CRE Montreal, David Suzuki Foundation express worries over green space
© Chronicle photo Anthony Abbondanza
Beaconsfield's interim control by-law protecting Angell Woods from development has cost the city over $300,000 due to tax exemptions and legal fees, says city councillor Wade Staddon.
The David Suzuki Foundation and the Conseil Regional Environment de Montreal (CRE-Montreal) denounced, last Tuesday Beaconsfield's decision to pave way for a real estate development in the 85-hectare Angell Woods.
The criticism comes after the city unveiled its Special Planning Program (SPP) in late August, which calls for a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) on the land owned by private owners.
"The reason why we're surprised is because we thought there would be more leadership from Beaconsfield to try to get Angell Woods protected. WeÕre also worried this could set a precedent," said Karel Mayrand, executive director for Quebec at the David Suzuki Foundation.
Under the plan, the area could see the construction of over 400 condominiums and single family homes on a portion of private land city officials deem of insignificant ecological value, even though Angell Woods is designated as one of 31 natural areas of interest to the Montreal Metropolitan Community (MMC) and are marked for protection.
"The way they justify it is that they say the land has no ecological value, or they say they're going to build green communities while they destroy an ecosystem. If the PMAD says there's 31 woods we should care about, then we should do something about it. It's a credibility test for PMAD."
The MMC's Metropolitan Land Use and Development Plan (PMAD) identify the objectives of current and future urban development for the greater Montreal area.
The city says it has four options in dealing with the landowners, and is opting for the least invasive scenario; that is, developing the land of least ecological significance on a reportedly 20 per cent of land belonging to private owners.
There's no logic in gambling the land on the developer's goodwill to choose the least invasive scenario that aims for the development of 20 per cent of the land, said Coralie Deny, executive director of CRE-Montreal.
The longer the 2010 interim control by-law - which froze Angell Woods from development - remains in effect, however, the more money the city is losing to private land owners
According to city councillor Wade Staddon, the city had to respond to the Angell Woods impasse because it was costing the city over $250,000 in unpaid taxes - due to a tax exemption for private land owners under the interim control by-law - and $80,000 in legal fees.
And unless the city of Montreal or the province steps in to purchase the 55 per cent of land belonging to private property owners, Staddon said it's time to move on to 'plan b.'
"We're saying 'show us the money,'" said Staddon, who chairs the Environmental and Sustainable Development Advisory Committee, when asked if the MMC was going to purchase the land in question. "We're pushing the city of Montreal to step in but in the event they don't, we don't know to what extent we'll be successful. We're stuck with this interim control by-law which has to end. If we can't buy it, we have something that enables us to restrict development to land of insignificant ecological value."
In a 2012 environmental study, Biofilia recommended the legal protection of Angell Woods in its entirety with the exception of the southern section along highway 20 which could be subject to both areas of development and conservation.
The SPP identifies Angell Woods as an "ideal location to take advantage of the high quality natural habitats as well as of a major public transit network," namely the Beaurepaire Station on the Montreal-Hudson commuter train line.
The area, however, is infamous for its traffic woes.
According to the Association for Protection of Angell Woods (APAW), the at-capacity Beaurepaire/Woodland exchange cannot handle a new development, which they estimate will add 1000 new cars to the city's traffic dilemma.
In an APAW-commissioned traffic study of the Beaurepaire/Woodland exchange last May, results show that the current road infrastructure cannot support additional traffic.
"Think of it as a water hose," Stephen Lloyd, president of APAW, told The Chronicle back in May. "You're just going to put more water by building homes and having more people use this intersection."
According to the study, the exchange, which is composed of three intersections with traffic lights serving three major avenues, has forced residents to wait an average of 55 to 100 seconds during the morning and afternoon rush hour, respectively.
The study suggests that anything beyond 80 seconds of wait time is determined as unacceptable capacity. But a potential residential development in Angell Woods could double or triple the waiting time.
The SPP requires a traffic impact and solutions study, commissioned by the developer, brought about by high and low density development before the start of construction.