support for the plans.

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsAir pollution and noise from road freight traffic
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Since the inception of the Aerotropolis in 2005 opposition to the projected to a reduction on the land area of about 42 per cent by the time the Ontario Municipal Board ruled in favour of it in July 2013.[7]
Development of alternatives:Opponents of the Aerotropolis project, specifically Hamiltonians for Progressive Development and Environment Hamilton, maintained that instead of allocating farmland for industrial development the high vacancy rate in existing industrial sites should be addressed. Furthermore, the case was made that brownfield areas that could be utilized for industrial development should be considered before destroying farmland.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Aerotropolis was approved in spite of local opposition. An appeal against the project was unsuccessful with the judge not accepting Hamiltonians for Progressive Development’s well-founded arguments that the plans were ‘economically risky as well as environmentally unacceptable’.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

City of Hamilton Airport Employment Growth District, Transportation Master Plan Implementation Update, Dillon Consulting, December 2016
https://d3fpllf1m7bbt3.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/media/browser/2017-08-04/aegd-update-transportation-assessment-report-2017.pdf

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Richard Gilbert, HAMILTON: THE ELECTRIC CITY, 13 April 2006
http://www.richardgilbert.ca/Files/2006/Hamilton--Electric%20City%20(Web).pdf

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[3] Aerotropolis battle lines hardening, The Hamilton Spectator, 23 May 2012
http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/729286--aerotropolis-battle-lines-hardening

[1] 20 Reasons to Stop Aerotropolis, RAISE THE HAMMER, 28 September 2010
http://raisethehammer.org/article/1185/20_reasons_to_stop_aerotropolis

[2] Opposition to aerotropolis, Hamilton Catch, 10 October 2010
https://hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=833

[4] Media Release- Aerotropolis Residents Reject City’s Plan, The Hamiltonian, 9 October 2012
http://www.thehamiltonian.net/2012/10/media-release-aerotropolis-residents.html

[5] Aerotropolis a $500 Million Pitfall, RAISE THE HAMMER, 29 November 2012
https://www.raisethehammer.org/article/1712/aerotropolis_a_$500_million_pitfall

[6] OMB rules in favour of Aerotropolis plan, CBC news, 8 July 2013
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/headlines/omb-rules-in-favour-of-aerotropolis-plan-1.1318470

[7] Media Release- Hamiltonians for Progressive Development takes fight to Divisional Court, The Hamiltonian, 5 August 2013
http://www.thehamiltonian.net/2013/08/media-release-hamiltonians-for.html

[8] Protestors fail to overturn Hamilton aerotropolis ruling, Global Airport Cities, 12 November 2013
http://www.globalairportcities.com/page.cfm/action=library/libID=1/libEntryID=1179/listID=1 (accessed 2 February 2014)

[10] Hamilton airport development launches with $30-million warehouse, INVEST IN HAMILTON, 23 October 2019
https://investinhamilton.ca/blog/2019/10/23/hamilton-airport-development-launches-with-30-million-warehouse/

[8] Media Release- Hamiltonians for Progressive Development takes fight to Divisional Court, The Hamiltonian, 5 August 2013
http://www.thehamiltonian.net/2013/08/media-release-hamiltonians-for.html

[9] Protestors fail to overturn Hamilton aerotropolis ruling, Global Airport Cities, 12 November 2013
http://www.globalairportcities.com/page.cfm/action=library/libID=1/libEntryID=1179/listID=1 (accessed 2 February 2014)

[9] Battle over Hamilton’s aerotropolis is over, The Hamilton Spectator, 14 January 2015
https://www.thespec.com/news-story/5258316-battle-over-hamilton-s-aerotropolis-is-over/

[10] Battle over Hamilton’s aerotropolis is over, The Hamilton Spectator, 14 January 2015
https://www.thespec.com/news-story/5258316-battle-over-hamilton-s-aerotropolis-is-over/

[11] Hamilton airport development launches with $30-million warehouse, INVEST IN HAMILTON, 23 October 2019
https://investinhamilton.ca/blog/2019/10/23/hamilton-airport-development-launches-with-30-million-warehouse/

[2] 20 Reasons to Stop Aerotropolis, RAISE THE HAMMER, 28 September 2010
http://raisethehammer.org/article/1185/20_reasons_to_stop_aerotropolis

[3] Opposition to aerotropolis, Hamilton Catch, 10 October 2010
https://hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=833

[4] Aerotropolis battle lines hardening, The Hamilton Spectator, 23 May 2012
http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/729286--aerotropolis-battle-lines-hardening

[5] Media Release- Aerotropolis Residents Reject City’s Plan, The Hamiltonian, 9 October 2012
http://www.thehamiltonian.net/2012/10/media-release-aerotropolis-residents.html

[6] Aerotropolis a $500 Million Pitfall, RAISE THE HAMMER, 29 November 2012
https://www.raisethehammer.org/article/1712/aerotropolis_a_$500_million_pitfall

[7] OMB rules in favour of Aerotropolis plan, CBC news, 8 July 2013
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/headlines/omb-rules-in-favour-of-aerotropolis-plan-1.1318470

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Hamilton's Aerotropolis - Urban Sprawl Project Jan 9 Part 2 of 2, PeterOrmondGreen, 10 January 2013
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-4RIvZH3pg

Hamilton Aerotropolis - Available Developable Lands Map Jan 9 Maps.MTS, PeterOrmondGreen, 10 January 2013
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UX6n6XG1dY

Aerotropolis Costs - Facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/aerotropolis/

Garlic Bus work party 10.10.10, radiofreeschool. 12 October 2010
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAmryFnUG-g

Hamilton's Aerotropolis - Urban Sprawl Project Jan 9 Part 1 of 2, PeterOrmondGreen, 10 January 2013
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ivywSFfnos

Meta information

Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update01/04/2020

Images

 

Collecting donations for AEGD hearing

Kathie Clark from the Hamilton Chapter of the Council of Canadians collects donations for the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) hearing, January 2013. Source: Samantha Craggs/CBC https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/headlines/hamilton-groups-hopeful-about-aerotropolis-hearing-1.1351115

Farmland included in the AEGD

555 hectares of farmland will be included in the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD). Source: Mark Chambers/CBC https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/headlines/hamilton-s-aegd-industrial-land-expansion-is-almost-a-done-deal-1.2901268

AEGD plan

Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) land use and infrastructure plan. Source: City of Hamilton Airport Employment Growth District, Transportation Master Plan Implementation Update, Dillon Consulting, December 2016 https://d3fpllf1m7bbt3.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/media/browser/2017-08-04/aegd-update-transportation-assessment-report-2017.pdf

AEGD plan

Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) land use and infrastructure plan. Source: City of Hamilton Airport Employment Growth District, Transportation Master Plan Implementation Update, Dillon Consulting, December 2016 https://d3fpllf1m7bbt3.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/media/browser/2017-08-04/aegd-update-transportation-assessment-report-2017.pdf

Farmland included in the AEGD

555 hectares of farmland will be included in the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD). Source: Mark Chambers/CBC https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/headlines/hamilton-s-aegd-industrial-land-expansion-is-almost-a-done-deal-1.2901268

Collecting donations for AEGD hearing

Kathie Clark from the Hamilton Chapter of the Council of Canadians collects donations for the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) hearing, January 2013. Source: Samantha Craggs/CBC https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/headlines/hamilton-groups-hopeful-about-aerotropolis-hearing-1.1351115