Sandy Beach: Nicanco’s game

Infolot_Sandy-Beach-green-trail-lots-serv.jpg
Unconfirmed: Nicanco’s proposed development according to one version of its rezoning proposal. The five single-family units on 40,000-square-foot lots are to the right. In the centre, 25 multi-unit structures, most likely with four townhouses per building. At left, on the far side of the Viviry conservation zone, two 50-unit structures would densify the project’s western sector. 

The following is what I expect will happen at next Thursday’s public meeting regarding Hudson’s Sandy Beach. This comes from a variety of sources, none of whom is authorized to speak on the record.

Nicanco Holdings Inc., owner of the 60-acre Sandy Beach parcel delineated in the map above, wants a zoning change to permit a greater density. Bylaws 408 and 409, adopted by referendum in September 2001, gave Nicanco the right to build up to 150 units.

Nicanco’s requested zoning change would allow 210 units, well short of MRC/PMAD densification guidelines.

Quebec requires all zoning bylaws to be subject to approval by referendum unless a municipality seeks provincial approval for a Plan particular d’urbanism, or PPU. There is no indication the town has made such a request.

However, even if citizens reject Nicanco’s bid for greater density, the municipal affairs ministry and other sources have confirmed that zoning reverts to the previous zoning, in this case Bylaws 408-409.

Bylaws 408-409 created three zones. R-6 (11.6 acres), the closest to Quarry Point, would allow five single-family residences on 40,000-square-foot waterfront lots. R-7 (23.65 acres), the largest sector, would permit four units per hectare, equivalent to 25 single-family units or 95 townhouses. R-8 (10.6 acres), across the tracks from Manoir Cavagnal and to the west of the Viviry footpath, would allow 12 single-family dwellings, 40 multi-family units or a 50-door seniors residence with a maximum height of three storeys, or 42 feet.

Back to Thursday’s meeting, where I’m told citizens will hear presentations from Nicanco and the Town of Hudson. As I write this, the meeting serves no legal purpose. Quebec’s rezoning protocols stipulate that any public consultation on a zoning proposal be preceded by a Notice of Motion and adoption of a draft bylaw. The administration could do both at a special public meeting prior to the meeting but would have to do so with 24 hours notice and post the time, place and date on the bulletin board at Hudson town hall. Such a meeting would be open to questions from residents.

I’m keeping an eye on the town hall bulletin board for a change in status. I’m also mindful that anything said at a public meeting (other than a council meeting) is subject to libel.

Nicanco’s presentation, likely given by urban planner Marc Perreault, will concentrate on aspects of the project such as architecture, construction standards, average density, structure footprints, parking, security and pedestrian walkways.

Perreault was Nicanco’s representative at the June 2001 public information meeting and has worked on the Sandy Beach development for most of his working life. He knows every detail, including how the 2008 Technika-HBA woodland/wetland audit overlays the 60-acre site. (Sandy Beach: the core problem, http://www.thousandlashes.ca)

We know Nicanco’s development plans hit an environmental barrier following the adoption of stricter environment ministry guidelines sometime after 2001. Nicanco’s problem was a 1.5-hectare wetland in R-7, the zone where it had hoped to build townhouses. The project was blocked until 2012, when a new provincial law (Bill 73) permitted wetland trades to unblock development of environmentally sensitive areas. As a result, developers could buy the right to backfill a wetland by preserving in perpetuity a wetland of equal or superior environmental value in the same watershed.

Nicanco moved quickly to take advantage of the new law, pressuring the municipal administration of the time to provide a wetland that would satisfy the ministry’s requirements.

The town, sensitive to the optics of spending tax dollars on land to satisfy a developer, tried everything short of buying wetland. It offered a wetland it had just acquired opposite the new sewage treatment plant. The ministry told the town it couldn’t protect what it already owned. Then the town offered a parcel of the Viviry Valley Conservation Area acquired as a result of the Whitlock West deal. The ministry told the town it couldn’t protect what it had already protected. In desperation the town offered a parcel in Como it would acquire in exchange for a tax credit. I don’t know what happened to that deal, which went down during Hudson’s darkest days between April and November 2013.

In the end, Nicanco came up with its own solution, reconfiguring its Sandy Beach development plan to guarantee 3.5 hectares of R-7 near the beach in exchange for the right to backfill 1.5 hectares of wetland closer to Royalview.

Sandy Beach wetland added.png
Unconfirmed: Wetland trades in the town’s favour appear to be the darker hatched areas, while the trades in Nicanco’s favour appear as the lighter hatched areas. 

I suspect this exchange is why Nicanco is rolling the dice in the hope of getting greater densification.

