A controversial Pickering condo proposal is taking centre stage this week, after hundreds of residents came to an open house to oppose it.
When the idea first surfaced, 13,000 people signed a petition against it, citing a number of reasons for why they weren’t crazy about the idea.
“It’s the wrong place,” said Richard Sergison, a longtime Pickering resident.
“It belongs up on the 401 corridor, where we have the GO train and the highways, where we have the ability to move these people.”
Sergison, who is also a real estate agent in the region, says it’s shocking to see this type of project.
“As a real estate agent, looking at this, I would never dream that this would be a good proposal,” he said.
For most people at the open house, the idea of two 23-storey condos towering over the harbour and wetlands is a daunting thought.
“They want to essentially build right on the edge of this watershed here,” said Shaun Rickard, who has led the charge against the project.
Rickard says the towers could impact wildlife, and take access to the waterfront away from current residents who visit the pier.
“This is absolutely jammed down here in the summertime, so in order to get in and out of here, it’s virtually impossible as it is,” says Rickard.
The project, put forward by the Pickering Harbour Company, could see more than 500 units added to the area if the towers are built, located on grounds that are currently taken up by a public parking lot and a boat yard.
For the hundreds of people that showed up to the open house, that proposed location is a major issue.
“This is a public beach,” said Michael Bellmore. “Tax payers have paid a lot of money to bring the area up to where it is today. ”
The addition 500 condos, Bellmore argued, turns the site into a private area, virtually inaccessible by the rest of Pickering.
Another major point of contention are several documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
They date back to 2016, showing alleged discussions about how to make the build happen, despite the land being entirely in a nuclear exclusion zone. This is due to its proximity to the Pickering nuclear plant.
“The tone and the intent in those documents doesn’t show somebody looking at a proposal. It shows intent to push through,” said Rickard, who obtained the documents.
“I think the people have been misled in a very strong way.”
But Pickering mayor Dave Ryan says the town is going through the proper regulatory process when proposals are brought forward, categorically denying the allegation they endorsed any project yet.
“They are not aware of the process. Our job is to help them understand it,” Ryan said.
“In fact, the information presented in that format, in that context is, in fact, false.”
Mayor Ryan says the town is tuned into people’s concerns and will be taking everything into consideration.
“We are very aware of those concerns, and share those concerns,” he said. “This is early in the process and we are setting a very high bar for whatever development may occur at the Pickering waterfront.”
But some members of council understand where residents’ frustrations come from, including councillor Maurice Brenner. After seeing that many people at the open house, he says, it’s obvious where the public stands on the issue.
“It’s a very powerful message,” he said. “It’s one that needs to be heard and I’m confident it will be heard.”
As far as the unearthed documents on conversations had about the project, Brenner says he believes everyone, including council, can take something from this.
“Rather then waiting for applications to come in, we need to get that dialogue with the public going as soon as the inquiries begin,” Brenner said.
“I think that’s such an important learning experience that I’m confident that our staff will learn from this experience.”
Council is expected to get a report from planning staff this summer, where it will then be put to a vote.