Misleading reports fuel Angell Woods controversy

Beaconsfield council caught in Mexican standoff

By Robert Frank

A three-way deadlock reminiscent of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, involving environmentalists, landowners and the city is coming to a head in Beaconsfield.

With accusations flying in the lead-up to an Oct. 1 vote on the zoning of Angell Woods, proponents of all sides have very different tales to tell.

Several recent news reports have led many members of the public to jump to the conclusion that the entire forest will be razed for development. However, a number of city councilors have said flatly that this is a suburban legend.

The city has so far mooted limiting development to a small, family-friendly footprint close to the Woodland commuter train “that would occupy, at most, 20 per cent of the forest,” said Councilor Rhonda Massad.

Both Massad and Councilor Wade Staddon told The Suburban that they had been given verbal assurances that Montreal was negotiating with landowners to buy the privately held property in Angell Woods in order to turn it into a regional nature park.

Association for the Preservation of Angell Woods (APAW) president Stephen Lloyd told Le Devoir that Montreal was on the verge of protecting the forest, and that if Beaconsfield would wait another six months, it would be protected.

The main private landowners, though, have unequivocally refuted Montreal’s claim that it had engaged them in negotiations.

“[Montreal officials] seem to have contacted them but don’t seem to have followed up,” said Staddon.

Both Diana Shahmoon (Seda Holdings) and Menashi Mashaal (Yale Properties) discussed their experiences with The Suburban in separate interviews. They confirmed that Montreal official Guillaume Topp had made phone and e-mail contact, but insisted that no business discussions have taken place.

“I was at work [May 30], when Mr. Topp called my cellphone,” said Shahmoon’s daughter Sarah Blustain. “He introduced himself and wanted to see if we were interested in selling our land.”

“I was surprised to hear from him and said that of course we were interested,” she continued. “I made it clear to him that we had been in a stalled situation with the city of Beaconsfield for years and that at some point we had held out some hope that Montreal might be able to help with the situation.”

“At the end of that conversation we exchanged e-mail addresses,” Blustain said. “A couple of weeks later, he wrote to say that the offer was being prepared.”

Mashaal said that he had even less communication with Montreal about Angell Woods.

“We received a phone call from Mr. Topp in mid-July saying that he would contact me in mid-August to set up a meeting with him and his boss to present us with an offer.”

The Suburban has obtained e-mail messages sent by Topp which appear to corroborate the private landowners’ claims.

A spokesman for Montreal executive committee member Josée Duplessis, however, told The Suburban that he had been briefed that the landowners had said that they did not wish to pursue negotiations, and asked the city to cease its communication with them.

“I don’t know why the city thinks that we rebuffed them,” Blustain insisted. “No offer was made to me or to my mother and no further communication took place.”

“We never received any phone call since then,” Mashaal also affirmed.

Meantime the Angell debacle has already cost Beaconsfield taxpayers well over $400,000, Councilor Massad said, an amount that continues to climb and is already equivalent to more than two per cent of the town’s annual budget.

“Council was told that the negotiations had started in January, which is evidently untrue,” she said. “They were supposed to have been in advanced negotiations by this point, with the end in sight.”

At Lloyd’s insistence, the city held a consultation immediately prior to Monday’s council meeting to include APAW-owned land in Beaconsfield’s upcoming zoning vote.

Angell Woods is literally in Lloyd’s Lakeview avenue backyard. The forestry lawyer told The Suburban that during APAW’s early days, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (Quebec) provided ample “advice and support”.

Lloyd is the Nature Conservancy’s vice-president, and the APAW web site directs prospective Angell Woods supporters to send their donations to the Nature Conservancy.

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