Group filing lawsuit to prevent western Pierrefonds land from being developed

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Group filing lawsuit to prevent western Pierrefonds land from being developed
Source: The Gazette
A new group that says it will use the courts to defend the environment in Canada plans to fire its opening salvo at the city of Montreal and its project to allow high-density residential development on a vast natural space in western Pierrefonds.

Montreal lawyer Campbell Stuart said he will file an injunction against the city, the Montreal Metropolitan Community and a developer in Quebec Superior Court on Wednesday morning on behalf of the new organization, which is called Legacy Project (or Projet génération in French), and a Pierrefonds resident.

The object of the injunction request is to have a judge recognize the protected agricultural zoning of a nearly 20-hectare parcel of land that slices through a 180-hectare area of natural space where the administration of Mayor Denis Coderre has declared its intention to allow the development of 5,000 to 6,000 homes. The zone is beside another 180-hectare area of natural space further west and close to the border between Pierrefonds and Senneville that the administration says it will conserve as an eco-territory.

Quebec’s Commission de protection du territoire agricole agreed conditionally to a request by the city in January 2010 to “de-zone” the 20-hectare parcel as agricultural land so it can be developed. That was before Coderre was elected, but the city has been working on the 50-50 residential-conservation plan for the area of wetland, wet meadows and woods in western Pierrefonds since 2006 when former mayor Gérald Tremblay and his team were in power.

One of the conditions set by the commission required that the municipal land-use plan for the area be modified within 24 months of the ruling to reflect the change in zoning.

However, the Legacy Project group contends the city adopted a land-use plan only in January of this year — 48 months after the commission ruling — and the Montreal Metropolitan Community’s land-use plan for the greater Montreal region went into effect in March 2012, which was 26 months after the ruling.

As a result, Stuart said, the group claims the exclusion of the 20-hectare parcel from protected agricultural zoning and any subsequent subdivision for housing is null and void.

“The condition was the urban plan be adopted before a certain date,” he said on Tuesday. “The ruling of the (commission) makes it very explicit that if the condition isn’t met, then it is not rezoned.

“What we’re really asking the judge to say is it (the zoning) was never changed.”

The Coderre administration said it couldn’t comment on Tuesday because it said the Montreal Gazette didn’t give it time to verify the claims.

Coderre spokesperson Catherine Maurice said the administration will provide answers when it can.

The city submitted the request to the agricultural land commission on behalf of the land’s owner, an individual who planned to sell all but his house on the northern tip of the property to a developer, Groupe Immobilier Grilli Inc., for mostly residential development, the commission’s ruling, which is accessible online, said.

Even if a judge were to rule in favour of the Legacy Project’s injunction, the city and the developer could make a new request with the agricultural land commission to de-zone it, Stuart acknowledged.

However, the court action would “at the very least require the city and the developer to rethink what it is in fact they can redevelop,” he said.

“So this is not the end of the story by any stretch of the imagination. This is what we’ve identified that we can do today to defend this green space.”

Patrick Barnard, a Montrealer who produces a video blog called the Pimento Report on environmental and social issues and is a member of the Legacy Project, said the landscape in western Pierrefonds is a good place for the group to start its work.

The area where the city wants development is the largest landscape of its type on the island of Montreal, he said. It contains 185 species of birds, 10 of which are threatened, he said. A herd of deer sleeps there as well, he said.

This is the first case for the Legacy Project, which began germinating over two years ago, he said. The group aims to find resources to fund legal challenges to protect the environment.

“The idea was that it was important to create a vehicle to allow people to defend the environment, and to defend the environment before the courts,” Barnard said.

“The Legacy Project allows people who care about the environment to stand up and not to simply accept something that is imposed on them and citizens.”
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