City of Pickering’s bids to buy Frenchman’s Bay rejected
Published November 14, 2023 at 10:43 am
The 171 year-old dream of public ownership of Frenchman’s Bay in Pickering will have to wait a little longer after the family who claim ownership of two blocks of dry land and the submerged real estate UNDER the water (through a charter signed by Queen Victoria herself) rejected two offers from the City of Pickering to bring the bay into the public realm.
The waters of the bay have been the exclusive domain of Harold Hough and his East Shore Marina since he bought the Pickering Harbour Company – and with it a Queen’s Charter signed by Queen Victoria – 61 years ago.
There’s been a history of litigation since then, with the dispute gracing the Supreme Court of Ontario from 1982 until a negotiated settlement was reached in 1995.
That deal gave Hough control of the south-east portion of the bay, plus a small plot in the north near Bayly Street.
Now his family is anxious to sell and has enlisted the services of RE/MAX Hallmark in Ajax to market the properties, with a price tag of $60 million for a 34-acre plot at 600 Liverpool Road (plus 133 acres IN Frenchman’s Bay) and $20 million for six acres at 591 Liverpool Road.
No financial figures on the offer were released by the City, who tried to buy Pickering Harbour Company’s water and land holdings at the foot of Liverpool Road – 174.7 acres in all – and was rejected. The City submitted a second bid to acquire only the bay itself – the submerged real estate.
That too was rejected.
In a statement, the City of Pickering said “it was critically important” to own the assets in order to safeguard the bay from “aggressive and overly ambitious development proposals; maintain public access and recreational use; and enhance environmental stewardship of the Bay and surrounding lands.”
Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe, while expressing his disappointment at the failed bids, said the City will “continue to seek opportunities to return this treasured asset” back into public ownership.
“We are extremely disappointed that we were unsuccessful in our bid to acquire Frenchman’s Bay at this time, because we feel that it belongs in the public realm,” Ashe said. “Frenchman’s Bay is our shimmering jewel, and regardless of its ownership, we will continue to do what we can to protect this beloved asset from environmental degradation as well as inappropriate development, while also ensuring that it remains open and accessible for our community’s enjoyment.”
The larger of the two land holdings is currently zoned as residential and includes a banquet facility/convention centre and a marine business, while the second property, zoned commercial. has a marine services business and a boat storage and maintenance yard.
Jim Wilson, the listed agent for the properties, said there are options for developers, at least at the 600 Liverpool Road property, which includes the waters under the bay. He cited the Friday Harbour development on Lake Simcoe, where the land under the bay was reclaimed over the past decade or so and turned into a townhome development.
The City (then the Town) of Pickering received title of 53 acres of bay and marshland, as well as another five acres they donated to the Waterfront Regeneration Trust, in 1995 when the settlement was reached following the long-running Supreme Court of Ontario case.
The ensuing years were relatively dispute-free – “quiet,” as long-time Pickering Councillor Maurice Brenner described it – until Hough and his family applied to build a high-rise tower just before the pandemic, a proposal that was denied, with the application only recently officially withdrawn.
Now the lands (and waters) are for sale, with just price being the sticking point.
“We want to buy it to finally take it out of private ownership and get rid of all the challenges we’ve faced over the years” Brenner explained. “We have publicly made it clear we want to own it and put it in public hands.”
The alternative could be a dramatic re-development of the waters of Pickering’s historic harbour lands. It is unknown if Queen Victoria would repeat her iconic (and historically debateable) “we are not amused” line if that were to happen.
What we do know is the City of Pickering wouldn’t be happy about it.
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