Brenda O’Farrell: West Island is growing, so let’s make some demands.

The population of the town of Kirkland has remained steady for about a decade now. But that could soon change.

A major housing development is being proposed that could give the municipality its biggest population bump since the 1970s.

The development focuses on the former Merck industrial site on the north side of Highway 40, west of St-Jean Blvd. The sprawling 56-acre, 18-building campus that was once the hub of the drug research and manufacturing giant’s Canadian operations has sat idle for years. It was purchased in 2012 for an undisclosed sum by Broccolini Construction.

Now, Broccolini wants to do something innovative. Details of the development plan were going to be publicly unveiled this evening, but the event has been postponed until next month. The general picture of the plan is already known, however.

According to a story in last week’s West Island Gazette by reporter Cheryl Cornacchia, the development that is being considered includes a mix of industrial and residential construction. The area fronting the Highway 40 service road would be a row of industrial buildings. Behind them would be a row of six condo towers. And behind them would be another row of low-rise condominium buildings. And moving further north, toward Brunswick Blvd., would be a row of townhouses. Included in the deal would be a linear park that runs the length of the sector, from east to west. In all, about 800 new residential units are proposed, which means the area would become home to about 2,000 new residents. That represents about a 10-per-cent increase in Kirkland’s population.

Of course, the entire plan hinges on needed zoning changes, which is why all of this is subject to public consultations.

One of the best parts of this plan is that it includes a non-residential component. Maintaining a vibrant industrial zone in the town is good planning. It provides non-residential tax revenue and offers the prospect of jobs.

Also on the up side, the plan does not put houses in existing green space. The site is a prime piece of real estate that needs to be redeveloped, not allowed to collect dust.

Also on the plus side is the fact that new residents will have a direct link to the highway. Of course, this will mean more cars on the expressway, but at least they won’t be adding to the already overburdened north-south arteries in this region.

And there might be another hidden plus. We just have to bring it forward. And it could benefit the entire region.

Perhaps there is a way to twist some arms and corral a few people around a table to discuss how a development like this could be used to expand discussions on regional rapid public transit.

Let’s not forget that all of this is happening in a context: there are also plans — which have been approved — to build between 5,000 and 6,000 new homes in western Pierrefonds. The West Island is a growing place.

And let’s add to this context. Our new prime minister who swept through the region during the federal election campaign making promises of investments in transit. The province and the Caisse de dépôt is working on a commuter train line for the region. Now, is the time for West Island interests to be bold. Train service that caters to both the lakeshore to the western tip of the island and the northern growing areas is not too much to ask for.

Published by Montreal Gazette on October 28, 2015