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Energy-efficient homes project in Breslau

Empire Communities held an open house Mar. 7 for a suite of energy efficient homes at its Riverland subdivision in Breslau. Among those taking part in the event were Empire representative Raj Ahluwalia and Nick De Ruvo. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

It’s the latest addition to the settlement. Opening the doors to a suite of energy-efficient houses at the Riverland subdivision last week, developer Empire Communities offered a look at the big, if slow-moving, development boom occurring in and around the village.

The Empire Discovery Home pilot project is an experiment in research and development that the company says will impact the future of home building.

The project is just one of the initiatives going on in Breslau. Hundreds of homes have been built and hundreds more planned by the village’s two major developers, Empire Communities and Thomasfield Homes, along with new roads, neighbourhoods, parks, schools and employment and industrial lands. By 2031, the population of Breslau is expected to more than double to 7,690, with an estimated 3,845 jobs being offered in the settlement.

And yet, that may just be the tip of the iceberg as Breslau is targeted for intensified urban development comparable to the neighbouring cities. At the moment, just two developments are in the works in the Breslau area.

But in the long term, all the lands west of Kitchener, from the Grand River to Shantz Station Road, and north of Cambridge, from the city limits to Highway 7, could be developed into one contiguous stretch of urban landscape, as more lands are opened up to developers.

“Eventually, the whole urban area will spill over,” suggests John Scarfone, Township of Woolwich planner. “It’s starting in Breslau. Eventually the whole urban area will go to Shantz Station Road in the fullness of time. Now a lot of it is going to be primarily employment, because you have this airport and obviously anything in proximity to the airport, they want to be non-residential uses.”

It’s a far cry from where the community was 15 years ago, when Thomasfield and Empire Communities opted to extend water services from the City of Kitchener in a bid to create large-scale developments in the township. At the time, Scarfone estimates the village had some 220 residential units.

“Probably the threshold as far as development was in the early 2000s. Prior to the early 2000s, Breslau was basically a small rural settlement serviced by private services, individual wells and septics,” said Scarfone. “There were a few areas in Breslau that had a private communal system that serviced multiple properties. But essentially, because of the private services, you were looking at estate lots, very limited commercial.”

The plan for Empire Community will add another 400 to 585 units to Breslau alone, says Scarfone, or an additional 1,725 new residents. “Now with the Empire, it’s pretty well all residential. In the Thomasfield you’ve got 930 to 1,150 units, generating a population of about 2,500 people; but that has residential, it has commercial, it has mixed-use, it has employment lands and it has a GO station.”

At the same time in the early 2000s, the Region of Waterloo looked at the dwindling lands available for development, and opted to focus on the east side of the municipality.

“The region did a new regional plan, and so they saw these side lands, which included the Breslau area and Cambridge, as where the region would like to grow long term for greenfield lands,” said Scarfone. “And Breslau was part of that because they saw the locational advantages of proximity to the 401, the airport, the employment area that’s there, Highway 7, the rail line.

“If we’re looking at the expansion of the city-urban fabric, they wanted to go more east. Going north was a lot of the good farmland, so they didn’t want to go north,” says Scarfone. Similarly, the west side of the region, in Wilmot, contained a lot of the vital water recharging areas that that the region wanted to avoid disturbing. “So they have this hard edge, and they looked at the Breslau-Cambridge areas as the primary growth area.”

The growth planned for Breslau, as well as the growth expected past 2031, will undoubtedly change the community as a place to live as well as work. Two schools are being planned for the Empire and Thomasfield developments, while a library has also been tentatively budgeted for in the next few years. GO train services would expand the viability of Breslau both as a place to live and work, while a booming population coupled with new retail spaces planned would open up Breslau to new businesses ventures.

At the same time, any developments beyond the two existing ones would see the loss of some of the local farmlands, as well as an extension of Kitchener and Cambridge into the township. That encroachment is limited, however, by the regional government’s “countryside line,” which lies along the Shantz Station Road and Hwy 7, creating a hard boundary for future development.

“If and when the region expands the urban envelope, and that can only be done through a municipal comprehensive review of their plan, they’ll do obviously logical extensions of the urban area and those lands would be converted to urban purposes,” says Scarfone.

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