Expropriation “exorbitant” say suburban mayors

Agglo forks out 4x evaluation for downtown land

By Robert Frank

Montreal’s demerged cities are questioning the agglomeration council’s decision to spend $4.2 million to buy 1.1 hectares of land adjacent to Montreal city hall.

The amount is about four times the city’s official evaluation of what the land is worth, according to Association of Suburban Mayors executive director Bruce St. Louis.

“It’s part of Montreal’s plans to create a very large green space surrounding the Champ de mars Metro station,” he told The Suburban. “Taxpayers who live in the agglomeration will have to pay for that.”

“It seems incomprehensible that the sale price would be four times the evaluation,” St. Louis said in an interview, “especially when it’s for green space, not development land. As a result, the [suburban] mayors were left with no choice but to vote against the proposal.”

“There was no response as to why and no explanation has been offered since,” he added. “I don’t think anyone is against acquiring the land for the green space, but it can’t be at any cost.”

“It defies comprehension,” Beaconsfield Mayor Georges Bourelle told The Suburban. “It’s exorbitant to pay that kind of money. Normally, one would expect such land to be sold for a lot less. It makes one wonder why such a high price is being paid.”

“We made our voice heard,” he emphasized, “but even if all the suburban mayors vote en bloc, we can’t stop anything from being passed at the agglomeration council, even if we all vote against it.”

An agglomeration council document obtained by The Suburban shows that the aggomeration council has set aside the $4.2 million to acquire the land from James and Dimitrios Essaris.

“The 2014 municipal evaluation assesses its worth at an average of $1,013 per square metre,” St. Louis explained. “Once you add taxes, the purchase price comes to $4.8 million. That’s $4,430 per square metre. That seems to be an extraordinary markup. ”

“The city has to ensure swiftly that it is the owner of this real estate (land) in order to adhere to the timetable for Montreal’s 375th Anniversary festivities,” (www.375mtl.com/en) the document stated. “The acquisition is needed to create a new public space as a legacy for Montreal’s 375th, as well as to cover over the Ville Marie Expressway.”

The agglo suggested that some of the of the festivities will be subsidized by the provincial government, but did not specify whether Quebec City would offset part of the land acquisition.

Westmount Mayor Peter Trent credited Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre for having made the agglomeration council much more responsive since he was elected last year.

“Coderre has done his best to improve relations with suburban municipalities and this case is an exception,” Trent told The Suburban. “Coderre himself knew nothing about it.”

“[Montreal] is generally forthright, comes up with information extremely quickly and sometimes withdraws items until we’re given the answers that we’ve asked for,” he said in an interview. “In the days of [former Montreal Mayor Gérald] Tremblay, we could scream, yell, jump up and down and could never get any info. The whole mood has changed.”

“Not the uselessness of the agglo,” he added. “The whole agglo has been a huge rubber stamping mechanism. Everyone who votes there is tied to whatever mandate has been given to them by their city council. Coderre and his group have done the best that they can under the circumstances, but we have to recognize that [the agglomeration council] is a bit of a sham.”

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