From the Gazette
By Paola Hawa
On October 31, 2013
A Recent History of the “Development” Issue
I’ve had an interest in this question for many years. I remember the Council question period(s) under the Tierney administration when his Council was proposing to allow the building of condos in the most sensitive areas – in and adjacent to – the Anse a l’Orme forest. I also remember his refusal to actively negotiate with Montreal who was seeking to establish a protected eco-territory in our area. At that time, Montreal had offered a $10million investment to create a regional park, including the construction of a chalet. Further, they had also offered to take over the maintenance of Sainte Anne’s portion of Anse a l’Orme road, which would have represented an important saving for Sainte Anne. It was this situation that was at the root of my decision to run for Council at the 2009 election. I went door-to-door, maps in hand, explaining to residents the choices we faced as a community. They chose to elect me as their representative based on our shared vision: protect our quality of life and as much green space as possible; ensure that any new development would be in the best interests of the community; ensure that residents directly participate in the entire process of creating a new Urban Plan.
Although some candidates at the 2009 election had run and won, by making “green” and citizen participation/respect an important part of their electoral platform – it soon became clear that the “words” of the campaign would not align with the “actions” once in office. Despite my repeated requests to my Council colleagues to perform the requisite studies and to directly involve the citizens before designing a new Urban Plan, the majority chose to allow the 2012 Urban Plan to be determined behind closed doors together with the promoter. More than 400 of you witnessed the result of this exercise at the May 28, 2012 Consultation Meeting in the school gym. (google it!) Those in attendance saw me (supported by Ryan Young) stand up and publicly denounce the lack of transparency and the real estate promoter’s direct involvement/influence in the process. Working with a dedicated group of citizens, we mobilized our community, signed petitions, sent emails, went door to door, held resident information sessions to inform our neighbours.
What we were demanding, was what we had been promised in 2009: transparency, community involvement and objective studies. I am very proud of what we, together, achieved. Faced with such massive dissent, my colleagues relented and agreed to set-up a Residents’ PPU Committee. The committee’s mandate was to ensure that the studies: Traffic Impact, Biodiversity/Environmental Impact and Financial Impact, would in fact be performed – by “objective” 3rd parties, without any direct and/or indirect link to those having a real and/or perceived, or even an appearance of a real estate interest in the results. This I personally believe, represents the most ethical and courageous approach a Council can adopt when faced with the tremendous outside pressure exerted by the real estate industry. In the end, the process must be beyond reproach.
First, we must realize that a respect for our environment and fiscal responsibility are no longer mutually exclusive terms in today’s economy. Our territory, which includes the last green space on the island of Montreal – has been designated, by two levels of government as an “exceptional” natural space. Rich in biodiversity, it also serves to provide citizens with some of the “purest” air on the island and a quality of life that is the envy of others. Our natural spaces is what makes Sainte Anne unique on the island. And this “unique” combination of country and city life is reflected in the value of our properties. Any future development plan should have as its primary and foremost objective – the best interests of Sainte Anne citizens.
Second, we must realize that Sainte Anne is in a most enviable position with respect to our legal rights to control the zoning of the land. There is no need for the City to expropriate or purchase land to ensure that we have both, maximum protection of green space while ensuring that new development is fiscally beneficial to Sainte Anne. Our challenge will be to have the willingness, and the courage to make use of the legal tools available to us and thereby ensure that our collective will is respected.
Third, what would a development look like? It is difficult to determine what the development would look like before we have completed the basic studies. The objective should be to find the perfect balance between environmental protection, quality of life and financial growth. What and where is that balance: 40% residential, 30% LEEDS Gold industrial and 30% Commercial – or is it some other combination? What is the long term optimal mix for our City? Truthfully, these can not be objectively determined prior to reviewing the results of the studies. A case in point, we now know that as a general rule, “residential” development will be either revenue neutral or create a shortfall in the medium/long term due to the associated costs of providing services.
As I have stated and maintained for several years – it is imperative that we perform our due diligence that is: Economic Impact, Biodiversity/Environmental and Traffic studies in order to identify the proper “mix” of development. These must be carried out in an “objective” manner; free from any form of direct or indirect influence from those who may have a present or future monetary interest in the outcome. Further, I have demonstrated my commitment and have been a strong advocate of a “citizen participation” planning process which is different from “public consultation”. From a legal perspective; participation involves and “asks” the residents; whereas consultation “tells” the residents, as we witnessed in May 2012. It is important not to mistake the two terms.
In short, I am convinced that this rational, logical and objective approach, respectful of our citizens and our environment, is the best plan going forward. My personal vision is to adopt an Urban Plan that reflects the unique character of Sainte Anne, that is forward thinking and innovative, financially sound, and is mindful of our generation’s responsibility to those that will come after us.
Candidate for mayor
Ste. Anne de Bellevue