He calls Pickering home. Why are so many others now doing so, too?

Categories: Canada

For Michael Laaniste, there’s no place like home … and to him, that’s Pickering. The 36-year-old electrician enjoys socializing with the long-time friends he grew up with, and being close to his family. “There’s a lot of cool stuff coming here and this condo makes sense for me, as it’s close to the GO Station, close to the mall and a five-minute drive from my parents, so I can help them out,” he says.

He’ll move from his parents’ house to his first home in 2024. It’s a new one-bedroom-plus den condo in Universal City, a seven-tower development by Chestnut Hill Developments, south of Highway 401 near Liverpool Rd.

From his 17th-floor suite, he’ll have a view of the illuminated 250-metre Pickering Pedestrian Bridge, the longest enclosed people crossing in the world. It links condo developments such as Universal City and the GO Station south of the 401 to amenities north of the highway. These include Pickering Town Centre and city hall.

He should be able to glimpse Lake Ontario to the south.

“It’s a good starter. I’m a single guy and homes like my parents’, at a million dollars or more, are out of reach,” says Laaniste.

The Grand is a newly launched condo tower and the fifth tower of an eventual seven at Universal City by Chestnut Hill Developments in Pickering south of the 401, close to the GO Station, Pickering Town Centre, city hall and the new Durham Live entertainment district. (Supplied)

Carol King and husband Bijan Payandeh have lived in Pickering for 20 years. She’s supportive of new development and says most is being done appropriately, as high-density projects are close to transit and Highway 401.

“To me, it’s really exciting. I don’t think people realize how much money comes into the city with these (projects),” she says. “This is going to make Pickering a more thriving city and less of a bedroom community.”

She loves the waterfront walking trails and likes that GO Transit has added 24-hour bus service direct to Pearson Airport’s Terminal 1 from Pickering. GO trains run every 15 minutes to downtown Toronto, about a 35-minute trip.

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King believes the new Durham Live entertainment district, expected to create 10,000 jobs, will make the city a destination. A casino has opened there, with an indoor waterpark, hotels, film studio, restaurant strip, a Porsche Experience Centre and more to come.

The province has identified Pickering as an Urban Growth Centre and Mobility Hub. The city had been part of Pickering Township until the early ’70s.

“Until 1974, it had no downtown and we’ve been trying to catch up ever since,” says Mayor Kevin Ashe. “The government sees this as an exciting place to live.”

Pickering’s population of 110,000 is predicted to grow by 74,800 by 2041, making it Durham Region’s largest municipality. Residential development is trying to keep pace. Last August alone, eight residential towers were approved, including three by Tribute Communities at Highway 401 and Liverpool Rd. and five by SmartCentres at Pickering Parkway and Brock Rd. Other forms of housing are rising along Kingston Rd. and in Seaton, a community in north Pickering.

“There’s been a lot of discussion as to where we are going as a city and it’s been suggested there will be up to 75 residential towers coming, which is overblown,” says Ashe. “We do support intensification and we want development that’s transit-supported. But we need a mix of single homes, condos, townhouses, rentals and seniors’ housing.”

The Grand is a newly launched condo tower near Pickering Town Centre, city hall and the new Durham Live entertainment district. (Supplied)

In 2007, when Chestnut Hill Developments launched San Francisco on the Bay with three towers, 120 townhouses and retail space south of Highway 401, residents questioned the density and others in the building industry questioned whether there’d be buyers.

“We as a company always look to transit-oriented development and this site was close to GO,” says Ralph Del Duca, president of Chestnut Hill. “As the prices of condos in Toronto went up and spaces got smaller, we realized there was better value in a place like Pickering, but it took awhile to convince people of the potential.”

Now, Chestnut Hill is selling the fifth tower of seven at Universal City, the largest master-planned development in Durham.

The mayor says his main job is to balance the housing with new employment. Also on Ashe’s wishlist is for Pickering to get its own hospital and the city is in talks to bring a satellite campus of Durham College.

The Pickering nuclear plant remains the largest employer. However, Durham Live, Kubota Canada and Lastman’s Bad Boy’s new headquarters and a high-tech food manufacturing facility, to be developed by FGF Brands, are bringing new jobs.

Laaniste appreciates that new development in Pickering allowed him to get into the local housing market and he’ll have more options for entertainment and dining. He expects he’ll walk often to the waterfront and to Durham Live, just a short distance from his condo.

“I’ll definitely use the restaurants,” he says. “When it all comes together, it will be interesting.”

The Grand — Universal City

Location: 1474 Bayly St, Pickering

Development size: Fifth of seven towers at Universal City, 37 storeys, 320 suites

Price: From $571,900

Planned occupancy: 2027

Suite types: One bedroom, one bedroom plus den, two bedroom, two bedroom with den, three bedroom

Unit sizes: 496 to 1,026 sq ft.

Amenities: Fitness centre and spin studio, yoga-Pilates studio, golf simulator, party room, outdoor pool and lounge, barbecue area, treatment room, co-working space, meeting room, TikTok and karaoke studio, editing suite, pet spa, kids’ play area, games room, outdoor terrace

Developer: Chestnut Hill Developments

Architect: Kirkor Architects

Interior designer: Figure3

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