Tag Archives: New construction in Montreal

New Condos for Overdale, No News re: Future of Lafontaine House

YUL Condos from Mackay and René-Lévesque - not the work of the author
YUL Condos from Mackay and Ren̩-L̩vesque Рnot the work of the author

*Author’s note re: the above rendering. I’ve gone and checked – the trees along the left and right edges of the rendering above do not exist. In fact, the one at left could not exist as it would be located somewhere in the westbound turning lane of René Lévesque Boulevard. Also, the intersection at Mackay doesn’t look like that, and there’s no park on the right; it’s another shitty parking lot.

And now for something completely different.*

News on the real estate front, yet another developer is planning a massive condo project for downtown Montreal.

To be located on the Overdale Block (Crescent to Mackay, south of Boul. René-Lévesque) the YUL Condos project seeks to complete two 38-floor residential towers, as depicted above, in addition to about 20 townhouses along Overdale street, both components opening onto a central courtyard. The towers will be on the René-Lévesque side and the townhouses on the opposite side, where their stature will be more in keeping with the ‘human scale’ of old Victorian grey stones.

Admittedly, this project is a bit different from others, namely because it’s being shopped to a foreign clientele; sales offices have opened in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, and the main financing is coming from a consortium of Asian-Canadian investors. Considering this project’s proximity to Concordia University and the large Chinese population living in Shaughnessy Village, I feel it’s likely this project will be realized, perhaps before other similarly sized projects aimed at locals. This project aims to tap into a different kind of market. I have a feeling this condo complex is going to end up housing a lot of wealthy foreign students.

In any event, I’m merely speculating. How our housing market hasn’t yet tanked is beyond me.

So build, baby, build, right?

While I’m glad the useless empty lot will be filled with decently attractive residential towers and townhouses, I’m delighted the developer is also planning a renovation of the Lafontaine House. Perhaps more surprising, it’s not entirely clear what will go immediately behind the Lafontaine House, and so in the conceptual renderings it’s been left as a green space.

The developers are insistent that they’d like to see the Lafontaine House used for educational purposes, be it as a museum or interpretive centre, but they were also quick to point out that they’re not in that line of business. So I suppose this means we need our elected officials to get off their asses and make a move.

Not bloody likely, this is Lafontaine’s House after all.

For those of you not in the know, Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine was the first Canadian to become Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada, the political entity which immediately precedes modern Canada (itself beginning with Confederation in 1867). Lafontaine, along with co-Prime Minister Robert Baldwin, instituted a wide variety of reforms which continued the gentle push towards independence. He was the very first PM to preside over a responsible government and worked tirelessly (and ultimately succeeded) in having French return to official status, something which proudly remains to this day.

You may wonder why the house of such a man as this should be in an advanced state of disrepair, and why no government agency has stepped in to preserve it.

It’s a good question, one I unfortunately do not have an answer to.

But in the current political climate, it’s unlikely the Lafontaine House will be saved either by Québec City or Ottawa. For separatists, Lafontaine (a committed Patriote during the Rebellions of 1837-38) is the source of original sin – he’s viewed as a traitor because he worked with other rebels from Upper Canada (modern day Ontario) in creating Canada. The separatists have often portrayed the Rebellion of 1837 as a simple French vs. English conflict which resulted in Québec’s first martyrs. The reality, as is always the case, was far more complex. In fact, the dual rebellions (which occurred in both Québec and Ontario) pitted Canadians of multi-ethnic origins against the British Empire. Ergo, Canada vs. the United Kingdom, not French vs. English. Lafontaine’s experiences during the Rebellion of 1837 convinced him to pursue the peaceful path towards national sovereignty. His ideal vision of Canada was one in which Aboriginals, French, Métis, Scots, Irish, Loyalist Blacks, Americans and yes even the English would live together in harmony, their commitment more towards a common set of social and political values rather than blood lines and language. Back in the day, this was cosmopolitanism in Canada. It was profoundly progressive thinking and it worked. The Canada we have today, and the Canadian ideal we aspire to, are largely thanks to Lafontaine.

And on that note, another example of why the Parti Québécois won’t be handing over any money to the man who did far more to preserve the French language in Canada than Bill 101 or the Official Languages Act combined. The Parti Québécois simply does not believe multiculturalism is a Québec value.

That it is a Canadian value, largely put into practice by the original Canadiens and our unofficially first Prime Minister over a century before the Quiet Revolution, is of little interest to the populist, reactionary and wholly myopic PQ.

And for that matter, Lafontaine’s house likely won’t be saved by our current federal government either. The Tories prefer a ‘blood & guts’ history that posits Canadians as frontiersmen, warriors etc. It’s a gigantic clusterfuck of idiocy, in my personal opinion, and is severely degrading to our nation’s actual comprehension of our history, but the Tories simply don’t want to know of anything else. Lafontaine’s commitment to peace, order and restraint in the face of adversity is hardly exciting enough to keep Tories’ attention.

So I’m a bit pessimistic government will save the day (do they ever?), but perhaps our new mayor might be a bit more forward thinking.

Lafontaine’s House must be preserved and used to educate the public. It should be both a national historic monument and a public museum and/or interpretive centre; remember it’s free to mail your MP should you happen to agree with me.

Suffice it to say I’d really hate to see this become a private residence, though that’s what will likely happen. If that’s the course of action, hopefully the grounds behind are used for a nice garden; I think it’d be too much to ask private real estate developers to set aside land for a park. Lord knows the current civic administration couldn’t be bothered to do so.

