Light rail transit inspires infill development in Kitchener-Waterloo, some of it by London firms

London builders continue to transform downtown Kitchener, after some helped rebuild Waterloo’s core.

Drewlo Holdings of London plans a major 470-unit, twin tower residential development in downtown Kitchener, along that city’s light rail system, called ION - writes

That comes on the heels of London’s Auburn Developments snapping up the former Schneider Foods 11-hectare plant on Courtland Avenue in Kitchener, planning 2,000 residential units and 14,000 square metres of commercial building.

The Schneider property also is adjacent to the 19-­kilometre light rail system that is undergoing testing, and may be operating by year end.

“We are finding a lot of lenders and developers looking into opportunities here,” said Tom Galloway, chairperson of the planning and works committee for the Region of Waterloo.

“The LRT (light rail transit) has been the focus. There is huge momentum to get some projects going and in the books.”

Announced officially in 2011, Kitchener-Waterloo’s light rail system already has attracted about $3-billion in investment, before it has even begun service, with ­Drewlo and Auburn the latest to join the building boom, said ­Galloway.

“This is what the LRT was meant to do, incent development along the line so we don’t grow in greenfield areas, turning it more into intensification. It is working.”

Drewlo’s development is the first major project for the east end of Kitchener, near the city’s Market Station, he added.

“It will largely be a mix of residential and commercial, weighted to rentals,” said Galloway.

At the centre of all this building will be a large transit station, housing ION, Via and Go rail lines, as well as regular bus service and it will be built by Ellis Don.

“This is an important part of the downtown,” Brian Chapman, Kitchener city planner, said of the proposed Drewlo development, which still has to undergo rezoning. Work may begin in June, if approved, he said.

Drewlo’s $80-million development will fill a city block, on King Street East, near Kitchener Market, and a block away from a light rail transit station. It may also have two residential highrises, 14 and 18 storeys high.

Before the light rail system was approved, Waterloo region was seeing 65 per cent of growth in greenfield areas, with the balance in infill, or brownfield. Now, those numbers are reversed, said Galloway.

“It is exactly what we intended. We have not run a train yet and it is happening.”

London also has a goal to build inward, as it reduces costs to the city to service those areas, and prevents urban sprawl.

London is planning a $500-million bus rapid transit system, hoping it also promotes infill development.

As for ION, it was approved in 2011, providing light rail from Kitchener to Waterloo. There is also a bus rapid transit system from Kitchener to Cambridge.

The east Kitchener development by Drewlo is the latest in its building the city. During the last six years, Drewlo built four towers on Fallowfield Drive adjacent to an ION station. It also bought the Waterloo Inn, which has 5.6 hectares of land. In addition it has built two towers on Wilson Avenue next to an LRT station.

As for the Schneider site, clean up and initial steps to prepare for future development are expected to begin this year.

“Auburn has done significant work, and this will be a massive development,” said Galloway.

Auburn Developments is known in Waterloo region for its redevelopment of the Arrow Lofts on Benton Street, and its 400 condo units, and The Barrel Yards community in uptown Waterloo boasting 1,200 condo and apartment units as well as a hotel and office space..

Waterloo Region has been identified as a growth region by the province. During the next 25 years it is expected to add 250,000 people, as it draws more people from the Toronto area, said Galloway.

The region, made up seven municipalities, has a population of 565,000 that is forecast to grow to 800,000, in 25 years.

London has a population of about 400,000, forecast to grow to 500,000 by 2044.

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