Living at the mall: Hamilton proposes adding condos to major shopping malls

Hamilton city councillors have a novel idea to ease the city's affordable housing crisis. They want people to consider living at the mall.

Lime Ridge Mall is the largest property taxpayer in the city, far ahead of Stelco and ArcelorMittal Dofasco

The city will approach Cadillac Fairview to see if it's interested in residential development at Lime Ridge Mall. (Google)

Hamilton city councillors have a novel idea to ease the city's affordable housing crisis. They want people to consider living at the mall.

City council's general issues committee voted Wednesday to encourage developers to build apartments and condos at Hamilton's major commercial centres, namely shopping malls.

The city needs affordable housing, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger. And online shopping has led to the decline of the traditional shopping mall.

He envisions condos and office space at spots such as Lime Ridge Mall, which lost a major anchor tenant recently with the closure of Sears. Malls have vast amounts of space, Eisenberger said, and already have great transit service.

"It's a very proactive step to deal with the imminent changing dynamic in the retail sector," he said.

RioCan is building 570 units at the Elmvale Acres Shopping Centre in Ottawa. (Provided by RioCan)

It isn't a new idea. Donna Skelly, Ward 7 councillor, has been talking to two malls in her ward. That includes Lime Ridge Mall, which is owned by Cadillac Fairview.

Lime Ridge is the largest property taxpayer in the city, paying $11.5 million last year. That's more than double the $4.8 million paid by Stelco.

Skelly wants to "look at unique opportunities to ensure the viability of that mall is sustainable."

In Hamilton, Smart Centres has consulted with the city on early plans for residential units at the Mountain Plaza at 661 Upper James St., says Steve Robichaud, head of planning.

City council has already approved new mixed-use zoning for commercial properties that would allow for such a development, he said. But that's at the Ontario Municipal Board and unlikely to be approved until fall.

It's a growing trend beyond the city, too.

RioCan, the country's largest mall owner, has launched a few condo and apartment developments at malls. At Ottawa's Elmvale Acres Shopping Centre, for example, it's building 570 units. 

And in Toronto, the company is building ePlace, which includes a 36-storey rental tower with 466 apartments, and a 59-storey condo tower with 623 units.

Another GTA shopping centre, the Galleria in Vaughan, is being replaced altogether. Developers plan a whole neighbourhood where the mall was, with seven blocks of 3,416 residential units, 150 affordable housing units and 68,000 square feet of office space.

With Eisenberger's motion, city economic development staff will approach mall owners about the idea of adding residences.

Council still has to give final approval on April 25.

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About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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