The heart of the Byron gravel pit has been sold — and new homes and a massive, park-like space is looming for the southwest London site.
Jonathan Aarts, partner in John Aarts Group, has unveiled plans to take the gaping pit where stone has been quarried and turn it into a landmark mixed-use development that will change London’s west end.
“We’re excited by this,” Aarts said. “It’s a unique opportunity, a unique piece of land in the heart of the city.
“It’s an unbelievable site.”
The 32-year-old Aarts, through his Orange Rock Developments, has bought a 25-hectare (64-acre) portion of the site — the size of roughly three Victoria Parks — that cuts through the middle of the property. The entire site is 75 hectares (185 acres). It’s bound by Colonel Talbot Road to the west and Byron Baseline Road to the north. It also includes a four-hectare lake at the bottom of the pit.
The slope of the land because of the pit offers a unique opportunity to blend residential and green space, but rules out single-family homes, said Aarts.
“They will not be massive (towers), it will not be an eyesore. I will not intensify that area,” he said. “We’re passionate about making this a legacy project the city will be proud of. It will attract people to live around this development.”
It’s the second major land purchase and development unveiled in London in recent weeks, after Old Oak Properties announced it has bought the 72-hectare former London Psychiatric Hospital landson Adelaide Street, south of Oxford Street, and plans a 3,000-home mixed-density development in the city’s east end.
As for the Byron gravel pit, Aarts envisions midrise to highrise towers on the northern portion of the land, fronting on Baseline Road, with the lake and green space to the south that may feature hiking and bicycle trails, among the recreational uses.
“The community is going to love this, it’s going to be awesome. It will be great for the growth of the city too.”
It’s early days and there is no estimate yet on how many units and buildings may rise on the site, but Aarts said the towers will not resemble downtown skyscrapers, but be more modest in scale in keeping with the area.
“There has been a designation for this land to be developed and we will be consistent with that,” Aarts said.
“We have experience with pits, with the way the land is and it opens up opportunity. We have a park, an important part of the city, across the street,” he said, referencing Springbank Park.
City hall still owns some land in the gravel pit, as do some private property owners and Lafarge, the aggregate company that had extracted stone from the pit before it closed.
There are no plans for single family homes to be built. There is also no firm timeline for when the development will start, but Aarts hopes it’s underway within five years, he said.
John Aarts Group also does work in excavating, operating pits across the region, and construction. It’s owned by Jonathan and his brothers Kevin and Ryan, the sons of founder John Aarts.
The Byron gravel pit has been active since the early 1900s and the portion Aarts bought was mined out in about 2016. Lafarge still extracts stone from another area of the site.
Aarts declined to reveal the sale price but the land was listed in 2016 for $9.9 million.
Brent Rudell, partner in commercial realty firm Cushman and Wakefield Southwestern Ontario, helped broker the deal for the pit. He believes it will alter the look and feel of the city’s west end, for the better.
“Growing up in London, driving by that site hundreds of times, it’s a very significant parcel of land. You just don’t find things like this,” said Rudell.
City hall is still developing its Byron gravel pit secondary plan, meaning it’s looking to establish uses for the area with community input, said Coun. Anna Hopkins, whose ward includes the pit.
“I’m glad to hear there will be green space and recreational use,” she said. “This is what has been planned for that area with development around the periphery.”
City hall is also doing an environmental assessment on straightening the nearby base of Commissioners Road, known to locals as Snake Hill, and that may also impact the pit, Hopkins added.
At a community meeting in December neighbours were asked for input on how they wanted to see the site developed.