Despite some remaining concerns about building height and impact on heritage in the area, city council has formally endorsed plans for the “Gaslight District” development proposal.
“This is a transformational project for the city,” said Coun. Pam Wolf, whose ward includes the former Southworks foundry lands in west Galt where the project is planned. “The best way to preserve heritage buildings is to reuse and repurpose them.”
The plan includes the creation of two 20-storey apartment towers — one rentals and the other condos — providing 396 units. As well, it involves the establishment of a tech hub known as Grand Innovations, a 12,000 square-foot arts studio/music hub, shops, boutiques, a 1.15-acre public square and restaurants.
The first five storeys of both apartment towers is to be for parking.
With an estimated cost of $120 million in private investment to make the project happen, proponents say it will result in job creation and an economic boost for the downtown core.
Council approved official plan amendments related to building heights and setbacks, as well as zone changes and authorization to demolish parts of one of the buildings and sections of another.
It’s the demolition and tower height what continue to be controversial, with Coun. Nicholas Ermeta and Coun. Jan Liggett voting against the motions in recorded 7-2 votes.
“The failure in this project is that it didn’t go far enough in being the best that it could be,” said Liggett.
“A peer review for such a project … I think is something we should have required.”
Ermeta also called for a peer review, as did Karen Scott Booth from the Cambridge branch of Architectural Conservancy Ontario, though she stated she was presenting to council as an individual.
“The only time we have truly failed is when we have failed to learn,” she told council ahead of the votes, referencing the loss of buildings with heritage significance during the 1960s and 1970s.
Council also heard from Michael Brisson, who identified himself as an architect and proposed the same number of residential units could be achieved by wrapping the units around the parking rather than go straight up.
“There is no reason on this huge site to go up in the air,” he said. “There’s no reason why this (public square) space has to be so large.”
Scott Higgins, of proponent HIP Developments, told council his group had looked at wrapping the units as well as several other options, but they drove up costs and made the project financially undoable.
“I think this is as close to the best and as close to perfect as we’re going to get,” said Coun. Mike Mann of the project. “We’re taking the old and incorporating it with the new.”
Since the Gaslight District plan was first announced last year, the number of residential units have been reduced (from 434 to 396) and the height of the towers has been decreased by two storeys.
The positioning of those two buildings has also changed, resulting in an increase in preservation of the existing structures from 69 to 75 per cent of the total square footage.
Regional council must still green-light the official plan amendments, and Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change must endorse a plan to deal with site contamination before building can begin.
If all goes according to plan, Higgins recently told the Times construction would get underway next spring and the entire project would be completed in 2020 or 2021.