Midtown Plan Would See Highrises, Cafés Sprout Along King Street

  • 10/3/17
  • |          Kitchener

A new development plan for Kitchener’s Midtown area would transform the area close to Grand River Hospital into one with lots of amenities for cyclists and pedestrians, and a King Street lined with mid- and highrises, shops and cafés.

“This will be a transformation for the City of Kitchener and its urban landscape,” said Coun. Paul Singh. “I love the mixed-use aspect supportive of the work-life environment.”

Not everyone loved the plan, though. Coun. Bil Ioannidis, the only councillor to vote against it, said it doesn’t address what he called “the missing middle” — housing that is attractive and affordable, something between apartments and condos on the one end of the housing spectrum and single-family homes in older neighbourhoods on the other.

“What I see here is zero affordability,” he said. “I don’t see anywhere to have the capacity to own anything outside of a highrise apartment.”

The city is working on plans to guide growth in areas within a 10-minute walk of LRT stations. Council approved the first plan, for the downtown, in May 2016. Three more plans, for Rockway, Block Line and Fairway stations, will follow in the next year or two.

The Midtown plan, which has been in the works for 18 months, covers the area bounded by Waterloo, the Iron Horse Trail, Mount Hope Cemetery and the CN Rail line. The area already has what city planners say is “true work/life character,” with 2,650 residents and 3,000 jobs within its boundaries.

The Midtown area has beautiful neighbourhoods, important heritage sites such as Mount Hope Cemetery and the classic Airboss plant designed by celebrated industrial architect Albert Kahn, and a number of important institutions and employers such as Sun Life, a hospital and Kitchener Collegiate.

But the plan also highlights a number of problems in the area: parkland makes up only 0.5 per cent of total land; King Street lacks a diverse mix of uses such as cafés and shops; the area has few cross streets — Union is the only major road that crosses King — and is studded with vast expanses of paved surface parking lots, which planners say create “dead zones” in the streetscape and do nothing to add to street life or livability.

The plan calls for major redevelopment of parking lots such as the Sun Life lot at Union and King, and said most future parking will have to be either underground or in parking garages, and tucked behind buildings rather than facing the street. The plan also calls for much more “shared parking,” where spots would be used by a business during the day, and by residents at night and on weekends.

It urges a more pedestrian and people-oriented design, with wider sidewalks, more street landscaping and street trees. To compensate for the lack of parks, the plan would require all new developments to provide people-friendly spaces such public squares or parks. It also suggests working with the public school board to create a more park-like space around KCI’s playing fields.

For more information and to download the plan, go to the city’s website at kitchener.ca and put “parts” — for Planning Around Rapid Transit Stations — in the search window.

City councillors approved the plan, which still has to be formally ratified later this month. They deferred one section, showing a proposed road running through the Airboss site after the company said it could threaten its expansion plans for the property.

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