Pickering Mayor wants to update Durham Live MZO with 60-plus storey tower(s), golf centre

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Published January 29, 2024 at 4:33 pm

From film studio to golf centre, Pickering Mayor Kevin Ash and the Apostolopoulos family’s vision for the Durham Live complex has changed quite a bit since the Pickering Casino Resort opened in the middle of the pandemic in July 2021.

A 60-plus storey apartment tower – maybe more than one – is another story entirely, however, but Ashe wants a dramatic uptick in allowable residential units fast-tracked by Housing Minister Paul Callandra, using the same MZO issued by Callandra’s predecessor, Steve Clark, in 2020.

Ashe has appealed in an email to Callandra to, in the famous words of Premier Doug Ford, git ‘er done,’ correspondence his councillors only learned about Friday.

Current zoning for the area, which is outside the city’s city centre intensification area, caps building height at 35 storeys. Ashe wants the MZO to establish a “new landmark height” for Durham Live in excess of 60 stories – “to strengthen its status as one of Ontario’s premier entertainment and tourism destinations” – and a “significant increase” to the maximum number of residential units allowed.

Councillor Maurice Brenner said he has no idea what Ashe or the Apostolopoulos family wants on the site and would prefer Council and staff to have a look at any proposal – especially something of this size – first.

“The magnitude of housing being considered far exceeds what the infrastructure can handle and will do little to address the lack of affordable housing,” he said.

Brenner doesn’t have an issues with the proposed golf centre (LaunchPad Golf signed a Letter of Intent in November to bring its “innovative, exciting, and immersive experience” to Pickering) – “I can understand the golf in terms of a destination point” –  because it fits in with the Durham Live theme, which originally included a water park, ‘Hollywood North East’ film studio, a second hotel and open market with night life.

The new high-rise housing plans is another matter entirely.

“Durham Live was envisioned as a tourist and destination point which was why the MZO was supported in the first place, but in my opinion the changes now being referenced are substantive.”

Ashe, in his letter to Callandra, cited the decision in 2022 by Durham Live to move their film studio project to Sandy Beach Road, where the 180,000 three-stage Tri Bros Studios opened, as a reason to “re-imagine” the MZO for another use that could be “more aligned” with the tourism and entertainment vision.

Ergo, the LaunchPad Golf proposal, which would be the first location in Ontario and just the third in Canada.

Proposed 60-plus storey towers in Ajax

The request to nearly double the allowable height limit for apartment buildings on the site and the increase the number of allowable residential units came as a ‘final note’ in the letter to Callandra, who is reviewing all MZOs issued by Clark as part of the fallout from last year’s Greenbelt fiasco.

“Since you are revisiting this MZO, and thus are considering amendments to it, I would be appreciative if you would consider a significant increase to the maximum number of residential units at Durham Live,” Ashe wrote. “There is an acute need for more housing units in the city. As you are fully aware, we are in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis across the province and nationwide and fully serviced urban land, such as this property, is best suited to meet this demand.”

Ashe cited neighbouring Ajax, which recently green lit a 62-storey tower just south of the Ajax Go Station, as precedence for allowing the increased storey heights and unit maximums.

“As Durham Live does not have any residential neighbours, I feel there is an opportunity to establish a new landmark height in excess of 60 stories, which would help strengthen its status as one of Ontario’s premier entertainment and tourism destinations.”

“This reimagined use, along with the upcoming Porsche Experience Centre and ongoing development of hotels, retailers, restaurants, and designated indoor entertainment spaces, underscores the transformative nature of Durham Live,” the Mayor added.

Brenner said the only reason he heard of the idea at all was a letter from Callandra’s office asking for an update on phase 2 of the Durham Live project and comments from staff.

“I assumed our staff would have something to say (at the January 22 meeting). They did not,” he said. “It might have lost on a vote but at least it would have been on the floor.”

“I would have wanted to see a staff report from our planners who are subject experts since this location is outside the downtown City Centre and Kingston Road intensification areas.”

The problem now, he noted, is that if Callandra approved Ashe’s request to transfer the new plans to the existing MZO, there is noting Council can do about until a site plan reaches committee.

“I could do a million notices of motion and it wouldn’t make a difference if it’s in the Minister’s hands. It’s too late,” he said. “We can’t be making decisions as a council without a meeting. This needs to be talked about.”

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