Projet Responds to my Query

Perspective on the Archivex Project, conceptual rendering.
Perspective on the Archivex Project, conceptual rendering.

And I should point out they were actually exceptionally fast in their response time. I by contrast have been slow to update el blogo. Whatever.

My original post published December 16, 2012 was entitled “The Exciting World of Montréal Urban Planning and Municipal Politics” and concerned the now-stalled re-development of the old Archivex warehouse in Saint Henri (effectively on the westernmost edge of the grounds around Lionel-Groulx Métro station) into a planned seven-storey office building which, as advertised, would bring some 2,000 employees to the area every day. A Projet Montréal Councillor by the name of Sophie Thiébault led a public campaign against the plan, arguing a lack of transparency and public consultation, among other things.

Here’s a link to the document presented to City Hall by Lemay & Associates Architects for Groupe Mach, the developer. It includes renderings of the new building, perspective photographs of the site from various angles as well as renderings of shadows cast by the new building on the surrounding area at various times of the day and year.

In the first post I asked if Projet had something to say about it, as I was somewhat incredulous PM would object to a new building that could (potentially) bring a major cash infusion into a neighbourhood coming into its own and becoming a new pole of activity.

Below is what Projet Montréal sent me:

Les citoyens réclament une planification pour les environs de la station Lionel-Groulx

Montréal, le 14 décembre 2012 – Projet Montréal souhaite que l’arrondissement du Sud-Ouest fasse un exercice de planification, en impliquant la population, avant de donner le feu vert aux projets à la pièce dans le secteur de la station Lionel-Groulx. Cette demande fait suite à la demande des citoyens de tenir un référendum pour le projet Archivex situé juste à côté de la station de métro Lionel-Groulx. « Il y a beaucoup de projets qui semblent se dessiner autour de la station Lionel-Groulx, dont cet édifice pour 2000 travailleurs. J’ai alerté les élus du conseil d’arrondissement sur la nécessité de procéder, le plus rapidement possible, à un véritable exercice de planification, comme le PPU Griffintown qui est en ce moment devant l’OCPM. Il est important que les citoyens puissent avoir leur mot à dire sur le développement de leur lieu de résidence. C’est la raison que j’ai invoquée en conseil d’arrondissement pour voter contre ce projet. Cela m’a également incité, par la suite, à écrire aux citoyens afin de les informer de l’outil démocratique à leur disposition, le référendum, et sa première phase qui est la tenue d’un registre », a affirmé Sophie Thiébaut, conseillère de Saint-Henri-Petite-Bourgogne-Pointe-Saint-Charles, district qui englobe le secteur des abords de la station Lionel-Groulx.

Au cœur des préoccupations de Projet Montréal, il y l’avenir du terrain gazonné de la station Lionel-Groulx, le long de la rue Saint-Jacques, qui n’est pas zoné parc. Cette bande de terrain, malgré le fait qu’elle appartienne à la Société de Transport de Montréal, pourrait éventuellement être développée. « Nos craintes sont à l’effet que le projet Archivex crée le précédent que tous les propriétaires riverains pourront invoquer pour développer les abords de la station sans se soucier d’un aménagement de qualité et, sans égard aux préoccupation citoyennes. Seul un exercice de planification intégré et transparent pourra nous assurer que le développement à venir se fera de façon ordonnée, et nous évitera d’être à la remorque d’un développement anarchique, comme c’est malheureusement le cas dans Griffintown », a ajouté Richard Bergeron, chef de Projet Montréal.

La venue hypothétique de 2000 travailleurs dans un secteur comme les abords de la station Lionel-Groulx est en soi souhaitable. Cependant, cela doit se faire en prenant en considération les heurts éventuels et les attentes de la population déjà installée dans le secteur. C’est pourquoi il est primordial de faire preuve de transparence dans ce genre de dossier et de consulter en amont les résidents par le moyen d’un plan particulier d’urbanisme. De plus, aucune garantie n’a été fournie par le promoteur sur d’éventuelles entreprises intéressées à s’installer à cet endroit.