As to the proposed building complex, while I find it aesthetically pleasing and am happy to see the inclusion of the townhouses, I’m less than thrilled there’s no social housing provision (yet again). At a time when our homeless population is steadily increasing and low-cost housing is disappearing from the urban centre (where it’s most needed), we, the actual citizens of Montreal, have no need for more condo towers. But these really aren’t being marketed locally, and it’s not the developer’s responsibility to build such units, it’s up to the city to mandate it.

I only bring this up because, prior to the shady dealings which lead to the razing of Overdale, it was nothing but low-cost housing, and right in the middle of the city too.

That’s a big issue to get in to, one I’ve discussed before but won’t again here. Read this instead, pretty comprehensive.

New Real Estate – L’Avenue Condominiums


L’Avenue Condos perspective rendering, from the southwest at the bottom of Drummond.

I’m keen on the design of this building even though I’m not 100% sold on how this area is being developed. There’s no doubt in my mind L’Avenue is going to be an important landmark on our future city-scape, but I’d nonetheless prefer to see the city take a leading role in conceptualizing an overall design plan for the area. Perhaps I’m jumping the gun though, the four principle projects in the immediate vicinity of the Bell Centre are all still in their sales phase, it will be a while still before we get to see this.

But once it’s up, I think it will be a stunning addition to our skyline.

It will be the tallest residential building in the city, stacking up at fifty storeys with 325 suites offering one, two and three-room models, each fitted with high ceilings, and a private balcony, not to mention what would doubtless be some rather spectacular views up amongst the giants of the city centre.

The tower is composed of three distinct volumes blended into one another in a staggered fashion, growing out and up from the southwest towards the northeast much like a fountain. It’s stationed on an eight-storey base the developer hopes will be primarily utilized as commercial retail and office space, following a trend I noticed recently in Vancouver combining commercial and residential properties into an iconic building where the attractive tower is principally mixed-use residential. The L-shape will have the tower focused on Rue Drummond, with a spacious courtyard providing an exclusive address on an otherwise uninhabited part of the street. The alternating use of dark tinted glass and dark exterior finishings with the slight blue tint of the less opaque glass does a good job hiding the balconies, which the developer pointed out as one of the fundamental elements of urban living – access to a full size exterior space on an individual level is key, though like many other recent condo towers and urban living concepts, residents will also have access to large shared facilities as well.

Suffice it to say if I had the money I’d consider living here, as at the very least I’m already convinced the building will age well and likely be a coveted address for some time to come. If the market stabilizes and we somehow evade a major housing market correction, this could become a valuable piece of downtown property.

What concerns me is that the city is completely uninvolved in any form of urban planning in this new high-density, urban residential neighbourhood. It’s both fascinating and somewhat confounding. The projects listed (such as L’Avenue and it’s soon to be neighbours, Roccabella, Icone and Tour de Canadiens de Montréal) are listed as part of the Montréal 2025 ‘master-plan’ but the city is so far leaving this plan’s ‘design’ up to market demand. So far the market has proven at least interested, but without the city’s involvement some no-brainer elements of neighbourhood design are being forgotten entirely.

My primary concern is that the city has so far made no plans to utilize the massive amount of development in this sector to expand the Underground City.

Here we have L’Avenue, in addition to the other buildings to go up in the parking lot adjacent to the Bell Centre, but they won’t be connected to the Réso system quite literally across the street. If the city were to mandate the construction of a Réso tunnel running north from the Bell Centre towards Boul. de Maisonneuve, several buildings (such as those to be built, in addition to the Cité du Commerce Electronique, the Sheraton Centre, Tour CIBC, La Crystal de la Montagne and the future Maison Ogilvie redevelopment) would be directly connected to the underground infrastructure, two Métro lines and four Métro stations. In addition, we would finally have a legitimate residential component to the Underground City and we’d further have the means to link up numerous additional medium sized residential buildings located between Peel Métro and the Réso component at Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus. It would help ease traffic circulation, increase the value of attached properties, and allow greater access to the public mass-transit system. Of all the natural extensions of the Réso, the concentration of large-scale redevelopment projects in the sector roughly bounded by de Maisonneuve, St-Antoine, de la Montagne and Peel makes this area the best choice for expansion.

Then of course there’s the lack of social services. The city hasn’t mandated any new schools, daycares, medical clinics, community or cultural spaces of any kind in this area (or any other part of the downtown for that matter). Granted the developments are principally being oriented towards singles and young couples without families, but in order to better establish a sense of community in this sector, such facilities are necessary so as to attract and retain families. Families are typically far better wealth generators and wealth maintainers than individuals and couples who are invariably more mobile; in other words families might be less inclined to simply flip their property relatively shortly after initial purpose. Why will people continue living in a place so many quickly move out of? What’s the attraction for someone to stay here?

Providing an access tunnel would give the new developments a degree of marketable cachet, but going a step further, so as to include the building blocks of an identifiable neighbourhood, would help these buildings acquire something more valuable – a sense of permanency.

Without such a sense, buildings like these will be more greatly affected by changes in the market and personal tastes. In my eyes, the development’s investment potential and financial security is more secure if the city matches private investment with public, sustainable social development.

With this in mind I would hope the city takes the very broad 2025 plan and divide it up into smaller constituent parts, conceptualizing our shared space in terms of small-scale viable neighbourhoods in a large, multi-faceted urban centre.