Two Hamilton developers who successfully influenced the Ford government to remove its land from the Green Belt simultaneously benefited from a provincial order to expand the city’s urban boundaries.
On the same day in 2022, the province announced plans to remove three Hamilton sites from the Green Belt and also opened an additional 2,200 hectares of local countryside for development.
The move came a year after Hamilton council voted not to expand its boundaries and has since led one councilor to say Premier Doug Ford is allowing a “tsunami” of development on rural land, in place of the “small” waves that the city once imagined.
The province-mandated expansion includes a peninsula of land bounded by Airport Road and White Church Road to the north and south, and Miles Road and Upper James Street to the east and west. It is surrounded by countryside where housing development is limited due to noise from the nearby airport.
A CBC Hamilton analysis of more than a dozen property records in the area found that Sergio Manchia of UrbanCore Developments has owned a parcel of the Airport-White Church land as of 2021, along with developer Frank Spallacci. They were unable to build homes there until the province expanded the urban boundary on Friday, November 4, 2022.
The following Monday, Manchia and Spallacci proceeded to purchase a second property, according to real estate records. They closed on that property and a third in early 2023. The date negotiations began for the third property was not available.
Manchia and Spallacci now own a total of 63 hectares of developable land just east of Hamilton Airport.
Paul Paletta, CEO of Alinea, formerly Penta Properties, also owns property on White Church Road that the province added to Hamilton’s urban boundary.
Directly across the street, you own another parcel of land that the province recently removed from the Green Belt, unlocking a total of 40 hectares. Both properties have been in his family since the 1970s, but are only now open for development.
The province also removed Manchia’s property at Barton Street and Fifty Road in Hamilton’s east end from the Greenbelt.
Manchia, Spallacci and Paletta did not respond to requests for comment.
“Careful consideration” given to boundary change: province
Both Paletta and Manchia were named in a scathing integrity commissioner investigation into how the province decided to remove land from the Green Belt.
The commissioner found that throughout the fall of 2022, the developers and their representatives, including those advocating for Paletta and Manchia, had been in talks with Ministry of Housing staff about the land they wanted to be opened for development and managed to influence the removal of land from the Green Belt. process.
Ministry of Housing spokesperson Conrad Spezowka told CBC Hamilton that in the case of expanding Hamilton’s urban boundaries, the province made its decision after “careful consideration.”
“The minister has taken the necessary steps to accommodate this growth and allow more desperately needed housing to be built,” he said.
He did not answer questions about whether the province consulted or interacted with developers when selecting the sites.
Land not included in previous city staff recommendations
The provincially ordered urban boundary expansion largely aligns with what Hamilton’s own planning staff had once proposed to accommodate expected population growth. That plan was later rejected by council, in November 2021, in favor of maintaining Hamilton’s urban boundary and building denser neighborhoods.
However, in that initial speech, city staff did not include the White Church-Airport land as an area that would need to be built, according to staff reports.
The province also ordered urban expansions in other municipalities, including Belleville and Ottawa, which a local councilor has asked the auditor general to investigate.
Hamilton County. Mark Tadeson (Ward 11) told CBC Hamilton that the land selection process should be investigated. He said developers buy land speculatively, hoping to one day build on it; however, in the case of the Airport-White Church land, “it was a very profitable speculation.”
“It seems to me that the game was fixed,” Tadeson said Monday.
When Hamilton council rejected staff’s plan to expand its urban boundaries in 2021, it opted to increase density within the city to meet its housing goals.
In the long term, the city had planned to eventually build outward, but in “small, progressive waves” over the next few decades, Tadeson said.
“What the provincial government is doing is similar to a tsunami,” he said.