Written by Matthew Coyte
November 23, 2016
The corner of Maisonneuve Boulevard West and Sainte-Catherine Street West feels out of place in its urban surroundings. With a parking lot on one side and an apartment complex on the other, the overgrown grass and trees stick out. Across the road from the lot rests the McGill University Health Centre (CUSM). It’s hard to believe that this desolate and run-down area could be the source of a heated community controversy.
Some of the residents of Côte-des-Neiges/Nôtre-Dame-de-Grace are saying that the City of Montreal and the borough are ignoring their concerns. A petition from earlier this year sought to veto a plan to build a Provigo grocery store on that very same corner near the Vendome metro station.
Developers are proposing a 10-storey Provigo building, with an mixed apartment complex aimed towards senior citizens and families of patients in the CUSM who would be occupying the upper levels. The plan was shot down by some residents of the borough. Loblaws, the parent company of Provigo, discovered a loophole in the municipal bylaws that has allowed them to resubmit those same plans directly to the City of Montreal and could allow them to build the project, even without public support.
The loophole involves Rule 89-3 of the City of Montreal Charter, which states that the city council may overrule any by-law passed by a specific borough in relation to the project of over 25,000 square metres, which the intended building would be. The “Provigo Project” would have to alter current zoning laws to undergo construction. The project would be more than 40 times larger then what is currently allowed when it comes to size limits on grocery stores. It would also be nine metres higher then the maximum legal limit.
This has many citizens outraged over what they believe is a lack of transparency on the part of the borough and the company. As one resident called it a “slap in the face of democracy.”
That resident is Jo-Anne Wemmers, a professor of criminology at l’Université de Montreal and an active member of the NDG community Facebook page “Vendôme Village Association,” which has spoken out against the construction of this project. Wemmers has been at the forefront of the campaign against Loblaws and the project as the story first emerged that Loblaws seemed to be going over the heads of the community.
“What I see is that the residents are being sidestepped. Democratic processes were used to put an end to this project and the developers have bypassed these processes,” she said in a telephone interview earlier this month.
Wemmers said that there is a sense of worry felt by many in the community who are concerned by the lack of transparency coming from both mayor of Côte-Des-Neiges/NDG, Russell Copeman, and Loblaws when it comes to details about the building.
“We have no idea what is planned for our neighbourhood. We’re not against all change, but we do want something that will work for our community,” said Wemmers.
In a review done by the CUSM, the project wouldn’t be finished until 2020. The same study shows that the estimated traffic would rise to 2.5 million cars per year going through the area. This is a concern for many in the neighbourhood, who find that an overwhelming amount of traffic already plagues the area. Alex Barta, who lives directly across from the intended construction site, echoed this concern. “There’s no problem with the apartments for seniors. We only have a problem with the grocery store. It would create traffic. Even right now, it’s a parking lot every rush hour. It’s unacceptable and unlivable,” he stated in a telephone interview.
In an email responding to worries felt by the residents of NDG, Johanne Héroux, the Senior Director of Corporate Affairs and Communications at Loblaw, wrote that the company does not “have any details to confirm” about the project.
“The discussions with the City are ongoing and although we have slightly amended the initial project, we do not have any comments at the moment.”
Meanwhile, Wemmers described the process as “flying blind.” She resonates a feeling of helplessness similar to many others in the community. “We can’t see the plan. It seems that the only time that we have a say is at the end of the process. We’re on the sidelines.”
Barta and Wemmers both signed their names onto a letter to the Comité Jacques-Viger, a private consultative committee currently reviewing the Provigo Project, to plead their case against the construction of the building. In this letter, provided by Barta, they ask the committee to reject the project which would alter the current zoning laws.
In its response to the Village Vendôme group, the president of the committee, Pierre Corriveau, stated in an email statement that the concerns and needs of the citizens are “constantly at the heart of our discussions.” In the same e-mail, Corriveau also says that due to the code of ethics of the committee, they have the “obligation” to avoid outside influences to remain objective about projects that they review. Because of this, the Jacques-Viger Comité will not take the residents letter into account during their review.
Copeman has not been private about his support for the Provigo Project, stating that both he and many other city counsellors believe that it is a good move for the neighbourhood.
The mayor, Russell Copeman also outlined some of the positive aspects of the plan. In a phone interview for this article, he described how the residential upper floors would be beneficial towards the short-term use of families of those who are staying in the CUSM and offices for workers who are employed by the hospital.
In Copeman’s opinion, this is a best-case scenario when compared to other possibilities. However, he does understand the frustration of the community who he says have been subjected to “radical” change over the past 10 years. And while this project will contribute to traffic, its benefits outweigh the setbacks, said Copeman.
The Provigo Project will be reviewed this coming year, and must make it through public consultations before city counsellors vote on the project. The vote will decide whether the project will be greenlit.
Note *This was a story finished in November 2016 for a university project. Forced me to work on my research skills and to work on interpreting how to report two very conflicting sides of a story.*
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Twitter – @ MatthewCoyte16