Developer converting St. Catharines’ contaminated GM site into homes ‘not prepared’ to pay for critical studies, delaying municipal plans for 1 year 
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Developer converting St. Catharines’ contaminated GM site into homes ‘not prepared’ to pay for critical studies, delaying municipal plans for 1 year 

Many St. Catharines residents may be feeling an eerie sense of deja vu as, yet again, development of the city’s former GM property faces delays.

Since the property was sold by the automaker to private developers in 2014 there have been any number of promises to clean up the old industrial site and transform it into a thriving urban neighbourhood. Hopes have repeatedly been raised only to be smashed by the often unpredictable nature of a large scale land development.

The latest update in the ongoing saga was released April 22nd when city council received a report from staff that outlined how the secondary planning process for the Ontario Street corridor had been delayed “due to matters beyond staff control”. 

As part of the secondary planning process, in February 2023, the City held a public meeting, followed by several other community engagement opportunities, to gather feedback and ideas to create a vision for the entire Ontario Street corridor. The planning process would have allowed residents of the area to have their say on what the future of this vital area of the city should look like.

This process also involved a number of critical studies, including an environmental assessment, archaeological reports, a servicing analysis and transportation studies. According to the staff report, Movengo, the company developing the property, has completed an archaeological assessment and was working on an environmental impact study alongside a slope stability assessment. However, the developer has stopped work indefinitely on the “most significant and potentially impactful” studies: the environmental assessment; transportation study; and servicing analysis. 

“The land owners group is not yet prepared to bear the costs of undertaking these studies at this time,” the staff report revealed. 

Staff also state that Movengo is pointing to a “challenged” development market since the COVID-19 pandemic, and “conditions over time related to Federal and Provincial policy changes” as to blame for the halt in work. 

The delay on behalf of Movengo has forced the City to pause the ongoing secondary planning in the area. 

“Staff are reluctant to proceed with community visioning and the establishment of land use alternatives prior to completion of the technical studies as it is imperative that any outcomes are grounded in the reality of the site’s known constraints,” the report states. “They have advised that they remain committed to completing the necessary background studies, but to-date have not provided anticipated timing.”

When asked why the City’s planning process for the area should stop due to the decision made by private developers, the City’s Director of Planning and Building Services, Tami Kitay, made it clear that regardless of the developer’s decision, the Ontario Street planning process is not on hold indefinitely. She stressed that it is on pause for a year, after which staff will report to Council with options for proceeding. Kitay further stressed that much of the work the City must do for the corridor is dependent on the information provided by the landowner of the former GM industrial plant. 

The delay of this planning process, and the announcement by the developer that it is halting plans “indefinitely”, is just the latest in a series of off again, on again announcements for the future of the site.


The former GM property at 282 and 285 Ontario Street represents the largest, undeveloped portion of the Ontario Street corridor.

(City of St. Catharines)


GM ceased operations on the 55-acre site in the core of the city in 2010 and four years later announced the sale of the property to Bayshore Groups. The Bayshore plans, celebrated with great fanfare from then-mayor Walter Sendzik, promised a $250 million mixed-use development on the land. It was welcome news to a community that had grown tired of the abandoned industrial factory which had become a deteriorating eyesore in the heart of the community. The plan called for retirement residences, apartments, lofts, commercial business and a technical trade school. Demolition was scheduled to begin almost immediately with clearing and cleaning of the area taking 18 months, construction on the new site was supposed to start by 2016.

The plan never materialized.  

Bayshore Groups did get to work, but what they did was auction off the residual value. Machinery, scrap metal and virtually anything else that could be mined for sale from the former GM property was put on the market, and when all was said and done the community was left with the same eyesore that had been there since 2010. Rusting hulks of once grand structures continued to loom over the neighbourhood, looking more like the setting for a horror movie than a city’s downtown core. It quickly became a place of residence for otherwise unhoused people as well as a toxic playground for local children.  


Photos from 2022 of the ongoing cleanup.

(MTE Consultants)


The initial surge of hope that area residents may have felt started to fade when it became evident that after partial demolition and the removal of valuable items of machinery, work was coming to a halt at the site. Word of lawsuits and counter lawsuits began to leak into the public as well as unpaid back taxes on the property in the millions of dollars. All signs of work on the site seemed to disappear with the removal of the last of the valuable items.

In 2019, hope began to rise again. 

It was then that citizens heard that a sale of the land was once again on the horizon. According to reports at the time a sale of the land was imminent. The City solicitor reported to council that serious talks were underway and a finalizing agreement was on the table. The sale was reported to be to area builder Losani Homes and once again the news had many in the community feeling that change had finally arrived.

It did not last long. By early 2020 Losani Homes had walked away from the site, although the reason was never clearly articulated by the builder. 

In 2019 council began to hear from constituents on an ongoing basis, residents started to organize around the issue of the cleanup, while public safety demands and expectations started to crystalize. Through it all officials reassured citizens that the property did not represent a hazard to their health and that it was monitored on a regular basis. Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment finally did a series of tests. The results were startling, especially when viewed in the light of the reassurances that had been routinely issued until that time.

