A $200-million development planned for south London was unveiled Tuesday night at city hall and after much debate, it received planning committee approval.
Developers want to build a next generation shopping and entertainment district complete with a Main Street shopping experience next to Highway 401, but a woodlot in the centre of the property is standing in the way.
On its surface, Tuesday’s debate appeared to be a choice between trees and jobs, but what was really in dispute were the city's policies around tree cutting that pave the way for development.
PenEquity Realty says the development would create 1,200 permanent retail jobs and pay the city $2.8 million a year in taxes.
Called Gateway London, it would contain a mix of stores, a Main Street element, restaurants and a movie theatre.
A small woodlot in the centre of the property has been declared ecologically significant by three different evaluations.
The developer rejects a proposal by city staff to incorporate the trees into the overall design and instead is offering $3.5 million in compensation as either money that can be used to buy and preserve other woodlands or contribute money to the million-tree challenge.
But not everyone is excited about the prospect of losing the woodlot.
"This is such a unique area of London! We don't need anymore cement in this city, we need greenery!" says one fisherman enjoying the day.
"This is the gateway to the Forest City and the first thing we are going to do it clear a woodland? It has a significant ecological contribution that would far outlast any retail stores," says Counc. Joni Baechler.
"I haven't seen any new, modern development in this area in over 25 years. Now is the chance to go forward and create something special as the gateway to the city of London," says Stuart Kernohan of nearby Home Hardware.
Baechler disagrees and says it doesn't have to be one or the other.
"We have to grow an urban city with the environment, working hand in glove. We can't just keep clear cutting everything," she says.