The Ontario government says it will not revisit its controversial decision to expand Hamilton's urban boundary to include land owned by well-connected developers.
The province ordered the expansion in November 2022, opening up 2,200 hectares of countryside for development, at the same time it announced it would be removing land from the Greenbelt, including five sites in the Hamilton area.
Premier Doug Ford reversed course Thursday, vowing to add back all the land to the Greenbelt. He apologized for the land selection process that "left too much room for some people to benefit over others."
Following Ford's announcement, Mayor Andrea Horwath, Hamilton city councillors and advocates were hopeful the province would also shrink Hamilton's urban boundary back to the one council agreed to in 2021, which focused the city on increasing density rather than sprawl.
"Our position is not changing … how as a city we should be able to chart our own path in terms of how to accommodate growth," Horwath said.
"We have a lot of great plans and absolutely we want to see our wishes respected."
Chris Poulos, director of issues management for the housing minister, told CBC Hamilton on Friday the province won't change its mind.
"Based upon assessments from the City of Hamilton's own planners the province took the necessary action to accommodate anticipated levels of growth and allow for more desperately needed housing to be built," he said. "This decision will not be revisited."
Developers' rep met with province about changes
The city's planners did originally recommend expanding Hamilton's urban boundary by 1,300 hectares in 2021. But, facing public opposition, council voted for the planners' alternative option to not expand outwards, but rather focus on infilling the existing urban area to meet its housing targets.
The provincially mandated expansion in 2022 includes land near the airport along White Church Road that was not part of staff's original recommendation. That land contains properties owned in part by developers Sergio Manchia of UrbanCore Developments and Paul Paletta of Alinea Group Holdings, formerly Penta Properties.
Paletta's family also owns property across the street that was removed from the Greenbelt, as was Manchia's land at Barton and Fifty Road in Hamilton's east end.
They requested the province remove their land from the Greenbelt through the same representative, Matt Johnston, who works for Manchia's Urban Solutions land consulting company, according to an integrity commissioner's report. He also attended Ford's daughter's stag and doe in August 2022, where he met with the premier.
That fall, Johnston made several submissions to change Hamilton's official plan, the integrity commissioner said. (The official plan is the same document the province later amended to expand the urban boundary.)
At a meeting with provincial staff in October, 2022, Johnston was asked to weigh in on the changes the minister of housing was considering making to Hamilton's official plan and asked what his "comfort level" was with them, he told the integrity commissioner. Johnston said he was satisfied with the changes.
Manchia and Johnston did not respond to requests for comment.
Paletta told CBC Hamilton in a statement through his lawyer that Alinea Group takes part in all Greenbelt land reviews, which are "a normal course for any provincial government." He said he owns less than 10 per cent of the Greenbelt property bought by his father and a few of his siblings in 1973.
When asked about his work with Johnston, Paletta said, "As prudent practice for our land development business, which is focused on creating communities, we engage government relations firms.
"With all the ones we have used, we share with them as part of their onboarding, all of our current and future development projects. It is important for all levels of government to understand what is happening in regards to land development."
Councillors urge more public pressure
Coun. John-Paul Danko, chair of the planning committee, said the city spent years on consultation and planning when deciding its urban boundary, and not expanding it remains the best decision for Hamilton.
"I'm hoping now the province is realizing the folly and will re-establish local authority over those decisions," he said.
Coun. Craig Cassar urged residents to keep pushing the province to change course.
"It said it wouldn't reverse it's decision on the Greenbelt and it did yesterday," Cassar said on Friday. "Continued people's power will put pressure on them."
The integrity commissioner's office is not currently looking into the changes to Hamilton's urban boundary as it has not received a complaint from an MPP, as is required to start an investigation, said spokesperson Michelle Renaud.
The auditor general's office said it will be tabling its report later this year for audits currently in progress.