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Development could be a central public space

One of the speakers addressing council at this week’s public planning meeting had it bang on: the mixed-use development proposed for Breslau is not something untested, it’s the norm in Europe. In fact, the dense mix of homes, shops, offices and other workplaces – precisely the goal of new provincial legislation – have evolved there over centuries.

Cities that began long before the automobile and which later adopted train travel that still dominates today are models for those who would see us become far less car-centric here.

That so-called complete community model is precisely what Thomasfield Homes’ Tom Krizsan is proposing for land immediately east of Breslau. There’s certainly a long way to go – the township wants to carry out a comprehensive land-use review of the area prior to making any decisions – but if there’s going to be development in Breslau, this is the way to go.

“This is a complete, compact, walkable community, that will also be home to Waterloo Region’s one and only suburban GO Transit station,” says Krizsan. “By the term complete, I mean a mixed-use community, one in which people can live, work, shop and play in one area; by compact, I mean that the mixed land uses are nearby and the densities represent efficient use of land, and by walkable I mean kilometres of nature trails and manmade trails, a pedestrian bridge over Hopewell Creek, and well connected street patterns giving people the opportunity to walk to work, walk to the GO station, walk to parks, cafes and restaurants and to walk to school.”

He certainly paints a compelling picture of a far more relaxed, human-scale lifestyle, even if we’re never likely to match the ambience of European communities.

The inclusion of the GO station anchors the Euro-style plans. Trains are a fundamental part of most cities on that side of the pond. And a connection to Toronto will do far more to take cars off the road than the region’s ersatz attempt in the form of light rail transit, though the hope is that it, too, will encourage similar development along the route between two malls.

While there are no plans for local transit connecting Breslau, the GO train would provide connections to Toronto and the GTA, a draw for businesses looking to set up shop in Waterloo Region.

“We’re looking for something where people can get off the GO train and walk to their high-tech jobs. Or they can live in the neighbourhood and walk to their high-tech job,” says Krizsan. “GO Transit is possibly the catalyst that’s driving this development. They (GO Transit) want to be in the center of things. They don’t want to be in the middle of some empty field.”

The region has already earmarked the Breslau area, including lands around the airport, and north Cambridge for employment lands, space being at a premium elsewhere. What happens in Breslau has significance far beyond the village itself and even Woolwich Township. But there is also one big local factor to consider: Breslau has no downtown to speak of. There’s little in the way of retail or services available.

And while the new community centre has become a focal point, public spaces don’t abound.

With this development, there’s a chance to create a central shopping and entertainment area coupled to something akin to a town square, a necessity as the village grows in leaps and bounds thanks to the thousand new homes in existing new subdivision, with more to come.

“Chances are this new community will serve as the town centre in the long run,” he says, noting residents are keen to see retail development. “There’s no place for grocery shopping or anything.”

If this project goes ahead, we can expect to see complementary development ensue. That would include plans by Smart Centres for retail stores on some 50 acres of land north of Victoria Street, just east of Ebycrest Road. The developers of power centres such as the Walmart-anchored development in St. Jacobs see great promise in the underserviced Breslau area. That land, too, will be part of the land-use study the township plans for the entire area, an attempt to come up with a comprehensive development strategy rather than dealing with applications in a piecemeal manner.

“There are a lot of things to consider for the Breslau area and the wider eastside lands,” Krizsan acknowledges. A veteran of many projects, he knows the wheels move slowly.

Still, he’s happy to see people are eager to adopt the kind of development he’s proposing. While the region currently sees much of that land as purely industrial in nature, the mixed-use proposal makes far more financial sense and is in keeping with increasingly stringent provincial regulations governing densities and live-work options.

“The public has bought into this complete community. Walk to school; walk to work; walk to shopping – everything nearby. It’s very, very attractive. All of these things make for a better lifestyle.”

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