The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area’s (GTHA) residential construction boom is increasingly pushing into historic industrial and employment lands, and a recent online Urban Land Institute Toronto panel looked at some of the issues and strategies which have arisen from the situation.
Stikeman Elliott partner Calvin Lantz provided an overview to kick off the event and observed that residential and industrial land uses aren’t always compatible. He said this can depend on: the type of industry involved; the industry’s emissions, including noise, vibrations, dust and odours; and the built form and intensity of the proposed residential land use.
“Is it a single detached home that’s being introduced or is it a tall tower next to an industrial operation with overlook and exposure to the emissions?” Lantz asked.
“We’re dealing with infill development. We’ve got under-utilized sites that have no hope of ever attracting industrial development. And we have under-utilized sites that are adjacent to, or are in proximity to, active industrial operations.
“We clearly have a need for more housing. And we have a need to protect employment lands and jobs and make use of the infrastructure that’s existing. And we want to protect employment opportunities and attract more employment opportunities in the future.”
The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area has a limited supply of land due to Lake Ontario and the Greenbelt that limits expansion into farmland and natural areas.
Within these boundaries are historic land designations and existing infrastructure with roads and public transit lines that dictate site usage. A growing population has increased the potential for conflict.
Lantz stressed the importance of compatibility being considered through comprehensive municipal planning processes, and with each development approval sought.
Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority
City of Hamilton Municipal Land Development Office manager Chris Phillips, who facilitated the discussion, then introduced three other panelists who joined Lantz.
Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority president and CEO Ian Hamilton said he oversees 650 acres that contains 135 tenants. More than $4 billion worth of goods travel through the port annually, supporting 28,000 jobs in Ontario.
Hamilton said there are 17 port authorities in Canada, and all face compatibility challenges balancing their mandates with the residential and recreational aspirations of their home cities.
“In most cases cities were built because of access to water and then, in a lot of cases, the city is outgrowing itself and surrounded the ports and made it sometimes awkward to be compatible and work together,” said Hamilton.
“But I certainly believe that it is possible, and it requires a fair amount of transparency and open communication and recognition of what the two parties’ specific needs are.”
Housing crisis could change policies
While Bousfields Inc. partner David Huynh said government policies protecting industrial and other employment lands are probably the strongest they’ve ever been, things may change somewhat due to the growing housing crisis in the GTHA.
“But at least there’s a realization and acknowledgement that I think staff have to consider more than the protection of employment, and that means thinking more about housing and thinking more about the different types of employment that they’ll accept or they can consider.”
“Industries need to step up on their own to defend their own territory,” said Lantz. “It’s not enough for them to stand up and say ‘We were here first.’ That works in a sandbox, but that doesn’t work here when you’re dealing with politics and limited rights of appeal.”
Truck routing and transportation
Phillips raised the issue of truck routing in neighbourhoods where there are both industrial and residential uses. Products need to be transported from one location to another, but safety concerns must also be considered.
“It’s one thing to protect the land and transition to these large warehouses along our highways,” said Huynh. “But as logistic networks kind of permeate into our communities, companies are looking at smaller satellite facilities with smaller trucks.
“The negative thinking is to worry about the noise and pollution that the smaller facilities will add to our communities, but an optimist might see this as an opportunity to properly plan for them and mitigate them and perhaps there’s a way we can co-exist or harmonize with these uses.”
Marlin Spring land development director Andrea Oppedisano was asked about the mitigation strategies she’s employed when residential developments are located close to existing industrial facilities.
Oppedisano emphasized the importance of early and frequent communication between a residential developer, an industrial land owner and other neighbours so everyone is aware of what’s happening now and what’s anticipated in the future.