Citizens addressed themselves to the Ombudsman de Montréal to contest a resolution of the Executive Commitee by virtue of which part of the Rapides du cheval blanc territory would lose its status of an ecoterritory which Ville de Montréal could not alienate. The citizens submitted this resolution went against commitments found in the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities.

The Ombudsman de Montréal discussed this situation at length with the citizens concerned and she also went on location, with the deputy ombudsman, to visit the area and discuss their concerns. On the other hand, she requested relevant information from elected officials and municipal representatives responsible for this file and she analyzed the numerous documents relating thereto.

The contested resolution had been voted to allow the execution of an agreement which had been reached in 2001, between a contractor and the former Ville de Pierrefonds: Pierrefonds had then committed to exchange municipal land located approximately 75 meters away from des Prairies river with lands located directly on the bank of the river which belonged to the said contractor.

Our investigation confirmed that, in 2001, Pierrefonds had indeed concluded such an agreement with the contractor who was planning a residential project, on the said municipal land. At the time, the project was for approximately 650 condos, in high residential towers: the project respected the applicable municipal by-laws and, therefore, the City did not have to open a register or proceed with a referendum.

It was a long while, however, before the project took form. Among other things, this delay can be explained by the 2002 municipal mergers, by the important transition period which followed and also, by the fact that contaminants were later discovered on the municipal land that was to be yielded to the contractor: the said land had previously been used as a snow deposit site. Negotiations were, therefore, undertaken as a result of which the contractor undertook to take on the responsibility of decontaminating the land, which was since done.

On the other hand, the concerns raised by many citizens were noted by the borough and led to numerous modifications of the project:

  • At the request of the borough, experts identified which parts of the territory are critical to the protection of biodiversity and of the environment, as well as buffer zones and passage zones which also need protection: no construction will be permitted in any of these zones;
  • A swamp located on the project’s initial site will also be protected;
  • The borough worked with the contractor to modify the project with a view to integrate it better to its location: of the 650 units initially planned in high residential towers, the project has been reduced to 250 units, in much smaller buildings; and
  • The total surface of the construction site has also been reduced substantially.

We also reviewed the Arrondissement de Pierrefonds–Roxboro’s global plan for the development of the borough, which includes a project to create a park and a cycling path on the shores of des Prairies river, in the area concerned herein. Such a project would ensure the citizens’ access to the banks of the river, but to realize it, the borough must acquire bordering lands which are presently privately owned. The piece of land which the borough acquired from the contractor, through the land exchange under study, is consistent with this plan. In our opinion, the setting up of a park and of a cycling path, in this area, is consistent with the City’s commitment to promote access to the City’s shorelines and green spaces found in the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities.

In addition to the fact that the resolution contested herein was to ensure the execution of an agreement which had been reached in 2001, before the municipal mergers and way before the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, the Ombudsman de Montréal concluded that the construction project, as modified, was also consistent with the Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities which, in its section 24 b), confirms Ville de Montréal’s commitment to reconciliate protection of the environment and economic development.

In the course of our intervention, however, we noted that the citizens’ dissatisfaction resulted greatly from the fact that little information had been communicated to them by the borough, with regard to this project and mostly, with regard to its evolution. Following our intervention, the borough agreed to meet with members of the Green Coalition, which include the citizens who had requested our intervention, to discuss the “new” project and the environment protection measures that were added to it.

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