The biggest battle in Contestoga-Rovers’ plans for a new head office building will be getting Woolwich councillors to cross the line – the countryside line.
The consulting firm this week unveiled an ambitious plan to develop a business park near the intersection of King and Bridge streets, encompassing what is now much of the Kuntz gravel pit. The big hitch? The development would overstep the hard boundary between the City of Waterloo’s urban space on one side of Bridge Street and the protected rural area that is Woolwich’s territory on the other.
In a presentation to township council Monday night, senior partner Jim Kay said Conestoga-Rovers and Associates (CRA) wants to consolidate its six Waterloo locations into one new head office to house its 500 local employees. Some 107 acres of land would be developed as a potential high-tech business park that, once built out, could provide employment to thousands of workers and deliver more than $800,000 a year in tax revenue to Woolwich coffers.
The location – close to services from Waterloo, the expressway and Waterloo Region’s proposed new transit corridor – makes the land ideally suited to development, he argued, adding there would be few infrastructure demands on the township because of the proximity to Waterloo.
Woolwich, however, has historically taken a hard line on boundary issues. Councillors showed little appetite for the CRA plan, though put off formal discussion until planning staff has had time to review the plan.
While calling it a “very tempting proposal,” Coun. Mark Bauman said the company should be encouraged to look elsewhere in the township for its new office space.
“Moving the countryside line along Martin’s Creek, toward the north part of their property, if we were to do that, I think we would need to put a revolving door onto the planning department because there are numerous properties that back onto Martin’s Creek … and I’m sure there would be great proposals that would come in for those properties,” he said, anticipating a slew of other bids for exemptions from the hard boundary currently in place.
In a later interview, Kay said the idea has in fact met with a “mixed” reception from planners at Waterloo Region, the township and City of Waterloo. But given how well the plan fits the development model, an exception should be granted.
“Times and circumstances have changed,” he said of the countryside line. “We’re hoping that common sense would prevail at the end of the day.”
The company has spent two years looking for a suitable spot, to no avail. It requires 15 to 20 acres, but Kay said there is a dwindling supply of industrial land in Waterloo, and what’s available isn’t suitable or is just too cost prohibitive.
The plan would be to build 150,000 square feet of office space to allow for consolidation at one site; CRA employees currently occupy about 125,000 square feet in six different locations.
By building on the Woolwich site, CRA would keep to its local roots, having started in Waterloo. Today, the company has 2,900 employees worldwide.
But if the project was ever to be considered, it would be as part of a comprehensive review of all such boundary issues, director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley told the Observer.
“We don’t want to do anything on a one-off basis,” he said, noting the township has been adamant in its support for the separation of urban and rural spaces.
“Council has been clear that we support the countryside line, a hard urban boundary. We don’t see a lot of reasons for changing things just because of the CRA request.”
Planning staff will study the proposal before coming back to council with a report at a later date. The CRA bid is also likely to be discussed at the region as it deliberates the final draft of its new official plan.