The Phillips Plan – Just not what was agreed

Our ten years of working with the City on Setting Sail helped us learn that planning for a family based residential neighbourhood means looking at what works for children.  If that is your starting point, all the rest flows naturally – pedestrians, seniors, persons with disabilities, compatibility, functionality, walkability – all work when you start with plans that work for children, for their health, their recreation, their safety.  The reports on the Phillips Plan show no connection to that principle.

The North End neighbourhood understood during the planning process that there would be changes coming on the waterfront and as a result of the Go Station.  Setting Sail sets out 8 specific criteria to be used to assess future development including “Ensure new development respects and enhances the character of the neighbourhoods”   None of those criteria have been applied by the Phillips Plan.

That happened, in our view, because as soon as Setting Sail was approved through an effective public participation process, City staff went inside City Hall and stopped talking to the neighbours, talking essentially to themselves.

It is our view that the Phillips plan does not comply with Setting Sail and therefore does not comply with Hamilton’s Official Plan and therefore contravenes the Planning Act.

The neighbourhood understood that more housing was needed and would be built on Piers 7 and 8.  After long negotiations, an agreement was reached on 750 new units at that location.  That number was confirmed under oath by a City planner at the OMB and was the density that was used to develop the traffic plan for the neighbourhood.  The Phillips plan proposes 1600-1800 units.  More than twice the units and more than double the traffic.

The North End welcomes new residents to the West Harbour.  But to get there they will inevitably drive past our homes on streets that were designed for horse and buggy.  The volume and speed of traffic impacts our daily lives.  How residents feel about their streets is important when the houses and lots are in many cases tiny by suburban standards.  So traffic is important.  There is no analysis in the reports we have seen that shows that the Phillips Plan paid any attention to the fact that by doubling the density, the traffic is doubled.

The West Harbour plays an important role in the lives of the 50,000 people who live within walking and biking distance from the shoreline.  It is our Open Space in the same way that Conservation Areas and Parks are the open space for Dundas and Ancaster.  The West Harbour works exceptionally well today.  It is relaxed, mostly peaceful, a fabulous relief from life in offices and downtown condos.  It provides a simple but effective connection to the water through sailing, dragon boating, boating lessons, rowing, fishing, walking and picnicking.  That function is seriously jeopardized by the Phillips proposal to increase the minimum retail approved in Setting Sail to 200,000 square feet of retail.  That is the same as moving 8 blocks of Locke Street to the shore.  It will change the entire sense of place of the West Harbour from one that has relief from City life, to an extension of retail city life.  No discussion can be found of that impact in the Phillips Plan.

Thus the Phillips Plan fails for failure to involve the key stakeholders in its development, fails because it disregards the core child friendly planning principle of Setting Sail, fails because it changes the density of the proposed development directly contrary to the neighbourhood’s agreement with the City and fails because it turns a valuable natural asset into a slick urban environment.

The West Harbour is unique on the Great Lakes because of its utility for marine recreation.  That tone of a place where Hamiltonians can get on the water, sit beside the water, find privacy for a few minutes at the end of a fishing pier, all that is missing from the Phillips report.  What is there is analysis of financial returns to the City from a VISION.  

People throughout Hamilton should be concerned with the problems the North End neighbourhood is facing.  The City is the largest landowner in our neighbourhood.  It is also the largest developer in our neighbourhood.  And it is the land use regulator – setting the rules by which real estate, including its own real estate can be developed.   This conflict of interest is severe, not dealt with in the Phillips Plan, and something that creates a huge burden for the neighbourhood to deal with.