A proposal to turn a parking lot and boat storage area on Pickering's waterfront into two condo towers is facing a backlash from thousands of people — and there are allegations the project has already been endorsed by city officials, even though council has yet to approve it.
More than 13,000 people have signed an on-line petition calling for the proposed complex, which would be located just a few hundred metres from the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, to be quashed. Residents will have a chance to voice their opinions Monday evening in a meeting at city hall.
Pickering resident Shaun Rickard has been leading the movement against the project, which he said would have negative impacts on surrounding wildlife, traffic and local boaters.
"It is unfathomable to me that they would even build such a development," said Rickard.
Mayor Dave Ryan told CBC Toronto allegations that he's endorsed the proposal are false and said he shares some of the residents' concerns.
"Just because an application is presented to the city doesn't mean that I either approve or endorse it," said Ryan.
Adding to the controversy is a significant hurdle that any development faces on that parcel of land near the shores of Lake Ontario. It's located within what's called a nuclear "exclusion zone" — that is, the area around the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in which no permanent dwellings can be built for safety reasons.
Environmental impacts, traffic
The proposal, from the Pickering Harbour Company Ltd., calls for a mixed-use development consisting of two 23-storey buildings with nearly 500 apartment units, public parking and a public boardwalk.
The project will go to city staff for review. They will then present their findings to city council where it will go to a vote.
Ryan said he expects that to happen between now and the summer.
Rickard said one of the primary concerns is the impact it might have on a nearby bird sanctuary.
"There's a lot of wildlife that lives back in here in the wetlands so those will be affected. There'll be light pollution from the building height. I'm sure there'll be other animals affected by it," said Rickard.
Traffic is also a concern for residents like Barb Nelson, who said it's already an issue with Liverpool Road, where the project will be located, and its dead end.
"You see it in the summertime — the traffic just trying to get up and down. How about that if they decide to build [those condos]? How are they going to handle the trucks coming down here?" said Nelson.
Part of the area is zoned for a marina and boat storage facilities and the adjacent part is a city-owned parking lot.
"If they get the go-ahead on this, this boat storage for many of the boaters and the dock … it's going to be lost," said Rickard.
"It just makes absolutely zero sense for so many."
No one from Pickering Harbour Company Ltd. was available to speak to CBC Toronto about the proposal.
Nuclear 'exclusion zone'
The land sits just across the way from the Pickering Nuclear Generating station, which could pose a major hurdle to this proposal or any development in this area.
Its rules dictate that no permanent dwelling can be constructed 914 metres from the outside face of any of the reactor buildings for public health and safety reasons.
Rickard shared documents with CBC Toronto — obtained by a Freedom of Information request — that show that city staff inquired about variances to the nuclear exclusion zone as far back as 2016.
"I think there's been a lot of conversation going on for about three years now in relation to this that the public were not aware of," said Rickard.
In a statement, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) said any changes to the exclusion zone would require a safety analysis and a licensing safety case to be presented to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Commercial operations are set to halt at the station in 2024, and decommissioning slated to start in 2028, but OPG said it's too early to say whether the exclusion zone would need to be preserved after that.
"At this time, it is premature to state when or if a reduction to the exclusion zone would take place post-commercial operations at Pickering."
'Nothing is being hidden,' mayor says
In an interview with CBC Toronto, Mayor Dave Ryan emphasized that he does not endorse the proposal.
"Nothing is being hidden," said Ryan.
"I share residents' concerns. The bar is extremely high for our waterfront and I will make this known throughout the process."
He took to Facebook on Friday to reiterate his message to the public.
"There have been discussions online claiming I've endorsed the proposed waterfront development. This is false," the post reads.
When asked about the request for a variance to the nuclear exclusion zone, which documents show dates back to 2016, Ryan said that was simply a request to see what options would be available for the city.
"That was something that was undertaken by staff as a visioning exercise."