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Future of former Hamilton church property pits heritage against housing crisis

Heritage advocates want Hamilton's former St. Giles United Church saved, while owner envisions new affordable housing on the east end site.

The fate of a more than century-old former church building in Hamilton’s lower city may lie in negotiations between the owner and Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann.

Hamilton City Council has voted to send issues related to the former St. Giles Church back to planning committee for further study, as Coun. Nann tries to broker what she hopes will be a “win-win” for the community and developer.

Heritage advocates want the 1912 church protected, and have signed their names to a 1,500 signature petition, while New Vision United Church sees redevelopment as a solution to the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Read more: 4 rapid housing projects get funding in Hamilton through federal program

During a council meeting on Wednesday, Coun. Nann stressed “we simply cannot afford to ignore any proposal to bring more affordable housing to our city.”

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Even so, Nann expressed a belief that she can balance heritage interests with the need to deliver affordable and mixed-income housing, resulting in a solution that can “unite our community.”

The real estate wing of the United Church of Canada, which is the owner of the property, recently withdrew an application for a demolition permit as its show of support for a negotiated solution.

Read more: Hamilton considering ‘modular homes’ to increase affordable housing stock

City councillors have voted to hold off on adding St. Giles to the municipal heritage registry, as a further legal safeguard, after hearing Coun. Nann’s appeal for “carriage of this file.”

Councillors were not united in that approach, with Flamborough Coun. Judi Partridge stressing “this church, right now, it has to be protected,” since anything can happen if another demolition permit comes forward.

Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla adds that adaptive reuse is the only outcome he will support, saying “there’s no other building like that around.”

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