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Mayoral candidates eye downtown growth

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Building a denser downtown Hamiltonwith residential and commercial developments and adding a light-rail transit system will reap more tax revenue, and improve the entire city, most mayoral candidates said during a recent debate.

But suburban residents need to understand providing the seed money for those developments in the core will eventually improve their financial situation, says Brad Clark.

During what was in essence the first mayoral debate of the mayoral campaign held at the Zoetic Theatre on Concession Street May 1 hosted by the Hamilton and Burlington Society of Architects, six of the seven registered candidates talked about their vision of rejuvenating the city’s core for about an hour and a half. The first part of the evening Joe Minicozzi, an urban planner with the North Carolina-based Urban 3 talked about how North American cities had destroyed their downtowns through poor planning, creating widespread sprawl and subsequently an economic depressed area.

With Minicozzi’s searing presentation in mind, the mayoral candidates jumped into the fray, moderated by Laura Babcock, urging the continued development of the core with city funds.

In Hamilton, Clark said, as about `140 people took in the event, suburban residents have to learn that improving the city’s core, is essential if the municipality is to continue transforming itself. He said suburban residents believe they are losing out and all of their tax dollars are being funneled into the core’s redevelopment.

“We need to demonstrate in all the community thatHamiltonis ours,” said Clark. “The suburbs are concerned about all the money going into the downtown. We need to educate the suburban voters as to why those subsidies are so vitally important for the downtown. If we intensify we end up developing significant economic growth for the city.”

As chair of the committee that has been examining Hamilton’s development charges, Clark wanted to create “special police areas for development charge costing. Already, he said, the city’s higher development charges have benefited Hamilton.

“We need to have a strong push on brownfield development,” said Clark. “We need to provide incentives for downtown development. (And) make sure the incentives are across the entire city.”

All of Hamilton’s downtowns should not be treated equally, said former mayor Fred Eisenberger. He said downtown Hamilton’s core still doesn’t have any development charges, which would in theory make it less expensive for builders to develop their projects. He suggested introducing a variable development charges rate across the city to encourage downtown development, while earning needed tax revenue for the city.

“There is a difference between what happens in downtownHamiltonand what happens in other downtowns,” said Eisenberger. “We have to address that. Do we need to have zero development charges in the core?”

Ward 2 councillor Brian McHattie a champion of downtown development, said providing city-assisted subsidies to developers to rejuvenate abandoned lands in the urban area, boosts property values and ultimately provides needed tax revenue for the city.

He pointed out theMcMasterInnovationParkhas proved that policy.Hamiltonhas received a bonanza of jobs, tax revenue and further economic spinoffs after the city agreed to provide funding to help develop the Longwood site. He said the other downtowns inDundas, Ancaster and Stoney Creek should be able to benefit from the same city-inspired programs. He would prioritize the locations that would produce the highest number of units, and produce the largest number of jobs, about where to have the greatest impact by the city’s investment.

McHattie pointed out the provincial Places to Grow document targets 40 per cent density in Hamilton. But as of now it is only 25 per cent, he said.

“There is a huge opportunity in the lower city,” he said. “We are talking smarter growth, doing things more efficiently with limited resources.”

But a dissenting voice was Crystal Lavigne. She wanted to see development in all urban areas “done correctly.” She proposed introducing incentives to developers to build in the downtown, including giving away brownfield lands to developers.

“Let them clean up our downtown,” she said.

She said the revitalizing of downtown is already impacting other parts of the city, “pushing all those drugs, (prostitutes) into the east end of Hamilton from the core.

As the discussion about improving the downtown continued, the candidates talked about building a light-rail transit system, which most believed would spark development in the core, much like it has done in Charlotte, North Carolina, and other United States cities.

Eisenberger, while supportive of an LRT, challenged council to hold a “broader discussion” on the transit because the community doesn’t really understand the issue.

“The community at large really doesn’t get the kind of evidence we talk about,” said Eisenberger. “They really don’t get LRT, why we should spend $1 billion on anything like an LRT. We know why. We need to educate our community.”

But Lavigne says the public knows enough. There shouldn’t be an LRT.

She said clogging upHamilton’s street with an LRT would be a “great mistake.” She recently drove fromWellington to James Street in 13 minutes and the roadway was already packed with vehicles.

Michael Baldasaro, who has been running for municipal election since 1995, wanted more public participation in the decision-making process, including the introduction of more referendas for LRT, and fluoride.

‘The heart of Hamiltonis the downtown,” he said.

Ejaz Butt, supported LRT, but only if the province provides 100 per cent of the funding.

“There (should) be no taxes on Hamiltonians,” he said.

Absent from the discussion was candidate Nick Iamonico.

All candidates came out against any casino for downtown Hamilton. Even though Hamiltoncouncil has already approved a motion that their preferred location for a new casino is at Flamboro Downs, there remains a fear from downtown residents a casino could be located in the core.

“I’m strongly against (this) false economy,” said McHattie.

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