The City of Pickering is requesting that the province amend a powerful zoning order to leave a local wetland out of construction plans.
In a meeting Monday evening, city council voted unanimously to make the request.
The affected property is on the northwest corner of Bayly Street and Squires Beach Road. It is part of the Durham Live project, which is expected to include a casino and film studio. Over a several-month period, developers were looking to build a massive warehouse on the property (later reported to be for internet giant Amazon). Queen’s Park issued a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) in October to speed up the process.
Critics have argued against destroying the wetland, which is connected by groundwater to Duffins Creek in Ajax.
On March 12, news broke that Amazon would not be choosing the property for its warehouse. That same day, Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan called a ‘pause’ on immediate construction. Two days later, Pickering Developments Inc. pledged not to build on any provincially-significant wetland.
In a letter dated March 12, Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark asked Ryan if council would like to alter the MZO and leave out the wetland. A later report by Pickering CAO Marisa Carpino recommended that council vote in favour of such a move.
A number of speakers were at Monday’s council meeting.
“We do appreciate that some difficult decisions have been made,” said Steve Apostolopoulos of Pickering Developments Inc, the developer of Durham Live. “We are in support of tonight’s staff’s recommendation.”
Chief Kelly LaRocca of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation called for the entire MZO to be revoked. “We cannot support a partial revocation of an MZO that is, in our view, unlawful and unconstitutional,” she said. “Neither Minister Clark nor Minister [John] Yakabuski consulted our First Nations in issuing orders and regulations that would adversely impact our rights.”
“There was no legitimate reason to allow this development on a rare wetland,” said Chief LaRocca, on behalf of MSIFN’s Council. “The City of Pickering must end its assault on the environment.” pic.twitter.com/j0OAQyyhRQ
— MSIFN – Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (@MSIFN) March 23, 2021
The final vote was unanimously in favour of the partial revocation.
The city is requesting that the province alter the MZO to leave out the land west of Squires Beach Road. According to Ryan, the western property will revert to its original designation as an ‘urban reserve.’
However, the land east of Squires Beach will remain under the MZO, in order for the film studio to be built. Carpino noted Monday that the eastern land is already protected by previous zoning designations. Chief Planner Catherine Rose added that the studio will be built away from any wetland on that property.
On Tuesday, Minister Clark said on Twitter that he would grant the request by council.
“When it comes to MZOs on non-provincial land, municipalities are in the driver’s seat,” he said. “Yesterday Pickering Council provided clear direction, and I will follow it.”
When it comes to MZOs on non-provincial land, municipalities are in the driver’s seat.
That’s why I recently wrote to the Town of Pickering to ask if they would like to amend the MZO they requested.
Yesterday Pickering Council provided clear direction, and I will follow it.
— Steve Clark (@SteveClarkPC) March 23, 2021
Image courtesy of Google Maps Street View