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Woolwich to take more time with Breslau development strategy

Legal wranglings with two major developers have complicated a planning review of the Breslau settlement area, threatening to delay a process that’s already gone on for more than three years.

Thomasfield Homes and Empire Communities have outstanding appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board, looking to push ahead with the next phases of their respective developments in the village. Based on landowners’ response to the latest, and what planning staff deems final draft of an overarching framework for the village – the Breslau settlement plan – more legal battles seem likely.

Each of the speakers, many of them planners representing developers and property owners, presented a laundry list of deficiencies in addressing Woolwich councillors Tuesday night. Among the many concerns are staged, limited growth policies, sweeping environmental restrictions and the very boundaries drawn up in the plan.

Woolwich’s goal of staging growth – the plan envisions the construction of 100 new dwellings and some 275 additional residents each year – was panned by all.

Amanda Kosloski, a planner representing Empire Communities, said the company still has many concerns with a document the township’s planning staff deems ready. With the staging policy, for instance, she argued the township can’t simply apply policies in place in Elmira to land in Breslau, where the demand for housing is much greater.

“It’s an artificial development cap that doesn’t represent good planning,” she said. “Growth wants to happen in Breslau.”

For Thomasfield Homes, the holder of the largest tracts of development land, the township’s vision doesn’t mesh with its own.

The Guelph-based firm’s planner, Bill Green of the GSP Group, said his client still has more than a dozen outstanding issues with the plan, including the growth policies.

He argued that creating demands on development unique to Breslau – including environmental controls and affordable housing allocations – aren’t fair. If such policies are adopted, they should be township-wide.

Servicing – the extension of water and sanitary sewers – is also a concern for all parties. While Woolwich recently negotiated more capacity from Kitchener, all of the landowners want to ensure their projects will have access to the services.

Paul Puopolo, a planner representing Breslau Properties, said his client would like a guarantee capacity will be set aside for their lands in central Breslau. They have plans for a residential subdivision of 400 to 600 homes.

Also currently outside the settlement area, Conestoga Meat Packers has its eye on access to sanitary sewers to help with a planned expansion of the company’s Menno Street processing plant.

At the other end of the village, SmartREIT – the new name of SmartCentres following its acquisition by Calloway Real Estate Investment Trust, has its own list of concerns.

The company owns land on the north side of Victoria Street, bounded by Ebycrest Road on the west side. The area is slated for commercial development in the power centre mode.

Anne Messore of SmartREIT/Breslau North Development Inc. (BNDI) said the company’s holding originally totalled 57 acres, of which about 20 acres is inside the current settlement area. It lost nine acres expropriated by the province for the new Hwy. 7, bifurcating part of the land and making it unusable. They would like to see all of their property inside the settlement area, but would settle for a reworking of the parcels to maintain 20 acres in a more useful configuration.

John Scarfone, Woolwich’s manager of planning, said the rationalization of the company’s lands will have to be a separate process, as the Region of Waterloo won’t approve any changes until it makes amendments to its own official plan. That could take place next year.

The township plans to rework some of the settlement boundaries in Breslau, Elmira and St. Jacobs and elsewhere in 2016, though will tackle them individually as some will be easier changes than others. In some cases, land currently in a settlement area may be removed and its allocation given to another property, which could make for a battle.

In BNDI’s case, it’s just reworking their own property.

“Their proposal is not contentious because they’re rationalizing their own lands,” he noted.

While staff recommended adopting the new settlement plan, councillors ultimately deferred a decision until early next year, saying they need more information. The pending legal action also limited some of the discussion points

“This is a frustrating process for me,” said Coun. Mark Bauman of being muzzled by the OMB issues with Thomasfield and Empire.

Council is in something of a legal limbo, not being able to discuss certain facets of the settlement plan in public.

Complicating matters, the OMB will be looking for the township to make a decision on the plan prior to its hearings, which are scheduled for May and June.

Councillors will take up the plan again at a Jan. 12 closed session with legal counsel before coming back to it in open discussion at the committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 2.

Much of the growth addressed in the plan will come via a mixed-use (residential, commercial and industrial) development to the east of the village, expansion of a residential project at the south end, and new commercial development to the north, on the other side of Victoria Street. Developers for each of those projects were on hand to pitch their visions. Likewise, developers seeking inclusion in the planning area also made their cases, hoping to turn land into bankable projects.

Both Thomasfield Homes and Empire Communities, builders of subdivisions on the east and south sides of Breslau respectively, are looking to move forward with the next phases of their developments, each needing new lots to build on.

Empire Communities hopes to build 531 units – a mix of single-detached houses and townhomes – on a 77-acre parcel to the west of its existing Riverland subdivision. The development would be home to an anticipated 1,636 people, with employment land in the mix adding another 76 employees. The plan also includes three parks and space for a new elementary school.

Thomasfield’s latest bid for its eastside lands would bring 2,300 new residents and 3,330 jobs to the area. Proposed is a combination of residential (single-family, semis, townhouses and apartment buildings), commercial space, offices, retail stores, industrial uses, schools, open space, trails and wetlands extending over more than 335 acres east of the company’s current development, the Hopewell Heights subdivision. The development would cover two pieces of land, 226 acres immediately east of the subdivision and 109 acres east of Greenhouse Road, the site of much of the proposed industrial land. There would be 865 residential units; 53 acres of employment land; 15 acres set aside at the south end of the western property, adjacent to the CN rail line, set aside for a GO Transit station; and substantial amounts of protected wetlands and extensive trailways.

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