Main Street North runs just outside the core of downtown Brampton. A unique area populated by historic dwellings with deep connections to Brampton’s history. The street acts as a gateway into the historic parts of downtown Brampton. A walk along the street reveals quaint heritage properties juxtaposed against the busy road going in and out of the downtown. Several of the heritage resources that sit in the block of Main Street North between David and Market Streets now sit behind a fence, waiting to be demolished to make way for a different kind of “historical” development.
On August 9, City Council passed a motion to consider the potential removal of the property at 223 Main Street North from its Municipal Register of Cultural Heritage Resources. The motion, moved by Mayor Patrick Brown, requested the addition of the property at 223 Main Street North to a current developer proposal from Solmar to construct a pair of condo towers.
According to City documents, 223 Main Street North is listed as a cultural heritage resource in Brampton. While not the same as being a designated property under the Ontario Heritage Act, which would shield the property from a developer's bulldozer, these listed properties simply receive “basic public acknowledgement of the contribution of specific heritage resource to the rich cultural history of Brampton.” The list is also used when considering future properties for full designation under the Heritage Act.
The development project, which is currently in its pre-construction phase, is called Bristol Place, and is a pair of luxury condos on track to become the tallest towers in Brampon’s history at 48-storeys each.
The collection of properties necessary to accommodate this development includes several others that once found themselves on the heritage resources list, including 205, 207-209, 215 and 219-221 Main Street North, as well as 44 Thomas Street. The house at 219 Main Street North, labelled the Blain House, along with 44 Thomas Street were listed as far back as 2007. The house at 223 Main Street which is proposed to be added into the development, is known as the Milner House.
As part of the reasoning for his motion, Brown points to Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act, and Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, which were introduced by the PC government to encourage housing development to meet escalating housing demands and population growth. The motion also highlights the City’s pledge to construct 113,000 new homes by 2031 to meet housing targets set by the Province of Ontario.
These housing targets, posted by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in 2022, aim to get municipalities to commit to satisfying Ontario’s need to build “unprecedented amounts of new homes to meet current and anticipated demand,” as shared on the Environmental Registry of Ontario.
This reasoning—putting housing over everything, including the preservation of the environment or heritage—is exactly what advocates feared when the PC legislation was first introduced, and then built upon by the subsequent Bill 97 and drastic changes to the urban planning regime in Ontario. Among the myriad of changes, were alterations to the wording around how municipalities need to accommodate heritage properties. Under the new Provincial Planning Statement, municipalities only need to consider those properties protected under the Ontario Heritage Act, disregarding language that previously allowed for the consideration of sites listed on the cultural heritage resources registry, similar to the properties in the current Solmar proposal.
"Ontario's heritage could be decimated," Architectural Conservancy Ontario Board Chair Diane Chin said in a press release when the legislation was introduced in May. "How can municipalities benefit from the community health and wellbeing, tourism spending and affordable housing that come with heritage buildings, if they are all allowed to be destroyed, no questions asked?"
While the properties along Main Street North are simple residential dwellings that do not hold the same tourism draw as a historic bridge, church or cemetery, the quick dismissal of their heritage value in the face of development could set a dangerous precedent for other developers looking to build on heritage properties around the city.
The City told The Pointer that a Heritage Impact Assessment has not been completed for the building proposed to be added to the development by Brown’s motion. Heritage Impact Assessments are a required study that determine impacts to cultural heritage resources that could be altered or destroyed during construction or development and demonstrate whether they will be adversely affected.
In an email, the City told The Pointer that the approved motion from August 9 directs staff to bring a report to the Brampton Heritage Board on September 19, 2023, and to report back to Council on September 27.
Conservation of cultural heritage resources is considered a matter of public interest in Ontario, and the Ontario Heritage Act aims to allow municipalities to designate these properties and in turn gives those properties public recognition and a “measure of protection from demolition or unsympathetic alteration,” according to the City.
But the legislation approved by the PC government makes it easier to get around all of this in the name of addressing the existing housing crisis.
The developer states the construction of Bristol Place will provide luxury suites in the center of downtown Brampton at a time when the Region of Peel is in the midst of a serious housing affordability crisis. It is unclear how the addition of two luxury condo buildings will address the housing needs of local Brampton residents when many are unable to afford the existing market rental rates, not to mention the rates that could apply to a luxury condo building.
Bristol Place, according to Solmar, will be a “defining landmark on the Brampton skyline.” These two buildings will be among the first “high profile projects” in the city, the company states on its website.
The two 48-storey towers will host a total of 1,124 dwelling units close to the downtown core and Brampton’s GO station.
There is no question, additional housing units are needed in Brampton and the Region of Peel as the affordability crisis worsens and Brampton’s population continues to grow. According to Statistics Canada, Brampton’s population was 680,820 in 2021, and is forecasted to reach 791,470 by 2026. According to City data, it is the “fastest-growing of Canada's largest 25 cities,” and its growth makes up 90.2 percent of the net population growth within the Region of Peel.
A report released this past May by Sean Baird, the Region of Peel’s Commissioner of Human Services, details the risk of a worsening housing affordability crisis for the region if adequate investment is not made. “Approximately 91,000 households in Peel [are] in core housing need,” the report states. “The affordable housing system is currently meeting 19 percent of this need.”
The report details how there are actually two housing crises in Peel. One that involves “rising house prices and rents,” which have contributed to housing unaffordability for middle income earners, and another that involves a “lack of deeply affordable and supportive housing for those people with low incomes, or who are experiencing family, physical, mental health, and addiction struggles.”
It’s unclear which crises the Bristol Place development will address.
The Pointer asked the City how the luxury condos of Bristol Place will meet the needs of Brampton residents who cannot afford current rental prices. The City did not respond to the request.
Scott Davie, the Listing Broker of Bristol Place, told The Pointer that the two buildings will help to meet some of the demand for housing units in Brampton, referencing the country’s record-breaking immigration rates.
“We simply do not have the supply to adequately house this many new Canadians,” he said. “With closing dates of 5 years or more, the majority of new condos are sold to investors who have the intention to rent out their suites.”
The statement that immigration is a main driver of Ontario’s housing supply crisis, one that has been repeatedly referenced by Premier Doug Ford and those in his PC cabinet has been repeatedly debunked.
Davie says the two luxury apartments would have a “positive impact on both the cost of rent, and availability, by introducing more much needed supply into the market,” highlighting the City’s plans to expand Brampton’s Innovation District.
He said Bristol Place will “meet the rental demand for some middle and low income tenants,” citing that while there is no social housing component, “there will be condos 500 square feet or less that will have affordable, market value rents.”
There are currently approximately 30,000 households on the list for affordable housing subsidies from the Region of Peel, including small and medium sized families who would be unable to comfortably live in a 500 square-foot unit.
The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Brampton in August was $2,247, a 20 percent increase from the same time last year.
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Hafsa Ahmed, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer