Next Meeting: Wednesday March 4, 2020
7:00 PM – Bennetto Community Centre
Hamilton City Councillors JP Danko (Ward 8), Nrinder Nann (Ward 3), and Maureen Wilson (Ward 1) hosted a public talk by Joe Minicozzi of Urban3 billed as “LRT vs Tax: Do the Math!” at City Hall on February 11th. Minicozzi is an influential American urbanist who focuses on the cash flow of urbanism and argues that cities need to be more attentive to how density and development patterns contribute to their fiscal health. His bottom line is that traditional downtowns, compact urban neighbourhoods, and walkable, transit-oriented development are strong net contributors to city finances, while big-boxes stores and low-density suburban areas generally aren’t.
That conclusion is based on examining property assessment and taxes on a per square foot or hectare basis rather than property by property, which allows apples to apples comparisons of areas with differing built densities. Using Minicozzi’s approach many North End residential blocks with houses paying mostly $2500 to $4000 per year in property taxes perform well against their suburban equivalents on Hamilton Mountain and in Binbrook, Ancaster, and Waterdown (even with homeowners in the latter three places often paying considerably more in tax per house). That isn’t how many suburbanites in Hamilton tend to view the situation, but it matches the logic that informs the province’s Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Specifically, that denser, more compact communities are not only better for the environment—because they enable us to use transit, walking, and cycling to get around more and sprawl out onto valuable farmland less—they are also more affordable and financially sustainable in the longer run.
To get a sense of his argument (and the maps and data he uses to support it) search for “Joe Minicozzi” on YouTube and watch one of his many presentations.
Despite being included in the title of the talk, LRT was mentioned only in passing. The implication was clear, however. As supporters of the B-line LRT have emphasized over the years, the project was meritorious to the extent it leveraged the $1 billion dollar funding commitment from a previous provincial government to encourage intensification (growth and investment) along the 14-kilometre corridor across the lower city (in addition to providing more reliable transit service).
Whether you are Yes-LRT or No-LRT, Joe Minicozzi’s presentation is a reminder to be engaged and ask thoughtful questions. The City is more than just real estate or money. But our ability to build and maintain infrastructure and provide services is very much shaped by how strong and efficient our tax base is. We probably don’t think about that enough as residents.
From a North End perspective, we might further consider the following: our neighbourhood has approximately 2300 residential dwellings and major planned redevelopments on city-owned lands over the next 5-10 years such as Pier 8 and Jamesville could double that number. Other infill and redevelopment along James Street North will likely add more units and commercial space on our main street. Some modest intensification is also occurring in our low-rise residential blocks. In short, the North End is doing its part to accommodate population growth and increase taxable assessment for the City. The same is true generally in other Ward 2 neighbourhoods. The challenge going forward will be for the City to make investments, particularly in public transit, to facilitate intensification across more of the city, and, particularly, on the Mountain in older areas from the brow to the LINC.
The preceding is timely given the pressure to allow significantly taller buildings along James Street North than are currently permitted by our area’s secondary plan, Setting Sail. In the last year or so, NENA’s Planning Committee has requested that the City work with us to update our area’s secondary plan given Setting Sail no longer seems to provide clear guidance as to how James Street North ought to develop. Larger buildings than were contemplated during the Setting Sail process are more impactful to the streetscape that pedestrians experience and for residents of adjacent homes. How development proposals will be reviewed and what criteria will be applied by City planning staff to determine whether they fit their context will shape how our neighbourhood’s main street evolves going forward. Getting both the big picture and the details right matters. You can help us by spending a few minutes thinking about what you value about the North End and how you’d like James Street North to look and feel in 10-20 years. Please pass along your thoughts to NENA in a short email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at one of our upcoming meetings.
For more up to date information visit www.NorthEndNeighbours.com