Change on horizon for Hamilton

There's plenty of vacancies in the lone commercial strip mall in Hamilton, which no longer has a grocery store.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

A new area plan for Hamilton allows for a doubling of the area's modest population, and is expected to bring new retail space, housing choices and a riverfront park to the East Richmond community.

A public hearing is now set for Feb. 25, following city council's unanimous endorsement Tuesday night.

"It looks positive to me," said Coun. Ken Johnston. "Residents generally feel the area is underserved."

Hamilton, located on the eastern edge of Richmond, is crossed by highways and mixed development. According to the city, the area has 1,565 homes and a population of 5,095. That could grow to 4,093 homes and a population of 12,000 under the new plan, the result of two years of study.

Senior planners Mark McMullen and Terry Crowe note in a report that development could fund numerous public amenities, from parks and indoor recreation space to a small library and police office.

"There is significant support for the proposed market and development-driven area plan, as it enables growth and provides for requested community improvements," says their report.

Once council gives final approval, the plan paves the way for developers to move in—chiefly Oris Consulting Ltd.—and redevelop areas such as Hamilton's lone strip mall.

Improvements to Westminster Highway are also planned, along with work supporting cyclists and pedestrians and park space funded primarily by development cost charges.

Among the proposed park projects is a new waterfront park along the North Arm. The land is currently occupied by single-family homes and might not be developed for a few decades.

The plan doesn't change established single-family and industrial areas, but it does present a challenge for Richmond School Board. Hamilton Elementary School is already overcrowded, city staff say, and as the population grows, more space could be needed.

Not all residents are enthusiastic. In a Jan. 13 letter to the city, Betty Carr said the proposed population growth "is not practical."

"Does the city have the infrastructure in place for this possible proposed increase, and not to mention the traffic nightmare?"

But Coun. Chak Au, who attended two open houses, said the plan has generally been well-received. Different options for density were floated during public consultation, and Au noted the city has "cut it in the middle."

"We made a good compromise about the density—not too high to make people feel congested, and not too low so that the community cannot be sustained."

Other concerns raised have been around traffic, but Au believes those can still be resolved as the planning process moves forward.

"We haven't fully addressed the traffic problem, but generally speaking we are moving in the right direction and I think there will be opportunities to improve the design of the whole area. I feel very encouraged by the whole thing."

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