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 MontrÃ©al 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 MÃ©tro station) into a planned seven-storey office building which, as advertised, would bring some 2,000 employees to the area every day. A Projet MontrÃ©al Councillor by the name of Sophie ThiÃ©bault 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 MontrÃ©al sent me:
Les citoyens rÃ©clament une planification pour les environs de la station Lionel-Groulx
MontrÃ©al, le 14 dÃ©cembre 2012 – Projet MontrÃ©al souhaite que lâ€™arrondissement du Sud-Ouest fasse un exercice de planification, en impliquant la population, avant de donner le feu vert aux projets Ã la piÃ¨ce dans le secteur de la station Lionel-Groulx. Cette demande fait suite Ã la demande des citoyens de tenir un rÃ©fÃ©rendum pour le projet Archivex situÃ© juste Ã cÃ´tÃ© de la station de mÃ©tro Lionel-Groulx. Â« Il y a beaucoup de projets qui semblent se dessiner autour de la station Lionel-Groulx, dont cet Ã©difice pour 2000 travailleurs. Jâ€™ai alertÃ© les Ã©lus du conseil dâ€™arrondissement sur la nÃ©cessitÃ© de procÃ©der, le plus rapidement possible, Ã un vÃ©ritable exercice de planification, comme le PPU Griffintown qui est en ce moment devant lâ€™OCPM. Il est important que les citoyens puissent avoir leur mot Ã dire sur le dÃ©veloppement de leur lieu de rÃ©sidence. Câ€™est la raison que jâ€™ai invoquÃ©e en conseil dâ€™arrondissement pour voter contre ce projet. Cela mâ€™a Ã©galement incitÃ©, par la suite, Ã Ã©crire aux citoyens afin de les informer de lâ€™outil dÃ©mocratique Ã leur disposition, le rÃ©fÃ©rendum, et sa premiÃ¨re phase qui est la tenue dâ€™un registre Â», a affirmÃ© Sophie ThiÃ©baut, conseillÃ¨re de Saint-Henri-Petite-Bourgogne-Pointe-Saint-Charles, district qui englobe le secteur des abords de la station Lionel-Groulx.
Au cÅ“ur des prÃ©occupations de Projet MontrÃ©al, il y lâ€™avenir du terrain gazonnÃ© de la station Lionel-Groulx, le long de la rue Saint-Jacques, qui nâ€™est pas zonÃ© parc. Cette bande de terrain, malgrÃ© le fait quâ€™elle appartienne Ã la SociÃ©tÃ© de Transport de MontrÃ©al, pourrait Ã©ventuellement Ãªtre dÃ©veloppÃ©e. Â« Nos craintes sont Ã lâ€™effet que le projet Archivex crÃ©e le prÃ©cÃ©dent que tous les propriÃ©taires riverains pourront invoquer pour dÃ©velopper les abords de la station sans se soucier dâ€™un amÃ©nagement de qualitÃ© et, sans Ã©gard aux prÃ©occupation citoyennes. Seul un exercice de planification intÃ©grÃ© et transparent pourra nous assurer que le dÃ©veloppement Ã venir se fera de faÃ§on ordonnÃ©e, et nous Ã©vitera dâ€™Ãªtre Ã la remorque dâ€™un dÃ©veloppement anarchique, comme câ€™est malheureusement le cas dans Griffintown Â», a ajoutÃ© Richard Bergeron, chef de Projet MontrÃ©al.
La venue hypothÃ©tique 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 considÃ©ration les heurts Ã©ventuels et les attentes de la population dÃ©jÃ installÃ©e dans le secteur. Câ€™est pourquoi il est primordial de faire preuve de transparence dans ce genre de dossier et de consulter en amont les rÃ©sidents par le moyen dâ€™un plan particulier dâ€™urbanisme. De plus, aucune garantie nâ€™a Ã©tÃ© fournie par le promoteur sur dâ€™Ã©ventuelles entreprises intÃ©ressÃ©es Ã sâ€™installer Ã cet endroit.
Â« Assisterons-nous Ã la construction dâ€™une coquille vide? En tant que conseillÃ¨re dâ€™arrondissement du district dans lequel on projette de faire ce genre de dÃ©veloppement, je me questionne et mâ€™inquiÃ¨te du manque de planification de ce secteur. Mon rÃ´le premier, en tant quâ€™Ã©lue, est de mâ€™assurer que les rÃ©sidents de mon district soient entendus et consultÃ©s Â», a conclu Sophie ThiÃ©baut.
Okay, ThiÃ©bault has a point.
Union MontrÃ©al 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. ThiÃ©bault 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. ThiÃ©bault 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 MontrÃ©al’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 MontrÃ©al’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. ThiÃ©bault 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?