How should east downtown industrial area be transformed?


Updated Apr. 15

Welcome to Braun’s …is BICYCLES

First off, an official welcome to Braun’s …is BICYCLES to the neighbourhood. You are arriving when the neighbourhood is on the cusp of a renaissance. The catalyst for the renaissance is the LRT route that is to travel down Charles to Ottawa/Borden.

East Downtown Industrial Area

east downtown industrial area

I have been wanting to write about what I’ll describe as the East Downtown Kitchener Industrial Area for some time. This area is prime for redevelopment with or without light rail. But because of light rail it will happen sooner and will likely produce more interesting results.

This area is such a prime candidate for redevelopment and intensification that the Region of Waterloo used it a few years ago as a case study for how a rapid transit station could spark changes. More recently University of Waterloo planning students used it as a major practical project.

I had been holding off on this post because I thought it was best to respond to what the City of Kitchener has planned for the area. I have been patiently waiting for the secondary plan drawings to be released so that I knew what the vision was for the area over the next 20 years. Unfortunately  the maps were not available when consultations for the first draft of the new Official Plan were being held.

Then I read a recent article in the Waterloo Region Record looked at the effect of light rail upon this industrial area. It’s an excellent look at what is possible in the area.

A passive approach to redevelopment?

One section of the article gave me cause for concern:

The City of Kitchener is already rezoning Ottawa Street as a mixed-use corridor to support transit and pedestrians. Surface parking lots, gas stations, drive-thru restaurants, strip malls and car dealerships are out. Mixed-use buildings coming out to the sidewalk and high-density housing are in.

If property owners and business people want to see similar changes put in place on Borden and other streets in the area, they should make their views known during public consultations, says Brandon Sloan, a senior urban planner with the city.

It was the first I had heard of the plans for Ottawa Street (which I support but will address in a future post looking at East Downtown Kitchener).

I was more surprised by the suggestion that changes in this area needed to be initiated by property and business owners in the area as a part of the Region lead Central Transit Corridor (CTC) planning initiative. I was surprised for three reasons.

First, I knew that the Official Plan process was underway and that we should be seeing a second draft shortly. I did not expect that the city intended to wait another year before showing its hand of its plans for these lands.

Secondly, I was surprised because it seemed odd that the city was suggesting that people needeed express their views in the CTC process. Intensification is such a high priority policy and with the coming of light rail, I could not imagine the city taking a passive approach to this area’s future and keeping pretty much to the status quo unless owners and businesses in the area wanted change. Certainly the new mixed-use corridors were not the result of property and business owners lobbying city hall for that change. So why such a hands off approach to what is called a roadmap to the city’s future?

Plan future of Schneiders land considering surrounding lands

I found this particularly surprising because a task force exists to plan the future of the J.M. Schneider property. This is the area I’ve highlighted in yellow including a couple of associated parking lots.

My intent has always been to call for this whole area to be considered instead of the Schneiders land being considered in isolation. While that land has the attention of decision-makers, I believe that it’s critical that its future be considered in the context of the entire industrial area that is ready for a new life. While the Schneiders land is a special case, let’s consider it within the context of what is possible around it too. Those lands are or could be in the same situation and together they should be a part of the official plan process. Let’s be sure we get it right and have the road map ready for when the developers are ready to act.

The secondary plan for Courtland-Mill area

In doing my research for this post, I discovered that there are maps for the secondary plan areas available on the city’s website. It’s not clear to me if they are the existing plans or what is being proposed for the next 20 years.

Here is the map for the area that the city is calling the Mill Courtland Woodside Park Neighbourhood. I’m calling it the East Downtown Kitchener Industrial Area because I’m looking at the area from just across King Street East. The Charles to Courtland section is of greatest interest to me including the Schneiders lands.

At first, I thought these maps might be for the new Official Plan. If they are the proposed secondary plans, I’m excited to learn that there is a plan for the area! But upon reflection,  I don’t think that they are. But the map does give a starting point for feedback to both the Official Plan and CTC processes.

Here are my initial reactions to this map:

  • I like seeing all of the green! I think that having a green belt along the Schneider Creek is a wonderful idea. Though I expect the Brauns have mixed feelings since their new property is where the city is suggesting as green space in the future.
  • I don’t like seeing all the grey. I realize that existing industrial uses need to be respected and allowed to continue. But as with the vision for the green space, I think we can do much better than reserving this area as industrial for the next 20 years. Here I look to the CTC process for a more imaginative and ambitious plan for these lands. The days of major chunks near the centre of the city being used for industrial purposes are over. As Kitchener evolves and intensifies, this area must as well.
  • The rest of it looks at first glance to make sense to me but I reserve the right to give it more consideration especially if this is not what is proposed for the future.

If this map is the existing plan, my comments are intended as an initial feedback to inform the process to determine what is planned. The established residential  neigbhourhoods around the area including mine need to be involved in making plans for how this area is redeveloped.

But my biggest point in this post is that we need to plan for a post-industrial future for these industrial lands that clearly points to how we desire them to be transformed as the city grows through intensification.

How do you think the industrial area in east downtown Kitchener should transform? 

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