Agglomeration land use and development plan

By Tracey Arial

Today, I joined Sonja Susjnar to comment on the Agglomeration Land Use and Development Plan consultation now being heard by members of the similarly-named commission. There are many other compelling memorandums and comments by other Island of Montreal citizens to read as well.

I only listed the first 12 of my 16 recommendations to the commission because previous speakers covered the last four in detail and I had only 3.5 minutes to speak. An expanded version of my comments follows:

The Agglomeration Land Use and Development Plan is a great opportunity to discuss Montreal’s future as a linked set of communities all working hard to provide safe, happy living conditions for residents, business owners, investors and tourists in the face of intense challenges, including climate change.

When the commission released its draft report, I enthusiastically looked for links to all the projects I care about, especially those that build abundance by linking people to politics and nature. I looked carefully for ways that Montreal’s development plan can enhance citizen involvement, create jobs, encourage Montrealers to grow their own food and work with nature to improve the life of its residents.

My background is in the tourist industry too, so I also compared Montreal’s plan to similar plans in other important tourist destinations, including Australia, Florida and Ontario, where I once worked and places like Maine, where I frequently vacation.

As a result of these reflections, I have 16 recommendations to make, some under each of the four priorities outlined in the plan. Most of them are suggestions to add already-existing information be added to the plan so that small investors, homeowners and residents have enough information to choose where to live given the length of time development occurs.

Improve the Living Environment

Please consider listing and providing a map of all federal, provincial and municipal public lands in the agglomeration so that citizens can keep track of how these resources change.

Not only would this help show people what’s planned for their city, but it would also ensure that everyone is informed about how the most precious public resources are utilized. As you know, there is very little land available on which to develop projects. I’ve noticed that public land seems to be the only flexible territory available.

List developments that have already been approved but are not yet built on the territory.

I’ve spoken to many citizens who are dismayed to learn that developments are planned next to properties they’ve purchased, but no information about these projects was available to them before they invested in a community.

Not only would this inform everyone properly, but it would also enable your commission to update its maps. In Verdun, for instance, there are inconsistencies with zoning bylaws as they currently stand and those shown on your maps.

I know that the Committee for the Protection of the Natural and Built Heritage of the Desmarchais-Crawford District will be commenting on those specifically concerning the land on the Douglas Research Institute and I hope you’ll consider these carefully. The submission from Dorval mentions similar issues. I don’t know whether boroughs without members on the permanent commission will present briefs in the limited time left, but I hope they do.

Include planning information and maps of current and planned sewage and water distribution lines, existing water bodies, contaminated lands, underground infrastructure such as tunnels, basements etc. and other important development in its report.

As some of you may know, last year, Montreal’s auditor general reported that some boroughs don’t have complete maps of the sewage and water lines on their territories and thus cannot maintain them adequately. I’ve also spoken to property owners, particularly in the downtown core, who have wood footings that rely on constant moisture to remain intact. Major development projects risk drying up water beds and changing soil consistency, which puts older buildings at risk.

Promote Sustainable Development

Update the map showing heat island effects to match the development plan.

The map included in the draft project is based on Montreal’s current realities. According to an overview on Google Earth, the Island currently has about three times the green-space that’s shown on your map of recreational and conserved properties. Changing this will
Link the conservation and green space territories with ecological corridors.

No species can function with disjointed habitats.

Include maps about geological formations, contour lines, ecological corridors, bird migrations, butterfly migrations, bats and other flora and fauna realities in the plan.

Experts in urban development can’t discuss natural systems if there isn’t a common understanding of what they are.

Include information about changing climate, sun, wind, snow and rain conditions in the development plan so that we can build abundance with nature, instead of working against her.

Prevailing winds in the city, for example, come from the south, southwest and west throughout the year, with stronger cold winds from the north and northeast during the winter. This commission can help communicate these realities with maps showing the trends and how development changes those trends, such as how the wind moves between high-rise buildings.

I’ve also heard that snowfall from new taller buildings infilled next to shorter existing buildings can cause an increased load on the roofs of the older buildings. This is causing insurance problems for these residents, which could create a public relations problem for infill development in future. Pre-preparation could help mitigate these issues.

Flood zones and earthquake fault lines should be specifically mentioned in agglomeration development plans.

After Vancouver, Montreal is the most likely place for a catastrophic earthquake. The Civil Protection Centre shows that a 5-6 magnitude earthquake occurs every 25 years. The strongest earthquake to hit so far took place in 1732 and was measured at 5.8 on the Richter scale.

Earthquakes at some distance can cause damage as well. Montreal East’s city hall was so badly damaged during the Saguenay earthquake in 1988, that it had to be rebuilt. How many other buildings are at risk of similar damage? These issues should be named.
Fuelling the Vitality of the Agglomeration and the Central Core

Remove current regulations to enable mixed-use residential properties to be easily modified to include granny flats apartments, small business operations and other ad hoc densification strategies within family homes and ensure jobs closer to home.

Set aside industrial territory for alternative energy and telecommunication experiments.

Create specific industrial territories for the production of food in greenhouses, in industrial buildings and in the ground.

Increase the amount of agricultural land in the city, which has dropped to a negligible amount from 2% a decade ago.

Consider adding orchards and nutgroves to every neighbourhood on the territory as was the case during WWII.

As many of you know, almost 30,000 of us signed petitions to hold a public consultation into urban agriculture in 2011 and the consultation itself was held in 2012. The 145-page report has many recommendations for projects and actions that I’m hoping your commission will adopt.

Enhance areas of interest

A plan showing the location of major tourist attractions, both existing and planned, would be a welcome addition to your recommendations.

As you know, the island of Montreal is the largest island in the Hochelaga Archipelago. Some recognition of this status would be nice to emphasize, as well as its history as the bottom of the glacial Lake Champlain.

I’d also like to encourage you to include specific measurable results in your recommendations so that collaborations are easier to promote. The development plans of other jurisdictions include job creation goals and other economic drivers, and this makes them useful tools for residents, business operators, investors and tourists. It helps keep citizens and developers moving together and limits friction between them.

As a final comment, I was confused when comparing the agglomeration overall planning strategy maps with other jurisdictions. The maps showing nodes and corridors doesn’t show how each of them relate to one another, for instance.

I’m also confused about how TODs could work for the Island of Montreal, given the extraordinary traffic gridlock the Island is currently facing, especially since most of the corridors here are bridges, tunnels or encased or raised highways. Commissioners asked what other development tools we’d recommend, but we didn’t have any ideas at the time. Since then, we did discuss the idea of developing based on contours, villages, concentric circles or the St. Lawrence River.

My colleague Sonja commented in detail about why that specific measure should not be adopted. She also provided articles backing up her contention that TODs don’t work, including one by Henry Aubin and a second by Wendall Cox published in The Gazette, but based on this longer version.

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