Some Residents Devastated Over Potential Loss of Longstanding Neighbourhood Plaza

The little plaza on the corner of the Collegeway and Colonial Drive has a reputation that precedes itself.

When I first moved into the neighbourhood, I heard rumblings - to be honest, sometimes direct and unsought warnings - that I had not moved into the safest area in Mississauga. I will never forget the distinct sounds of gunshots echoing in the evening air as I sat by my open window, just days after we had moved to our new place. At that moment, I feared that the rumblings may have been true, that I was living in a “bad” neighbourhood.

I have lived here for over five years now, and, to be honest, there have been moments where I have been downright scared in my own home. Early on when living in the neighbourhood, I found myself thinking, perhaps the plaza was one such source of mischievousness. A dingy place where not much good could happen.

In the early days, I regularly tended to my garden in the summer evenings. I began to recognize familiar faces, often receiving compliments on my little improvements. I met kind people stopping for conversation, before continuing on their journey to our local Islamic Center. It was how I met many of my neighbours, was invited to Eid dinners and friendships grew. I became more aware of the Center’s presence, not just as a place of worship, but as a base for a community of devout people who were very much willing to embrace those around them who are not part of their religious community.

Awhile after moving, I finally made my peace with the urgent need for milk and visited the convenience store, the Stop & Go Food Market. There I met a lovely person who works hard during the days to bring the store to life. This ever cheerful woman makes delicious spicy pizza bread almost daily, and tabbouleh I have enjoyed time and time again.

Earlier last week, I went in to the plaza and asked for an update. I was absolutely shocked to hear that the plaza could be closing down soon, very soon. The person I have previously only ever seen cheerful walked away with a solemn look on her face. I was helpless to comfort someone who was about to lose so much.

Mississauga is no stranger to change and it looks the ever-growing city might welcome another new housing development in the future—one that could prompt the demolition of a long-standing Collegeway strip mall that’s been serving my west end neighbourhood for years.

The plaza, located at 3355 The Collegeway, could be torn down in the future to make way for a proposed housing development.

As of now, the plaza is occupied by various restaurants and businesses—including The Original Jerk, Pamier Kabob and the aforementioned Stop & Go.

Back in late 2017, the City of Mississauga confirmed that a rezoning application submitted by Collegeway Mississauga Holdings proposed replacing the current mall with a residential development that will consist of multiple townhomes, four-storey residential suites and commercial units.

Rendering of proposed development

The subject rezoning application at 3355 The Collegeway is expected to go Planning and Development Committee in January 2018,” the City confirmed in an email to inSauga.com. “The proposed development consists of 12 townhouse blocks and one mixed-use block that contains stacked townhouse units above at grade retail units facing Ridgeway Drive. A commercial plaza currently exists on the site which the applicant is proposing to demolish.”

When news about the development broke, many people came to a fraught public meeting to express their concerns.

And when I went to the Stop & Go, I saw the impact the news was having on a business owner first hand.

It was in that moment that I was hit with the fact that the plaza’s closure would have huge ramifications for the community and that I had failed to do anything about it.

As for the the Stop & Go, I will miss it dearly, and I hope for its relocation.

But the big question remains, without its regular patrons, a client base it has developed over years, could the Stop & Go thrive at any other location? How will the community get by without the warmth of the workers at the store, people who have worked within the community for years?

Similarly, what will become of the local Islamic Center and all of its constituents? What will be the draw for muslim families moving into the community now? What impact will driving to an Islamic Center have on the ability to get out and walk around the community? Just weeks after the Islamic Center’s relocation, there is less movement on the streets.

The community is changing and it seems like little can be done to stop it.

And it’s also easy enough to see why a developer might be interested in adding more density to the neighbourhood—especially since it’s remained relatively untouched up until now.

It’s also important to note that the development application does include plans for commercial/retail space. In fact, the application proposes commercial space of over 14,000 square feet.

Still, many residents fear that they’ll lose an incredibly convenient market.

In fact, people mentioned the importance of the store to the developer’s lawyer in a 2018 meeting. A number of people said that the Stop & Go was their only option for buying groceries and other everyday items because going to the Superstore on Laird or Walmart was too far away for them. Adam Brown, the lawyer for the Sorbara Group, did tell attendees that there could be a store of similar function (perhaps even a pharmacy) that could set up shop in the commercial space, but this was described as something “they could review.”

But the fact remains that discussions of density and development mean little to people who are worried about a massive change in their neighbourhood.

And they mean less to people who have to uproot their businesses.

Over the years, I have really come to question how ideas of specific areas are formed, and I can earnestly say, in this regard, I am changing too. Any fear that I had upon moving into this area was more a reflection of myself than it was of the neighbourhood. I have learned that my fear was more misplaced anxiety; I was outwardly worried about the shortcomings of my neighbourhood, when inwardly I was brooding over the rapid changes within Mississauga’s structure.

With lockdowns happening at schools across the city, in some of the so-called nicest, and certainly the most affluent, neighbourhoods in town, I get the sense that this entire city is changing, becoming more of a big city than a suburb, and that some of the challenges we’ve seen in this neighbourhood are nothing short of the new normal. Maybe there is no safe place left in this sweet suburban city, or at least no place where you will feel safe like I did as a child growing up here.

That’s exactly why plazas like this one are important to keeping the fibers of our communities together.

To many on the fringe or completely separated from this neighbourhood, I think the decision to close the plaza has been perceived as a strong choice for the neighbourhood; a chance to revitalize, gentrify and further inflate the cost of real-estate.

I was once one of those people. Now, after all that has been said, I can say that my initial judgement of this area was totally erroneous.

Having lived in this neighbourhood for over five years, I have found a sense of community in seeing the same smiling faces at our local corner store, in catching sight of families walking to the local Islamic Center as the sun sets, and in knowing people who have found an affordable workout spot at the World Gym.

To many, it is a place where you can find those Jamaican Patties you looked forward to as a child. To others, it is the Islamic Center where your children learned about the fundamental beliefs held closest to your heart. And, to many, it is the notorious plaza in a neighbourhood branded with violence.

This plaza is much more than its reputation. It has been the hub of our little community. I feel regretful that I didn’t fight harder to make the city see the value of the plaza, its importance in our community, and to reconsider this new development.

No matter what your belief, one thing is certain: on the day the plaza finally closes, this community will be forever changed.

A meeting regarding the Collegeway Plaza will happen on Monday, April 23 at 10am at City Hall, Committee Room B.

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