By Robert Frank
Montreal mandarins rushed to contact Angell Woods property owners Sept. 25, the day when The Suburban revealed that much-vaunted negotiations to purchase the forest and turn it into a regional nature park had never taken place.
The private owners were perplexed, after Montreal executive committee member Josée Duplessis claimed publicly last month that, in November, she had given officials “a mandate to undertake negotiations with the owners.”
Within hours of The Suburban hitting the streets last Wednesday, Seda Holdings and Yale Properties received invitations to meet city officials, who had hitherto made only cursory contact.
After its first face-to-face meeting, Sept. 30, the parties remain very far apart.
“We had anticipated an extreme lowball offer,” a disappointed Yale Properties’ Menashi Mashaal told The Suburban, after he met Montreal officials Monday. “We didn’t receive anything in writing and the verbal offer was very far from what our expectations would have been. We had held out hope that the city would play fairly, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.”
“What was interesting was their justification for not contacting us in August,” Mashaal continued. “They said that they knew in July that Beaconsfield would be tabling a special planning proposal in August. They made it clear from the beginning of the meeting that they had no mandate from the City of Beaconsfield.”
As The Suburban went to press last night, Beaconsfield council was expected to vote in favour of postponing its vote on rezoning Angell Woods until after the Nov. 3 election.
“Angell Woods has been ignored for much too long. After listening to citizens at three different public meetings, residents feel rushed,” Beaconsfield District 6 Councilor Rhonda Massad, who is running for mayor, told The Suburban. “It has been a long process and they need more time.”
Massad said she and her fellow councilors had held off since January, after they were told that any action by Beaconsfield would hinder Montreal’s negotiations to create the nature park. She noted that the land has been evaluated at $12 million.
“Much has been said about the Angell Woods rezoning of the sector of Beaconsfield,” said District 4 Councilor Pierre Demers. “Sadly, much of it has been very misleading. Because of this, Beaconsfield council decided to allow more time for its residents to get the facts behind the SPP by deferring the process to the next council.”
“Every councillor’s preferred option is to obtain a negotiated settlement with the property owners,” Demers added.
Massad vowed to approach the multi-sided dispute with a hitherto-unseen transparency, if she’s elected mayor, Nov. 3.
“I will meet with all interested parties, so that the entire council, citizens, APAW and the Green Coalition speak with one voice in their goal of preserving as much of Angell Woods as possible for future generations,” she declared.
Owners highly taxed
The owners, who have long been highly taxed because their land was zoned for residential development, see the maneuvering over zoning as a shakedown, in which politicians and urban planners are capitalizing on pro-environment sentiment to strip them of legitimate rights.
Beaconsfield froze development three years ago by imposing controls it billed as “interim.”
“Angell Woods was carpeted temporarily with very stringent single-family zoning that is unattractive [economically] to any developer while we figured out what to do,” explained District 3 Councilor Wade Staddon.
“The special planning program that was proposed in August is structured in such a way that the only logical, profitable way to [develop the land] is to follow the city’s desire only to build medium-density [residences on] the bottom portion of the property,” he continued, “and, by doing that, to negotiate with them to protect and preserve the forested part of Angell Woods. That is the area that the biology studies have determined to be of most [ecological] value.”
“That scenario would be enticing to a developer,” Staddon added. “Anything above that would be prohibitively costly, because the design would have to include so much infrastructure that the price would be astronomical.”
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