Developer, Heritage Advocates Reach Settlement for Gaslight District Project in Cambridge

Height of the towers remains the same, but a considerably greater portion of the historic industrial complex will be retained

The mixed-use Gaslight District project will showcase more of the site’s heritage features following a settlement between the developer and local heritage advocates.

The agreement between Hip Developments and the Cambridge branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) heads off a hearing by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (formerly the Ontario Municipal Board) that was scheduled for October.

“I think both parties showed a willingness early on to try to reach an agreement outside of the process,” Joel Doherty, Hip’s director of development, said Monday. “It was very amicable.”

ACO Cambridge had launched an appeal of Cambridge’s planning approvals that gave a green light for the redevelopment of the former foundry property — most recently operating as the Southworks antiques and outlet mall — into a mixed-use office, retail and residential complex.

Chief among the objections was the proposed demolition of some historic structures and the 20-storey height of the two planned apartment towers.

Under the settlement, the height of the towers remains the same, but a considerably greater portion of the historic industrial complex on Grand Avenue South will be retained. Notably, three times more of the north building’s original facade is being preserved than was originally planned.

“This site, dating from the 1890s, is one of Ontario’s few remaining intact industrial complexes. Among other impacts to this distinctive heritage, we were concerned with the extent of the loss of the north building — the site’s ‘front door,’” ACO Cambridge branch president Jeremy Hetherington said in a news release.

The revised plans will also see a street, lined with retail on both sides, leading to the towers, replacing what was originally planned as a driveway.

“I have to tip my hat to ACO and their consultants, who provided a lot of great suggestions throughout a collaborative series of meetings the past six months,” Hip president Scott Higgins said in the news release.

“Without question the plan we have today, the heritage preservation and the active new street, is a better one than we had when we started the project designs several years ago.”

With the appeal withdrawn and the tribunal hearing cancelled, the $125-million project can proceed with the city’s zoning and official plan amendments in effect. Hip has obtained a permit to demolish portions of the buildings; that demolition, along with restoration work, is expected to begin soon.

Hetherington noted in the news release that ACO regrets the loss of any heritage attributes.

“It’s a compromise and we still lament the loss of any element of this historic site, but we also appreciate the outcome of this collaboration and are thankful that Hip is seizing the opportunity to protect more of our endangered industrial heritage stock, to everyone’s benefit.”

Doherty said the foundry’s history has always been important and appealing to Hip. “That heritage component has always been the focal point for us,” he said. “It’s the focal point of the site.”

The property is listed as having heritage significance, but it was not protected under designation. Hip will obtain a heritage designation once it is redeveloped.

Other new enhancements will include artists’ studios and commercial units at the base of the towers, retention and restoration of historic building remnants in the square to provide a stage, reuse of salvaged materials and interpretive signage.

“It’s a mixed-use community and that remains. The goals remain intact with what we sought out to achieve,” Doherty said, which is adding new residents, jobs and amenities to the Galt core. “I think the ACO’s completely on board with downtown revitalization.”

From the Waterloo Record