I’m told Nicanco’s latest proposal would limit its construction footprint to 12.5 hectares, or 31 acres, representing 56% of the total land area of Sandy Beach. I don’t know if the 56% includes roads, setbacks, footpaths and public space, but it may be less than the 2001 deal.

Bylaws 408-409 gave the town 20% of the total greenspace and preserved 75% of the pine forest and 50% of the total forest canopy. The town got the use of, and legal access to, 1,186 feet of beachfront and 11 acres of greenspace. Nobody can tell me whether those numbers have changed in the latest proposal.

So the big challenge at Thursday’s meeting will be to determine how this latest proposal compares with the 2001 status quo.

Meanwhile, the town will present details of its plan to ensure greater security and control access to Jack Layton Park, Sandy Beach Nature Park and the beach area. This will include fencing, public parking, lifeguards and regular water quality testing. The town intends to enforce curfews,, leash laws and nuisance bylaws targeting loud music, fires, alcohol and drug consumption. It will also ban watercraft from the beach area.

I expect the town to announce tariffs for non-residents. I don’t know how this will play, but it might be popular with residents who resent the wave of  humanity descending on the beach every summer weekend.

“Oka Provincial Park charges $25 for daily access,” I was told. “People come [to Sandy Beach] from all over and don’t pay. Hudson residents tell me they’re afraid to use the beach because of the broken glass, open alcohol consumption and dogs running in the water.”

Council has budgeted $250,000 in its 2017 triennial capital works (PTI) budget to cover the cost of securing the beach.

I’ve been following endless Facebook threads regarding the project, including those pushing the town to buy the site outright. Organizers of an online petition claim to have gathered 1,000+ signatures to pressure the Prévost administration to negotiate an outright purchase of Sandy Beach.

With respect to those who have expended their time and energy on this, we’ve been this way before (A Short History of Sandy Beach, http://www.thousandlashes.ca) and the path goes nowhere. As we saw in 1998, the public gets enthusiastic when someone proposes a simple solution to a complex problem, then quickly loses interest when there’s no immediate gratification.

We can rule out expropriation because of the legal costs and the risk of losing. It cost Hudson $575,000 to purchase from Graeme Nesbitt the wetland opposite the sewage treatment plant on Wharf Road. Nesbitt took the town to court because a storm sewer discharging onto Nesbitt’s land had killed all the trees. Nesbitt proposed to sell it to the town for less than $200,000 but the administration at that time wouldn’t hear of it and moved to expropriate. The town ended up paying Nesbitt $500,000. Another $75,000 disappeared into thin air, allegedly because former town manager and clerk Louise Villandré cut her phantom suppliers three $25,000 cheques.

Even without the fraud surtax, the expropriation attempt was a disaster because one never knows what the expropriation tribunal will decide. No sane administration would roll the dice for parkland its citizens already enjoy access to.

Others posting on Facebook would have us believe there’s a Hail Mary solution, like the cost of an overpass on the Beach Road crossing. The AMT owns the right of way (the AMT’s contribution in lieu of taxes forms part of the $113,430 the town will receive in 2017) and oversees roughly 100 of what the Canadian Transportation Safety Board characterizes as low-speed level crossings throughout its network. (Hudson alone accounts for Beach, Main, Bellevue plus a number of unsignalled crossings, such as the one on Montée Manson.)

At this point, the Save-the-Beach lobby is reduced to praying for rare and endangered species and hoping for a First Nations intervention.

One possible issue might be legal lapses but I have yet to find any. Nicanco and the Town of Hudson have already concluded a number of enabling agreements. One is the beach servitude, posted here.SB_serv-plan_2007.JPG

Another is a March 2009 certificate of authorization signed by the environment ministry’s regional director Pierre Paquin, allowing Nicanco to connect to the town sewage system via the pumping station next to the Legion curling club. This agreement also stipulates exactly how Nicanco must run a sewer line across the Viviry next to the road bridge and decrees the protocol to be followed in the event of a sewage overflow.

ca_env_hud_pompage_doc2016-09-15

Without a cadastral map and access to the Registre immobilier du Québec, it’s next to impossible to determine whether the full and legal transfer of greenspace and servitudes described here has taken place.

servitude-2007

An outright purchase by the town, heritage protection body or other agency is wishful thinking, especially when its proponents argue that the selling price for Sandy Beach should be its municipal evaluation, roughly $1.5 million. Anyone familiar with real estate knows valuation has no bearing on asking or selling price.

