Henry Aubin: City's approach to Griffintown is shameful
Henry Aubin: City's approach to Griffintown is shameful
It took a crown corporation to show the Tremblay administration what it should have done in the vital redevelopment project
If you want to see what's wrong with the Tremblay
administration's approach to urban planning, glance at what's happening
Two events happened there last week. They reflect
two diametrically different approaches to land development. One
approach, city hall's, is shocking. The other, by a federal Crown
corporation, is terrific. It puts the Tremblay administration's approach
It's important to get the redevelopment of Griffintown
right. Location and size give it glorious potential for boosting the
city's attractiveness and prosperity. A mere 10-minute walk from Windsor
Station will put you in the heart of this former Irish working-class
neighbourhood, now a largely bedraggled, light-industrial area
consisting of some 50 small city blocks.
One of last week's two events was a public consultation held by a city agency. It was shameful.
get me wrong: The experts, stakeholders and ordinary citizens who took
part in the exercise produced useful insights, and the agency that held
the hearing, the Office de consultation publique de Montréal, is one of
this city government's most credible bodies. No, the problem was that
the exercise came astonishingly late.
Investors have jumped into
the area in the last several years and have either already built
projects or are in the process of doing so. Redevelopment in about a
third of Griffintown is a fait accompli.
But don't blame the OCPM
for this tardiness. As an advisory body, it needs the city executive
committee's green light before holding hearings. Up to now, Tremblay's
executive committee has denied it that go-ahead.
Tremblay team should have let the OCPM hold hearings in 2008, after a
developer, Devimco, announced the most ambitious real-estate plan by a
private investor in city history: On a swatch of Griffintown equal to 17
Canadian football fields, it originally sought to construct 10
buildings between 17 and 22 storeys high and some smaller buildings. The
project's stores, offices and residences would have enabled it to
compete with downtown for business.
The Tremblay administration liked the concept. Most Griffintown residents and downtown merchants did not.
The mayor used technicalities to keep the project from becoming the subject of a neighbourhood referendum.
also found a way to finesse the rule requiring a public consultation.
Normally, the mayor would ask the OCPM to hold such a hearing. But OCPM
commissioners are urban-affairs experts (typically academics or retired
civil servants); they are also politically unaligned and not city hall's
puppets. They only have the power to make recommendations to the
executive committee, but those recommendations can cause embarrassment
at city hall.
That would explain why Tremblay asked the local
borough, Sud-ouest, to hold hearings instead of the OCPM. The borough
mayor was a tame member of Tremblay's party and, sure enough, she duly
produced a compliant report: It contained zero recommendations. I wrote
at the time that it was the "most vacuous municipal report in memory."
To be sure, city hall did produce
an urban plan for the area. Ignoring the city-wide master plan that
called for relatively low buildings, it authorized buildings of up to 20
storeys high in some places.
As it happens, difficulties in
getting financing would later cause Devimco to shrink its "District
Griffin" plan: It has started work on a string of towers (mostly condos,
but also with a hotel and offices) on a smaller territory along the
Lachine Canal. Elsewhere, other companies are building condos, all of
This is what Tremblay's improvisation has begat: An
emerging area that, with cranes swinging overhead, still has no coherent
sense of direction. Who knows if future development will aim to make
Griffintown a highrise extension of downtown, a heritage-enhancing
extension of adjacent Old Montreal or a family-friendly neighbourhood
with a school and plenty of space for recreation. If the OCPM comes up
with sensible advice this spring, let's hope that if it is applied it
wouldn't be too late to determine the dominant character of the place.
And now for an instructive beam of light.
part of Griffintown does know what it's doing. It's the only part of
Griffintown not under city hall's authority. I refer to an expanse the
size of 15 football fields. Canada Post once had a mammoth facility, now
demolished, there. Today a federal Crown corporation, Canada Lands Co.,
owns the tract.
In 2008, Canada Lands distributed 20,000 flyers
to Sudouest residents inviting them to hearings on what to build on it.
Reflecting public opinion, 1,800 condos are now going up, plus 400
social-housing units. The second phase of this "Bassins du Havre" plan
was announced Thurs-day at a ceremony.
To attract families that
might otherwise move to the off-island, 40 per cent of the units will
have two or more bedrooms; by contrast, the first nine condo towers that
Devimco has so far planned are all tailored to single people and
Unlike the Devimco project, Canada Lands buildings will also seek LEED status.
is an extremely well thought-out project," says David Hanna, a UQAM
urbanplanning prof. "Gee, couldn't we do this all the time?"
It's simple enough.
MUCH OF GRIFFINTOWN'S REDEVELOPMENT HAS PRECEDED THIS MONTH'S PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON REDEVELOPMENT
indicates properties where construction is now under way or where the
city has either authorized construction or is in the process of