By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The city and Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority are in disagreement over the future of the long vacated Petrocor lands on Simcoe Street South.
For more than a decade, the once-bustling petroleum distribution station has sat unused, with the six rusting steel tanks and a dilapidated office becoming an eyesore just up the road from Lakeview Park.
At the same time, the city has recovered a large amount of land on the west wharf of the Oshawa harbour, with plans to transform the area from one of industrial uses to a recreation hub.
On Dec. 18, 2019, the city released a public notice of its plans to expropriate the lands, located at 1615 Simcoe St. S, with the aim of “increasing parkland and greenspace.”
As the clock was ticking down on the mandated 30 days to appeal the city’s plans, staff received an unexpected letter.
The correspondence was from Ross & McBride LLP, legal counsel for Great Lakes Port Management Inc., a subsidiary company owned by the Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority.
In the letter, Paul Paradis of Ross & McBride states Great Lakes Port Management Inc. entered into an agreement of purchase and sale on Nov. 15, 2019, with the owners of the Petrocor lands.
He lists Robin Lewis, and two numbered companies, 1688528 Ontario Inc. and 1688529 Ontario Inc., as the owners.
“Please be advised that Great Lakes Port Management Inc. desires a hearing into whether the taking of such property is fair, sound and reasonably necessary in the achievement of the objectives of the expropriating authority,” Paradis writes in the letter.
Oshawa city manager Paul Ralph told The Oshawa Express he was caught off guard by the port’s interest in the land.
Ralph said the city did not receive any appeals from the owner, nor any notice they were negotiating with the port authority.
For the city manager, this type of situation is “treading on new ground,” because the city doesn’t expropriate very often.
To the north of the site sits lands pegged for the proposed Ed Broadbent Waterfront Park, while to the south lies a small strip of crown lands and the main entrance to the Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority.
From the city’s perspective, Ralph said, “a lot of people have said the rusting tanks are an eyesore on our waterfront.”
“What better way to improve our waterfront than to get rid of the tanks,” he said.
He also explained the city’s official plan makes it clear “industrial uses on the west wharf were not supported.”
The port’s claim to the lands came as a surprise to Ward 5 city and regional councillor Brian Nicholson as well.
Nicholson, who is also chair of the city’s port working group, said he “heard nothing from the port authority.”
“The city, when we decided to expropriate, looked at the land as a natural addition to the Ed Broadbent Waterfront Park,” he said. “Nothing was expressed to us about what they were doing.”
However, Nicholson does acknowledge the city didn’t make the port authority aware of its plans either.
“I don’t think either side knew the other was interested,” he said, remarking the property has been on the market for more than a decade.
Nicholson doesn’t believe the port authority has “any argument” in the matter.
“It’s not crown land or something that falls under the mandate of the port authority,” he said. “We even questioned whether the port authority has the legal right [to do this.]”
At its Jan. 27 meeting, city council voted to forward the letter to the port working group, which will address it during an upcoming meeting.
Nicholson noted the city’s legal department is working on a reply to the port as well.
Larissa Fenn, director of public affairs and corporate secretary for the Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority, told The Express via email an offer was made on the property in November 2019.
“We had begun undertaking environmental due diligence when we received notice of the city’s expropriation application,” Fenn wrote.
Although filing an appeal, Fenn said port officials hope to converse about “some potential alternatives.”
“We think we might have a palatable alternative to the expropriation route that we want to put on the table,” she said, adding all parties agree the “site is an eyesore.”
According to Fenn, the port authority would remove the tanks, and assume environmental liability for the site.
“City taxpayers would save the purchase price and/or expropriation cost of the property,” she said. The port’s proposal would see the lands used for employment opportunities such as cargo handling in the shipping season and recreational boat storage in the winter.
“We would improve the visual appearance of the area with new screening and landscaping,” Fenn added.
According to Fenn, port authority officials were aware the city wanted the tanks removed, and it’s not “entirely surprising” Oshawa is planning to expropriate the lands.
In regards to any environmental issues involving the tanks or soil, Ralph said the city doesn’t yet have an idea of what the status is.
“When you expropriate any property, there are always concerns,” he said.
Despite the conflicting views on the future of the property, both Ralph and Nicholson said they don’t think it will cause any deep animosity.
“I think the relationship is really good but I’ve always said I don’t think we’ll always be on the same page on every issue,” Ralph said.