City of Pickering, developers both want historic lands on Frenchman’s Bay

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Published October 20, 2023 at 12:52 pm

Frenchman's Bay Pickering

Two blocks of land at Frenchman’s Bay that have been privately held since 1852 and owned by the Hough family since 1962 have been listed for sale, sparking a rush from developers looking to buy some rare waterfront property and from the City of Pickering, which wants the lands to be in public hands.

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.

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.

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a high-rise tower just before the pandemic, a proposal that was denied, with the application only recently officially withdrawn.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 Hough has put his lands up for sale, with the City anxious to assume ownership.

“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.”

Because the Pickering Harbour Commission owns the waters of the bay it has been difficult for the City to perform necessary maintenance, he added. Even weeding operations have been performed only under the direction of Hough and his family.

“It has severely limited what we can do, Brenner noted.

The price tag has been pegged at $60 million for the 34-acre plot at 600 Liverpool Road (plus 133 acres IN Frenchman’s Bay) and $20 million for six acres at 591 Liverpool Road.

The first site, zoned as residential, 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.

Brenner believes those figures are “just the real estate agent talking,” especially as thoughts of developing the sites for waterfront townhouse residential units are not likely to be approved, given its proximity to the  Pickering Nuclear plant.

“I have no idea what they’re talking about. I can’t see where there would be any residential,” Brenner said. “Everything they own is on the water, by the water or UNDER the water. To me this is just a real estate listing.”

But Jim Wilson, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Hallmark in Ajax, said there are still options for developers, at least at the 600 Liverpool Road property. He cited an initiative made over the last decade or so at Friday Harbour on Lake Simcoe, where the land under the bay was reclaimed and turned into a townhome development.

Friday Harbour

Friday Harbour on Lake Simcoe (2017)

“It would be expensive for sure, but you could do some high-end housing. You are only limited by your own imagination,” he said, “There won’t be any high-rises here though – that will never fly.”

Wilson said there is interest from both international and local developers, as well as from the City, which is who he believes should own the lands in the end.

“This could be the next Marina del Ray but in my humble opinion this should be owned by the City and in public hands.”

“In any case, this is not something that will happen overnight. This will take years.”

The matter will be at a special in-camera meeting of Pickering Council Monday.

“We just want to own it and residents be able to enjoy it,” Brenner said. “It’s not about developing it in any way.”

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