Tests revealed the site was not in any way contained and that PCBs were leaking from it at alarming levels. The only good news from the revelations was that the alarming information triggered proper clean-up by the landowner. Work did follow.

By then the ownership of the property had apparently transferred from Bayshore Groups to a new corporation called Movengo which announced it was in charge of the lands. Movengo committed to dealing with the PCBs and all other remedial work required as the company had long term development plans for the location. 

Then, through reporting by The Pointer, the public learned about alarming behind-the-scenes dealings between the mayor and the new owner. 

Documents provided by sources who filed Freedom of Information requests revealed the mayor of St. Catharines at the time, Sendzik, met privately with the new owners at least once. Movengo was assured that covenants regarding environmental risk would be transferred from the property owner to the City, a move which could have put taxpayers on the hook for significant financial liability. It was not the first time the mayor was under the spotlight for his relations with the owner of the property. In 2015 pictures emerged of Sendzik deep sea fishing with Robert Megna of Bayshore Groups a year before he bought the property. The mayor claimed he and his son were in the Dominican Republic and just happened to run into Megna. The fishing excursion, he said, was a result of that chance meeting.

With Megna apparently out of the picture, the new owner committed to clean up the site and get development started.

But the FOI documents provided to The Pointer revealed secretive dealings that raised questions about the commitment to ensure public safety was at the forefront of any plans.

The president of Movengo Corp., Aaron Collina, emailed Sendzik and Brian York, St. Catharines’ director of economic development at the time, on June 25, 2020. The Hamilton-based developer was the lender that provided financing to Bayshore, which bought the property from GM in 2014. Movengo eventually took over the project.

“Gentlemen Confidentially Thank you for the call,” Collina wrote, detailing what was discussed between the three men. The FOI documents showed Sendzik and senior staff were working behind the scenes with the developer while members of the public who raised health concerns over the contaminated lands were assured by the City that steps were being taken to protect residents.

Collina wrote, according to his account of the conversation with the mayor and head of economic development, the City would “pressure” the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to acquire a part of the GM land where contamination was likely being sent into 12 Mile Creek, which runs right next to the property.

He also wrote the City would take over responsibility “regarding enviro risk to city in exchange for a res mixed use land use.”

The goal was to change the zoning for the former GM lands from industrial employment to mixed-use residential so homes could be built on the contaminated property. The zoning change was pushed despite no environmental assessment of the contaminated site and no scientific work to determine if residential units can even be allowed on the property where toxic chemicals were used for decades.

The City of St. Catharines has known about the potential risks to public health all along, stating in reports issued since the sale by GM that the new owner “must meet the Ministry’s requirements, as stipulated by the Environmental Protection Act.”

Before any future use can be pursued the owner is required to “assess the environmental condition of a property through a Phase 1 and Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessment,” according to the City’s reading of the Act.

This involves “Ensuring the concentrations of contaminants in soil and/or ground water meets applicable property condition standards. The owner can remediate to ensure that soil and/or groundwater contaminant concentrations meet the applicable site condition standards or complete a Risk Assessment which would propose Property Specific Standards that would results in Risk Management Measures in a Certificate of Public Use; and Submitting a Record of Site Condition to be filed in Ontario’s Environmental Site Registry.”

The 55-acre property where heavy industrial chemicals were used for decades on different parts of the property has to undergo a thorough “Site Condition” review as part of the required environmental assessment. All potential environmental risks have to be clearly determined and a “Phase 2” EA would then be ordered if risks are found. This would isolate the specific contaminated areas in the soil, groundwater and surrounding watershed, with each of the toxins identified.

Remediation efforts would then have to meet specific provincial standards depending on the proposed future use of the property.

While the Ministry of Environment has done some testing, there has been no formal environmental assessment to determine if residential development is even feasible on the property where industrial operations took place for more than 100 years.

This didn’t stop Bayshore from creating plenty of buzz around its plan for a massive upscale community announced shortly after it purchased the land in 2014.

By 2018 it was clear the company lacked the funding to see the project through; Bayshore failed to get required environmental work done; it began demolishing potentially polluted structures illegally without permits; then effectively abandoned the site.

That’s when Movengo stepped in.

But now, with critical studies still not done, the company has hit the pause button on a project that has been delayed for most of the past decade, largely due to mismanagement.

The City was a willing partner and planned to begin its own planning process for the entire corridor. A secondary planning process would involve citizens and would solicit their vision for the Ontario Street corridor.

The City started to finally undertake this work in February 2023, despite numerous unanswered questions about the safety of the entire plan. Residents turned out in large numbers to help shape the vision and ensure a responsible planning process that will include all the critical studies.

Now, more than a year later, the recent announcement by Movengo of its indefinite delay due to financial concerns, has ground all forward momentum to a halt once again.



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