Environmentalist present 9700 names to save Pierrefonds West green space
by John Symon – mtltimes.ca
Jim Beis was defensive as environmentalists presented a petition to preserve green space at the Feb. 1 Pierrefonds-Roxboro council meeting. Beis, the borough mayor, supports Montreal mayor Denis Coderre in wanting to build 6,000 housing units on the last large, unprotected green space on Montreal Island; the petition has 9700 names asking him to reconsider.
Beis had to deal with a procession of citizens taking the microphone and criticizing his stand; there was also obvious dissension within his ranks on council. The two Bois-de-Liesse councillors, Justine McIntyre and Roger Trottier, openly sided with the environmentalists.
Environmentalists speaking included Sue Stacho and Ross Stitt of the group, Sauvons l’Anse à l’Orme, Don Hobus (Sierra Club), Lisa Mintz (Sauvons la Falaise), and Alex Tyrrell (Green Party of Quebec). They spoke of preserving green space and biodiversity while fighting urban sprawl and climate change. Beis, normally polite and well-spoken, became seemingly frustrated as the evening wore on.
The proposed residential development is on a 185-hectare parcel south of Cap St. Jacques Park. Much of the land used to be agricultural, now consisting of wet meadows. Beis spoke about reserving 30 percent of the development for social and affordable (low income) housing.
Hobus asked why affordable housing is proposed in an area where there is no public transit.
Beis conceded that providing effective public transit in this new area would be a challenge, but also contends that Pierrefonds needs higher population densities to make transit viable. He also noted that the West Island “has a particular problem; we don’t have bus stops or metro (stations) on each corner,” unlike some more central parts of the city.
Hobus also asked if the borough had done a cost-benefit analysis to see if anticipated tax revenues from the proposed development would exceed necessary infrastructure costs. Beis said, “if it isn’t done by Montreal, we need to look at this…” Hobus then suggested that the mayor was being evasive.
Beis repeatedly assured environmentalists they would have a chance to question the project at the OCPM (Office de consultation publique de Montréal) hearings. After hearing all parties, the OCPM will then render a recommendation on whether the development should proceed, but it is city council that decides.
“There was another public hearing before the Turcot highway project was started,” noted Mintz. “Some 85 percent of those presenting spoke against the project, but it went ahead anyways.”
Councillor Trottier agreed with Mintz, claiming “it’s (the development) going to go (ahead).” Beis took strong issue with that statement, while McIntyre defended Trottier.
Beis also spoke of the land developers “owning the land” and “having a right to build there” to which Mintz remarked that no building permits have been issued and that the developers are merely speculators.
In December, the Sierra Club called for a 10-year moratorium on building on green spaces for Montreal Island. Municipal authorities are on record as wanting to preserve 10 percent of Montreal Island as green space, but only six percent is preserve now. To attain 10 percent, Montreal actively needs to protect an additional 2,000 hectares and it is difficult to say where that green space can be found. At the same time, Montreal has some 5,000 hectares of abandoned industrial land (brown fields); environmentalists say that this is where any residential developments should occur.