'Gaslight District' gets go-ahead from city councillors - June 7, 2017

Plans for the Gaslight District redevelopment project on the Southworks Outlet Mall lands cleared a major hurdle this week, receiving a number of approvals from city council.

They include official plan (OP) amendments related to building heights and setbacks, zoning changes and authorization to demolish parts of one of the buildings and sections of another.

The plan is not without controversy. Concerns about the 20-storey height of two apartment towers and the impact on heritage features continued to be raised and demands were renewed for a peer review of a heritage impact assessment.

“What’s important for all of us is to remember that, as we move forward in terms of the future of this city, we have to stop fearing the future,” said Mayor Doug Craig during Tuesday’s (June 6) planning and development committee meeting.

“We have to stop feeding the anxiety of the public with tall buildings. That’s a reality that most cities of the world — evolving, modern cities — find themselves in.”

All of the requested approvals were granted by recorded votes of 7-2, with councillors Nicholas Ermeta and Jan Liggett opposed.

“The community is going to regret it,” commented Ermeta, who called for the apartment towers to be lower and more spread out, and built above the existing structures to avoid demolition. “I just think we’re losing something valuable here.”

Before the approvals become official, this week’s committee decisions must be ratified by city council. They’re expected to be on the agenda for next Tuesday.

Should they pass, 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, Scott Higgins of HIP Developments told the Times construction would get underway next spring and the entire project would be completed in 2020 or 2021.

The proposal would see 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 sq. ft. arts studio/music hub, shops, boutiques, a 1.15-acre public square and restaurants.

“A live, work and play environment is exactly what attracts today’s entrepreneurs,” commented Tim Ellis, chief executive officer of Grand Innovations.

“I think what we’ll see is people leaving other cities in Waterloo Region and in Ontario to want to populate and move here because this is something unique that Cambridge will be the first one to bring this type of thing to market.”

“We really think this will help us in both recruiting and retaining employees,” added Ian Miles, president of Energy+, which has signed on as an anchor tenant.

Prior to making its decisions, the committee heard from 12 delegations on the issue Tuesday evening, including Cambridge Chamber of Commerce president Greg Durocher and Graham Braun of Galt on the Grand BIA — both of which support the plan.

Though also supportive of the concept in general, members of the Cambridge and North Waterloo Region branches of Architectural Conservancy Ontario expressed concerns about the quantity of the buildings to be demolished and the impact on nearby heritage features.

“Having reviewed and obtained expert opinion regarding the Heritage Impact Assessment provided, we have concluded that it clearly fails to adequately address several serious impacts of the current development proposal,” stated Karen Scott Booth of ACO Cambridge.

“These unaddressed serious impacts include the loss of significant resources through demolition and the loss of the integrity of the few remaining structures.

“As members of this committee, if you are confident in this proposal, surely you would welcome the HIA subjected to examination,” she added calling for a peer review before any approvals are granted.

The site is listed as a property of interest on the city’s heritage registry, but is not a designated heritage property. HIP officials have said they will seek designation upon completion of this development.

Committee members also received eight letters of support for the project, including ones from Hespeler BIA, Waterloo Region Home Builders Association and Cambridge Association of Realtors.

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.



The Cambridge Times

by Richard Vivian