Amazon will not build giant warehouse on wetland in Pickering

Amazon will not put the largest retail warehouse in Canada on the site of a protected wetland in Pickering, CBC News has learned.

Decision follows CBC News report on proposal to destroy wetland, fast-tracked by Ford government

Premier Doug Ford's government has ordered the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to allow the Triple Group of Companies to destroy this protected wetland in Pickering, to build what would be the largest retail warehouse in Canada. Amazon said Friday it is no longer considering leasing the site for a new fulfillment centre. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Amazon will not put the largest retail warehouse in Canada on the site of a protected wetland in Pickering, CBC News has learned. 

An official with Amazon Canada said Friday that the company is no longer considering the Duffins Creek wetland property for its new fulfilment centre, a project that could be as large as four million square feet of warehouse space. 

The news comes two days after an in-depth report by CBC News on the warehouse proposal for the wetland, located just off Highway 401, east of Brock Road.

Friday is the deadline for the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to grant permission to the property owner, the Triple Group of Companies, to begin destroying the wetland.

It is not yet clear how Amazon's withdrawal from the proposal will affect the developer's plans to build on the wetland, which is designated as provincially significant.

In an email to CBC News on Friday, a spokesperson for Steve Clark, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, told CBC he is planning to reach out to Pickering and Durham Region "to ask if they would like the MZO amended to exclude the portion of the lands that would allow for the construction of a distribution centre."

"As always, when it comes to MZOs on non-provincial land, it is the municipalities who are in the driver's seat,"  spokesperson Stephanie Bellotto said.

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)

In a tweet Friday, Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan posted a statement saying with the news of Amazon pulling out, "the appropriate next step is to pause any immediate disruption to the wetlands."

"I am truly disappointed for Pickering and its residents," Ryan said, adding his city lost a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to bring 2,000 jobs and an influx of revenue from development charges and taxes.

"The difficult decision to pursue development on these lands was made with the promise of significant jobs and investment, and that the developer and TRCA would negotiate a 1:1 wetland compensation agreement."

The Amazon official said the company is in exploratory conversations with multiple other locations for its expansion and never signed a lease commitment for the Pickering property.

The Ford government granted a special ministerial zoning order in October to allow construction on the Pickering wetland to try to fast-track the project, despite its protected status. The request for the ministerial zoning order came from the landowner and developer, not from Amazon. 

Asked by CBC News for comment, the head of communications for Amazon Canada operations, Dave Bauer, sent a statement by email. "We were always considering multiple sites for our expansion and we take environmental issues very seriously," Bauer said. 

CBC News sources say that a different developer is also in contention for the Amazon warehouse on a golf course property in Ajax, less than one kilometre away from the wetland.

The town of Ajax has rezoned this golf course property to allow for the construction of a $600 million distribution warehouse. The owners of a nearby wetland in Pickering, who also want to build a large distribution warehouse on their property, have tied up the Ajax development by launching a legal appeal of the rezoning. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

That proposal is for a 2.7 million-square foot distribution centre on a site, recently rezoned to allow a warehouse. However the owner of the Pickering wetland has launched a legal appeal of that rezoning, delaying development from going ahead. 

The Ajax developer asked the government a month ago for a ministerial zoning order to extricate the land from the appeal, but that has not been granted. 

To help the Pickering developer, the Ford government issued an MZO two days after it was requested, reduced the power of conservation authorities to block development, introduced a bill to retroactively remove a law that prohibits construction on a protected wetland, and ordered the TRCA to issue a development permit for the site by Friday.


Mike Crawley

Senior reporter

Mike Crawley covers provincial affairs in Ontario for CBC News. He began his career as a newspaper reporter in B.C., filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist, then joined the CBC in 2005. Mike was born and raised in Saint John, N.B.