By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
NANTICOKE — Empire Communities believes in the potential of Nanticoke, and they have backed that belief with their wallet, purchasing 4,200 acres of land in the area with a vision of building a thriving community on the underutilized lands that were once envisioned as a massive industrial park.
The purchased land was formerly owned by Stelco Holdings (U.S. Steel Canada from 2007 to 2016). However, those lands were deemed surplus and put up for sale, with Empire successfully bidding on it.
“This is one of, if not the largest section of significant employment lands identified in the province,” said Stephen Armstrong of Armstrong Planning & Project Management during a presentation to Council on February 14, 2022.
Armstrong noted, however, that users who have tried to come in and build on the lands, mentioning a possible data centre or manufacturing facilities, have found out that doing so would require a $50 million investment to build a sanitation plant before they could consider developing on the land. He said this stopped previously interested parties in their tracks.
Currently, the only service in the area is water, due to proximity to the Nanticoke Water Treatment Plant. However, critical services including sanitation and gas are not available.
“There’s not enough population around this area to service large vendors who would want to come in,” said Armstrong. “This is one of the reasons why these lands have remained undeveloped and in essence sterile for all those years.”
Armstrong outlined a plan to realize a massive sanitation plant near the south end of the lands, close to the shoreline, that could service all of Haldimand as well as surrounding areas such as Port Dover and Six Nations. They hope to utilize the County’s previously obtained approval through the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to help speed up the process.
Armstrong walked through some of the potential future issues the new plant would help alleviate throughout Haldimand, including future capacity issues in both Caledonia and Hagersville, and the lagoon system in Jarvis that he called “operating but not ideal.”
The long-term plan suggested is to de-commission the existing sanitation plants in Caledonia and Hagersville, remove the lagoon system, and have one system for the entire region: “The interim proposal is to use part of the funding that would go to building a second plant in Caledonia and in Hagersville, use that money as the County’s contribution to the plant on Lake Erie…. You would get that plant soon, since it’s EA approved. That would allow the area to open up.”
Armstrong showed engineering diagrams outlining how the systems would integrate into the planned community. In terms of water, Empire is envisioning a future where Haldimand County could take themselves completely off of Hamilton’s water supply by extending the Nanticoke plant, creating a county-wide water system independent of outside sources. Ultimately, Armstrong said the finished systems could potentially service up to half a million people.
Empire is proposing the development of a “complete community” on the lands, including housing, commercial space, and employment lands to be left intact. They have completed a series of studies, including a land use compatibility study that looked at noise and smell factors from the nearby Stelco plant, a master servicing study, and numerous environmental studies: “We wanted to make sure that what we’re proposing can happen, and I’m here to tell you it can happen if you want it to happen.”
Currently, the land is laid out with 60% residential and commercial space, with the remaining 40% to remain employment lands. Those percentages exclude 110 acres of beachfront lands in the parcel to be given to the County and opened up to the community for public recreation purposes.
To accomplish all of Empire’s plans would cost roughly $180 million, with an initial cost of $50 million to build the new sanitation plant. The proposed community in Nanticoke would consist of 15,000 new residential units, supporting 40,000 residents. The available employment lands, if fully utilized, have enough space for 7,500 to 11,000 new jobs, and all in, the community could generate between $80-90 million a year in property tax revenue for the County.
Mayor Ken Hewitt is excited by the proposal: “I fully support it. This is something that many of us on Council have talked about in the past 12 years, reinvigorating the Nanticoke lands.”
Hewitt said he has spoken to the Hon. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Housing and Affairs about the proposal, as well as Chiefs Mark Hill and Stacey Laforme of Six Nations and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and MPP Toby Barrett, all of whom he said were supportive.
“When you look at everything that’s been put forward, there is absolutely no argument against the opportunity this presents to us,” he continued. “I will continue to work with both Empire and County staff, along with the Province to push this through.”
County CAO Craig Manley shared his thoughts on the proposal, “This is, in my opinion, a unique thing in the province of Ontario. How often do you hear of building a new community that will house 40,000 people? That’s the size of Woodstock. It would double our population. This is a significant proposal.”
He added, “In order to make that proposal come to fruition, there’s a process that is required, which is essentially asking the Province to pass a Minister’s Zoning Order, which will establish the principle of use.”
A Minister’s Zoning Order is legislation that gives the Province significantly more power in pushing forward developments.
County staff have been tasked with creating a staff report before the next Council-in-Committee meeting.
“Clearly this is something that is quite outside the norm,” concluded Manley. “It’s also reflective of a great deal of thought and work that’s already gone into it, and some real recognition of the real-world necessities in order to make development happen.”
Council will discuss the issue in more depth following the staff report at the Council session planned for March 1.