The Mill Street Condo Project
You’ve probably heard by now about the proposal to build a 21 storey condominium complex on Mill Street. If you haven’t, you can check out details of the plan on the Save Old Milton website.
While this plan has been in the works for over two years now, it was a recent ‘focus group’ meeting organized by the developers with nearby business and home owners that has led to widespread public awareness of the project, spurred largely by the distribution of detailed maps and concept drawings that were given out at that meeting.
The drawings are shocking, to say the least. They show a massive 260+ unit complex stretching from James Street nearly to Martin along Mill Street, with one section extending to Main Street where Bumpers Restaurant and Recycled Reading are currently. Above 2-3 levels of parking and a 3 storey block of condos and shops rise two stepped towers reaching a maximum combined height of 21 storeys including parking.
For reference, the tallest building currently in Milton is 100 Millside at 16 storeys. The tallest along that section of Main Street, besides the churches, is 3. The zoned limit there is 4.
It must be noted that none of this has been submitted in any official way to the Town of Milton. The developers have stated their intention to make a formal application for re-zoning in April, at which point the full machinery of the planning process will grind to life. Conservation Halton, Heritage Milton, the Committee of Adjustment and Consent, and a whole host of other regulatory and advisory bodies will weigh in. And so of course will the residents of Milton – assuming that any of this even gets to the public meeting stage.
There are any number of things that could kill this project before things ever get that far. The first would be a failure to get all of the property owners on board – and contrary to what the rumour mill is saying, they are NOT all on board with this. One holdout and the whole project is dead in the water.
The second stumbling block would be Conservation Halton. Most of the project is within the flood plain, which means that nothing can be built there unless it is just replacing what was already there. This is why the developers have come up with the (admittedly clever) solution of having the lower levels as parking, with the rest of the building on ‘stilts’ above the flood line. Of course you still have the problem of 500 additional people living in a flood zone, as well as potential disruption of water flow to other vulnerable areas. So whether Conservation Halton considers this an acceptable solution remains to be seen.
A few more facts about the proposal:
- The developers plan to hand over 80 of the complex’s parking spots to the Town as public parking. There are currently about 150 parking spaces there, all privately owned by Main and Mill Street businesses, meaning there will be a net loss of parking.
- It will be necessary to have more than one exit above the level of the flood plain, which means they must acquire the house belonging to the owners of J.Scott Early Funeral Home. The owners have stated that it is extremely unlikely that they will sell.
- Several councillors have downplayed the plan, pointing out that many of these schemes get proposed every year and come to naught. In this case, however, the developers have already spent over $150,000 for architects and consultants and appear to be very serious about moving this forward.
- The developers are implying that they aren’t constrained by the flood plain restrictions because they have been ‘grandfathered in’. This is not exactly the case. While they did get a preliminary application in to Conservation Halton shortly before the Special Policy Area rules were replaced by a strictly One Zone Policy, all this means is that the developers have an extremely slim chance of having their plan approved as opposed to none at all.
- Comparisons have been made with the building at 100 Millside. Not only is that building 5 storeys shorter than this, it is also almost three times further away from Main Street – 130 metres as opposed to 50.
There is still a lot we don’t know about this project – for example, what impact would this have on the Farmers’ Market and other downtown events? But we’ll know a lot more when the formal application is made to the Town.
I must say, it’s been incredibly gratifying to see the level of passion and civic engagement that has been generated since all this broke wide open. There is now a community group organized to fight the development, and dozens of local residents have come out to public information meetings they have held. Nearly two thousand have signed an online petition, and Facebook has gone wild with a rather spirited debate over not just this project but about what can and should be done to help save downtown Milton.
I do wish we’d seen this level of engagement during the last election, but still, it gives me hope that so many people care so very deeply about the future of our historic downtown core and want to see it thrive and prosper again.
Unfortunately, the project developers know this and have been trying to convince everyone – especially our increasingly desperate downtown business owners – that planting a 21-storey condo tower within 50 metres of Main Street is “the only thing that can save downtown”.
I would suggest that they are trying to cure the disease by killing the patient.
Most people agree that having more people living within easy walking distance of downtown is crucial to the revitalization we all want. I have argued this very point repeatedly. That is why the Town went to great trouble to develop an intensification plan that would do just that – bring higher density development to areas adjacent to the older downtown core such as Main east of Court Street and the west side of Bronte.
What the plan does NOT call for is high rises within the historic area of downtown – and for good reason. Everyone recognizes that its historic character, charm, and human scale are unique and valuable assets which draw people to it, just as people are drawn to downtown Unionville, Stratford, Peterborough, and Niagara-on-the-Lake – all of which do just fine without high rises.
Charm and beauty will only get you so far of course, and there is a lot more that can and should be done to revitalize our downtown. Even, perhaps, building a much shorter residential development on Mill Street.
But not this. Not there. Not if the residents of Milton have anything to say about it.