It appears an attempt to mediate a dispute between the New Vision United Church, the United Church of Canada and a citizen group opposed to the demolition of St. Giles Church on Main Street East, if anything has worsened the situation.
At issue is a plan to demolish the more than 100 year old landmark and replace it with rental housing, 30 percent of which would be designated as affordable housing. Faced with declining participation, St Giles Church and the former Centenary United Church at Main and Macnab merged a few years ago and the resulting entity-New Vision United Church opted to demolish St Giles for housing, arguing that it was necessary to sacrifice one building to save the other.
The Friends of St Giles, who have now secured 2,500 signatures on a petition to save the Church from demolition said in a statement that when they participated in a facilitated meeting organized by Ward three Councillor Nrinder Nann in June, “our group was met with hostility and domineering behaviour from the United Church representatives who were present. Most chillingly, they led with a request to silence the Friends, by vetting our future communications on the subject of St. Giles–effectively for us to cease our work as community advocates. One senior citizen in the Friends described the meeting as one of the most humiliating experiences they’ve ever had to endure.”
In April, the City’s Heritage Committee had voted to designate the church as a historic site. At Planning committee the recommendation was shot down and instead Councillor Nann asked for and was given time to broker a meeting between the two parties. She had indicated however, that if push came to shove, she would favour the demolition in order to secure the affordable housing units.
The Bay Observer has reached out to New Vision for comment and a spokesperson indicated they would have something to say, but none has been received at the time of this publication.
Because the matter of designating the property was defeated in April, the matter can’t be reintroduced without a two-thirds vote from those who opposed designating the property-something that is not likely to happen.
Friends of St Giles founding member, Dr.Sarah Sheehan appeared at the meeting and provided a presentation that said the property was suffering from “demolition by neglect.” She pointed out two other conversions of churches in Hamilton to apartments that were accomplished without destroying the buildings.
The matter will ultimately get resolved by the Planning Committee. In the meantime, it will be up to Councillor Nann to look for another opportunity to broker a solution between the two parties. There has been no deadline imposed on the process.