Making plans Hamilton’s proposed Downtown Secondary Plan sets the standard for future growth in the city, but some citizens are critical about its effects


The Original Downtown Secondary Plan, “Putting People First: The New Land Use Plan for Downtown Hamilton”, was the first formal plan developed for the downtown core developed in 2001. This plan was intended to foster a dynamic mix of urban residential, commercial and institutional activities.

Downtown Hamilton has experienced significant changes since the plan’s initial draft 17 years ago. Signs of downtown Hamilton’s economic and cultural “renaissance” have become increasingly evident, and the plan has been drafted to ensure that downtown will continue to be a key destination within the city for business, entertainment and cultural activities.

Private sector investment has been leading the transformation with support from public investments, such as McMaster University, in infrastructure and the city’s urban renewal incentive programs. These developments have been reshaping the urban landscape of downtown, particularly in recent years.

These trends have encouraged a rise in tall building development and higher order transit, which led to the need to review the initial plan.

This review of the Downtown Secondary Plan has resulted in a renewed land use plan. Jason Farr, Ward 2 city councilor, argues that this review builds upon the vision and policies of the 2001 plan while providing a new direction for the city that will guide development and change over the next 20 to 30 years of planning.

“It sets the stage for the future growth of downtown Hamilton,” said Farr. “Making the downtown core as ‘development ready’ as possible with clear expectations in place with respect to design, protection of existing built heritage resources and the creation of a complete community.”

The reviewed plan presents an opportunity to address new provincial land use policy, updated land use directions as set out in the Urban Hamilton Official Plan, the expansion of the Plan’s boundaries to include the Downtown Urban Growth Centre and other city initiatives and studies underway that will impact the core.

“The updated plan ensures that the planning direction for the area responds to current needs and is appropriate to guide future growth and development, while ensuring that the people remain at the heart of the plan,” said Farr.

We’re hoping that council will begin to take seriously things like sustainability, heritage and affordability, which frankly, has not been taken seriously up to this point as far as we can tell.


Shawn Selway
Media Contact
People’s Plan for Downtown Hamilton

The Proposed Downtown Secondary

The Proposed Downtown Secondary Plan became public on March 19 and will be presented at the city’s planning committee next month.

Entering its third and expectedly final revision, the vision for the plan sees downtown to be a “vibrant focus of attraction where all ages, abilities and incomes can live, work, learn, shop and play… combining the best of heritage with new concepts and designs while linking together the Downtown, surrounding neighbourhoods, the Waterfront and the Escarpment.”

Bound by Cannon Street to the north, Wellington Street to the east, Hunter Street to the south and Queen Street to the west, the area for the proposed plan contains parts of four prominent downtown neighbourhoods, including Beasley, Central, Corktown and Durand.

The objectives within the plan, in addition to zoning by-law changes, will be accompanied by a set of guidelines that will be used to evaluate new development to ensure that the urban design objectives of the downtown are met. This includes how high structures can be built and the kind of design requirements they must meet, such as setbacks and shadow impacts.

Citizens will have a chance to review and critique the meeting on April 17 during a planning committee meeting before it goes to council the following week. There have previously been nearly 30 public consultations around the project.

Some major changes to the initial plan include requiring builders to include appropriate noise measures in the design of residential developments that are near live music venues to prevent issues with neighbours and allowing rental housing to be demolished or redeveloped, but only if those units can be replaced at the same site.

One of the biggest changes within the plan is the proposal to lift the current height limit on buildings, which stands at 12 storeys, to pre-approve the development of 30-storey buildings. A large area west of James Street could be home to these towers, with the exception of some land including the block surrounding City Hall and the Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School property.

The only sections that are guaranteed to stay under six storeys are Whitehern and a section of land bordered by Hunter Street West, Caroline Street North and Jackson Street West.

Many fear that increasing zoning bylaws and lifting the height restriction will result in major hikes in property tax for affected neighbourhoods. These 30-storey buildings are expected to be primarily residential units, which are hypothesized to be priced above what the average downtown resident could afford.

Thomas Allen, a Hamilton blogger behind Rebuild Hamilton and the Inlet, has participated in the conversation surrounding heritage properties and the DSP. Allen notes that lifting the current height limit would affect the city’s infrastructure.

“There are not enough guidelines covering tenant rights and inclusionary zoning or trade-offs for public amenities if developers do propose over 30 storeys,” said Allen.

“A sustainability practice we need to implement is limiting the amount of sprawl we continue to see throughout the periphery of the city. It’s spreading at an unchecked rate and greatly exhausting our infrastructure, while we’re all too busy bickering about height.”

Based on the feedback received and reviewed of the plan, the updated version incorporates revisions related to building heights to ensure that new development occurs in a sustainable manner, protecting and planning for a range of housing options, supporting a wide range of commercial uses and protecting the core’s rich architectural heritage.

The People’s Plan for Downtown

In the proposed DSP’s current state, several citizens and organizing groups see the plan as a tactic to build financial relationships with developers, rather than with citizens who will be facing its effects.

On March 6, nearly 200 citizens arrived to the Central Branch of the Hamilton Public Library to listen to presentations about the proposed plan and its implications. Organized by the People’s Plan for Downtown Hamilton, the public event served as an opportunity for citizens to become active within the planning process and to discuss the City’s proposed plan.

The People’s Plan for Downtown Hamilton was organized by a small group who reached out to leaders who are involved in various sectors within the city. These sectors, ranging from social areas including the arts, heritage, environment, immigration, small business owners and building tenants, are directly impacted by the proposed plan.

After the presentations, the event merged into themed breakout sessions with themes aligning with various sectors within the city. Each group saw anywhere from 10 to 15 participants at each, who contributed their ideas and concerns to the PPDH position statement.

Shawn Selway, the media contact for the People’s Plan for Downtown, is hopeful that these concerns will be addressed by city council.

“The biggest takeaway was that people have a lot to say. There is a lot of interest from people who are wanting to participate in the planning that occurs in the downtown,” said Selway. “We’re hoping that council will begin to take seriously things like sustainability, heritage and affordability, which frankly, has not been taken seriously up to this point as far as we can tell.”

This position statement is attached to a petition that has, at the time of publication, 396 of 500 signatures. This further encourages the City to do broader consultation with communities that are impacted by the plan to ensure that their views are presented accurately.

Farr, however, noted that community input played an important part in shaping the proposed plan.

“As for very recent concerns heard from a community-led meeting, many of the issues highlighted at that meeting were already in the draft planning stage for the final draft that at the time was imminent and of which some of those organizers may have been aware of,” said Farr.

Planning Ahead

If the proposed Plan moves forward, the Downtown Secondary Plan will pave the way for development in the core through 2031.

Prior to the April 17 Planning Committee meeting, there will be an Open House with the final draft of the Downtown Secondary Plan, Downtown Zones and Utility Zone (Wards 2 and 3).

“We think that the planning department certainly has the capability of delivering something more balanced,” said Selway.

“What they bring forward is limited by what city council will accept and unless there’s some political pressure being exerted on council, you’re not going to get the best out of the Planning Department and you’re not going to get this balance that I think we need at this point.”

The People’s Plan for Downtown is hosting various workshops and gatherings to discuss the plan in its final form. On April 3, the group will be hosting a delegation and letter writing workshop to teach attendees successful delegation and tips on how to make an impactful presentation to the planning committee.


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Author: Emily O'Rourke

Emily is a recent Communication Studies grad. Now you can find her in the big seat as Editor-in-Chief. She mostly talks about PR, meme culture, coffee and dogs. Emily was also voted biggest klutz in her high school's graduating class, FYI.