Richmond council approves Hamilton overhaul

Change seemed inevitable.

Hamilton, a small community of 5,095 people in East Richmond, is full of aging single-family homes on ditch-lined streets. Its retail hub is a largely-vacant strip mall where grocery stores have tried, but failed, to turn a profit.

City council gave its unanimous support to a new area plan following a recent public hearing, paving the way for 2,500 more homes and a population of 12,000 or more. New retail space is envisioned, along with public amenities that include a riverfront park, library and community police office.

Nearly 20 speakers gave council opinions at a three-and-a-half hour public hearing Feb. 25. Ten others offered written thoughts, including longtime resident Pauline Lewzey who cautioned city officials to balance growth with the trees and green spaces the area is known for.

“As a resident of Hamilton for over 30 years I have enjoyed the view of the mountains, the river and the wildlife that make Hamilton their home and I would like to emphasize the importance of maintaining that availability to the residents of the area. Many visitors come to our neighbourhood to enjoy our natural splendor.”

The plan had the backing of Richmond East MLA Linda Reid, who told council Hamilton should be on a level playing field with Queensborough and its planned population of 14,000.

“Hamilton should not find itself in a one down position when it comes to competing for businesses to be situated on its new high street. A business owner may look to the larger population base approved for Queensborough and miss the opportunity Hamilton will provide,” Reid said in her submission.

The plan does, however, present a challenge for school officials. Hamilton Elementary School is already full, and Richmond board of education chair Donna Sargent said population growth would boost the school population by over 300 students.

Sargent criticized the city for not identifying potential school sites and deferring the “practical issue of providing for the needed school land and buildings to others.”

“Both land and buildings will be required to accommodate the proposed population increase as the current elementary school is near capacity,” according to Sargent.

Growth will lead to a greater need of bussing high school students. It might be necessary to provide a similar service for new elementary students while the district awaits provincial approval for a new school.

“The board of education firmly believes that schools are the hub of any community, and are one of the first amenities that community members seek.”

The city’s policy planning manager Terry Crowe told council that staff are aware of the district’s needs. He pledged to work with school officials on the file, but also said the buildout of Hamilton could take up to 25 years.

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