Wetland that Amazon considered for warehouse safe from destruction — for now

·3 min read
Roughly half of this property in Pickering, owned by Triple Group, is classed as a protected wetland. If approved for development, commercial real estate analysts say it would skyrocket in value, potentially to more than $100 million. This view looks northwest from the corner of Bayly St. and Squires Beach Rd.  (Patrick Morrell/CBC - image credit)
Roughly half of this property in Pickering, owned by Triple Group, is classed as a protected wetland. If approved for development, commercial real estate analysts say it would skyrocket in value, potentially to more than $100 million. This view looks northwest from the corner of Bayly St. and Squires Beach Rd. (Patrick Morrell/CBC - image credit)

A developer's promise not to damage the Duffins Creek wetland in Pickering is now legally binding, after the plan was presented Monday to an Ontario court.

That protection, however, is not permanent. It depends on the outcome of a court case in which the Ford government is fighting for its right to fast-track development on protected sites such as wetlands.

Pickering Developments, part of the Triple Group of Companies, signed a court undertaking Monday that it will not "harmfully alter, destroy, damage or interfere with" natural heritage features such as wetlands and wildlife habitat on the property, located just off Highway 401, east of Brock Road.

The commitment is only valid pending a court case that would take place sometime after late May.

Two environmental groups have asked for a judicial review of the Ford government's move to issue a ministerial zoning order (MZO) for the property. The groups, Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature, argue the government acted illegally because of the site's designation as a provincially significant wetland.

The Ford government has ordered the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to issue a development permit for the property in Pickering at the centre of this map, owned by the Triple Group of Companies, backers of the nearby Durham Live casino complex. The portion indicated by the blue diagonal lines is designated as a provincially significant wetland by Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources.
The Ford government has ordered the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to issue a development permit for the property in Pickering at the centre of this map, owned by the Triple Group of Companies, backers of the nearby Durham Live casino complex. The portion indicated by the blue diagonal lines is designated as a provincially significant wetland by Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources. (TRCA)

The government is disputing that. If the case ultimately goes in the government's favour, the developer's commitment not to damage the site would no longer be in force.

CBC News revealed last week that Amazon was considering the site as a potential location for what would be the largest retail warehouse in Canada. On Friday, two days after the exclusive report, Amazon announced it was dropping the wetland property from contention for its new fulfilment centre.

Two days after Amazon's withdrawal, the developer — part of the company behind the Durham Live casino complex — announced its voluntary commitment not to damage the site, a commitment formalized Monday in Ontario Divisional Court.

The lawyer for Pickering Developments, Ira Kagan, declined a request for comment on Monday.

Environmental groups hailed the temporary protection that the undertaking provides, but are calling on the government to back down from its efforts to push the development ahead.

"It's unconscionable to pave over any of the Duffins Creek wetland," said Caroline Schultz, executive director of Ontario Nature, in a statement. "It would be contrary to the will of the community and the long-term interest of Ontarians, as the public outcry against the destruction of the Duffins Creek wetland has amply demonstrated."

In addition to issuing the MZO for the property, the Ford government made multiple moves over the past four months to facilitate the destruction of the wetland.

The government reduced the power of conservation authorities to block development, introduced a bill to retroactively remove a ban on construction on a protected wetland, and ordered the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to issue a development permit for the site.