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484 Richmond St, London, ON N6A 3E6

‘Massive’ 543-home project starts this fall at former GM Trim site

Brian Cross, Windsor Star

London-based Farhi Holdings is embarking on one of the largest development projects in Windsor’s history, with 543 homes planned for a long-vacant former industrial wasteland.

There will be 101 building lots for single family homes, seven condo/apartment buildings with a total of 442 units, plus commercial buildings and possibly a hotel, according to a source familiar with the project that gets underway this fall. Farhi intends to have foundation work on the first of the seven condo buildings completed in November at the former GM Trim plant site on Lauzon Road.

“This is a massive project and it will of course happen in phases because you can’t build all this stuff at one time,” said the source. “But it’s starting this year and you’ll see huge activity happening in the spring of next year.”

The source described it as one of the largest development projects the city has ever seen, with a total value of $200 million to $220 million. The project has changed “slightly” since Farhi revealed its plans in March for 397 homes: 119 single family lots, four townhouse blocks with 48 units, five condo-type buildings with a total of 230 units, 7.8 acres of commercial and a seven-storey hotel. More details are expected on Wednesday.

The company — headed by founder Shmuel Farhi — has moved forward with environmental studies, costly remediation to deal with some contamination, as well as zoning and Official Plan changes on land that has sat vacant for 14 years. City council helped get this project moving with approval this spring of up to $10 million in incentives from the city’s Brownfield Development Community Improvement Plan, which primarily rebates the tax increases that happen when someone takes an industrial wasteland and turns it into something more valuable.

Property belonging to Farhi Holdings Corporation is pictured at 1600 Lauzon Rd., in Windsor, ON. adjacent to the WFCU Centre, on Tuesday, September 24, 2019. DAN JANISSE / WINDSOR STAR

The Brownfield CIP was approved in 2010 to spur action on the 559 acres of potentially contaminated former industrial land in the city. The idea is the incentives help pay the extra costs of developing these properties compared to building on a green field. Farhi’s project “would be the most significant brownfield redevelopment to date — accounting for approximately 11 per cent of the land on the city’s Redevelopment Opportunities inventory,” a city report in March said.

Farhi has owned the land since about 2005, when he purchased about 100 acres and sold 40 acres to the city for construction of the WFCU Centre. But the actual push to develop started about three years ago when the city needed more land for parking as well as possible future expansion of the WFCU Centre. The agreement to purchase 14.5 acres from Farhi was conditional on Farhi moving forward to develop the remaining 45 acres, according to the source.

That was not an easy undertaking — converting brownfield land from industrial to residential requires the most stringent environmental standards, according to the source. But now the land is clean, with the record of site condition submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.

“He (Farhi) has done everything he said he was going to do, it’s just taken time to do all those things,” said the source, who said all the single-family lots have already been sold to builders.

Shmuel Farhi couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Property belonging to Farhi Holdings Corporation is pictured at 1600 Lauzon Road, in Windsor. adjacent to the WFCU Centre, on Tuesday, September 24, 2019. DAN JANISSE / WINDSOR STAR

The first condo building will be located off McHugh Street. As part of the project, the city will be constructing roads including one going through the development from Lauzon and connecting to the WFCU Centre, providing a new access that will relieve some of the congestion at the end of Spitfire games.

And a hotel has long been sought in the east side of the city, particularly one that’s close to the WFCU Centre to provide convenient accommodation for hockey tournaments and other events. Farhi owns several of the biggest hotels in the downtown and has invested millions in recent years to upgrade them.

General Motors operated the trim plant from 1965 to 1996. Peregrine Inc. and Lear Corporation Canada took turns running it until it ceased operations in 2005, when Farhi took ownership. The 719,000-square-foot plant was demolished at Farhi’s expense in 2009.