« Assisterons-nous à la construction d’une coquille vide? En tant que conseillère d’arrondissement du district dans lequel on projette de faire ce genre de développement, je me questionne et m’inquiète du manque de planification de ce secteur. Mon rôle premier, en tant qu’élue, est de m’assurer que les résidents de mon district soient entendus et consultés », a conclu Sophie Thiébaut.

***

Okay, Thiébault has a point.

Union Montréal and the local political establishment haven’t done much in terms of broad city planning, preferring to leave it up to the private sector.

The public wasn’t really that well consulted, but this raises a point I think remains quite unclear – how much is the private sector supposed to consult the public? Should we mandate a far greater degree of conversation?

I find the borough mayor’s assertion that Ms. Thiébault is creating a climate of fear to be a tad ridiculous – to my knowledge that’s not the case, and in any event, what kind of fears could be stoked, I wonder?

While Groupe Mach’s presentation document seems complete and looks good, there’s at least one element I can think of that’s missing: tenants.

Who are these 2,000 people and for whom will they be working?

Is it too much to ask for the name of the people who will occupy this space, or is it a given that they come once it’s built?

I’m a little confused by the relation drawn between this building’s redevelopment and the large green space around the station, which Ms. Thiébault points out is not actually a park (no kidding) but just a green space owned by the STM. If I’m not mistaken, the STM plans on turning part of it into a new bus terminus. While that’s a plus for the STM and public transit users, it doesn’t do much for a neighbourhood low on public green space.

That said, the green isn’t being used as a park (because it isn’t one) and it doesn’t look like the STM has any plans to make it more park-like (what with the new bus terminus), so I suppose the concern that it will just be sold off and developed is within the realm of possibility. But I digress – Projet Montréal’s objection seems more to do with a general lack of planning on the part of the city and in this respect I agree, the city doesn’t plan that well.

But all that said, this is one hell of a gamble for the private development firm. If the building doesn’t work out they way they plan, they stand to lose a lot of money. From this perspective, a lousy proposal could sink Group Mach (a bigger problem for them than an unfinished building is for the residents, though both are quite problematic). Thus, the question is how much do you think they’re likely to be gambling on an uncertain plan. Even if they don’t make prospective tenants public information, I can’t imagine they have no one lined up.

I for one don’t mind the design. It’s not a a major landmark and it’s quirky and oddly shaped as most post-modern architecture is, but it borrows design elements from the area and wouldn’t be too imposing either. If it’s a straight-up office building it may work out quite well, though an obvious question is what will become of the stretch of Saint-Jacques it sits on. The area could use some sprucing up, and I’d personally be opposed to store fronts if they were uniquely intended for chain fast-food joints. We need those like a hole in the head.

From Projet Montréal’s perspective, I can imagine the shadows of the Ilot Voyageur and the stalled condo building at 1750 Cedar Avenue loom large – incomplete buildings aren’t just an eyesore, they’re bad for business, indicative of something rotten in the halls of power and the local real estate market. Richard Bergeron’s point – that we have two too many stalled large residential projects – is doubtless part of the driving force behind his objection to the plan; the head of Group Mach, Vincent Chiara, is also behind the development right next to the General, which has been suspended for four years now. It further doesn’t lend him much credibility that Chiara had dealings with Arthur Porter, currently undergoing treatment for self-diagnosed cancer (no, I’m not making that up).

It’s unfortunate, because I feel if we put real-estate promotion and development any further under the microscope in this city we may not want any redevelopment whatsoever, and this simply is very bad for business indeed.

Perhaps Ms. Thiébault has some plans of her own she’d like to share?

What would constitute a better plan for the area, what elements are missing, and what should Groupe Mach provide to make a better case to the citizens of Saint-Henri?

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