Nicanco has already told the town it will claim a real ‘manque a gagner’ of $2 million as well as all costs incurred to date and the potential value under current zoning. I’ve been told it’s in excess of $23M. I’ve seen the letter exchange between Perreault and members of the group exploring outright purchase. It’s clear from Perreault’s dismissive tone he doesn’t propose to waste time on further discussions.

Here’s the bottom line: Nicanco is gambling that residents opposed to this latest rezoning request  will force it to a referendum, just as they did in 2001. And just as they did in 2001 – with 862 of 3,418 eligible voters voting 72% in favour of the project – a majority of residents will support the rezoning. Nicanco will get the greater density it needs to attract builders and repay stakeholders for the loss of income and interest incurred over the past 16 years.

If Nicanco loses, the zoning reverts to Bylaws 408-409.

Either way, Hudson residents will continue to enjoy the beach and trail network in perpetuity while Nicanco pays taxes on it.

It’s a purely financial equation that has nothing to do with saving Sandy Beach. The part of Sandy Beach we love and use has already been saved. The only question is how much more Nicanco can wring from the deal.

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22 thoughts on “Sandy Beach: Nicanco’s game

  1. Thanks for keeping tabs Jim, and similar to you.. I’m expecting a change at this town meeting as well. I have a very good feeling that there will be a notice of motion and first draft adoption for a project on a bigger scale.

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  2. Jim, I would have copied off you in school . A lot of research and a lot of analysis all of it as I remember it in 2002 at TPAC. You’ve armed us for what will come next Thursday. It pits the beach guarders against the build or die adherents and I know it will land somewhere near the 50 yard line when the dust settles. 2002 is a long way back and it’s a new era of PMAD’s and TOD’s . I hope for a compromise that will see Mr. Muhlegg requesting a zoning change that will see his condos built along the Royal View spine and piercing no further than 200 ft. into the woodland , leaving 400 ft. between them and the beach. I see 4 stories in the request and 150 condos spread along 2000 ft. of the already built Royal View. I see the train station a spit away and satisfying our nod to the TOD. I see all of that woodland between the condos and the beach along with the Viviry stream and her estuary as a waterfront park envied in our MRC. Give him densities and give him height and give him a clustered footprint which will keep enough of what is there , there far into the future.

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    1. Well said Brian. My only concern is the servitude to the beach. Can it be changed at all, to reduce it’s size? or have it moved in the future? Apparently yes, if you read the registered servitude papers, point #8 says that “the appearers wish to change the said site of the servitude”. Seems to me that is a legal precedent to make changes IF THE 2 PARTIES AGREE.
      As far as Jim’s comment that the Save the Beach lobby can only hope that intervention from the First Nations or endangered species of flora and fauna will save the day. I don’t trust what the town presented in its Conservation Plan as any good biologist walking the area IN THE PROPER SEASON will mention many species not listed, actually the biologist who prepared the very important Conservation Plan never went on site! and, as far as the First Nations, well I can only comment on this council’s first/second terms in office with the mayor sliding a few words at council meetings about “having lunches with our good friend Chief…”..forgot his name, presumably to prepare us for the big NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE panasea that was to save Hudson.
      So, whatever works in the best interests of the citizens has my vote but please council put the cards on the table. It was like pulling teeth trying to find out at the last council meeting what the $250,000 PTI expense was for at Sandy Beach. No, not only lifeguards, fences and security but boat docks as well, boat docks for who? Residents? only new ones who will be buying houses there?
      It will be very important to see the old development plans to be able to compare them to what is being presented by the developer. That’s what I wanted to see at the Conservation Plan presentation, the before and after, but it was a real struggle with a couple of small maps on the wall.
      Should be an interesting meeting and I hope many citizens will take the time to attend. At least it will have less drama than the last development meeting I attended.

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      1. I would suggest that anyone wishing to inform themselves on Hudson’s environmental issues consult the Technika-HBA audit. A team of biologists spent a year gathering data on Hudson’s wetlands and woodlands and compiled a prioritized list of sites worthy of protection.
        This was incorporated into the CIMA+ conservation plan.
        Taken together, both documents are required for modifications to Hudson’s plan directeur. Please understand I do not wish to cast stones, but this file could have been ready before this if it had been made a priority by the previous administration.

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      2. Hi Diane, I think the servitude is safe as long as we are vigilant. Nicanco can’t modify it or extinguish it w/o the Town’s approval. Usually the servitee (Town) is in the driver’s seat and the servitor (nicanco) is powerless to do anything but enforce the agreed upon usage. I always thought this servitude was for passage only but it seems to allow the type of swimming/picnicking usage we have there now. It might be on the table along w/everything else next Thursday but unlike a zoning changes(subject to reg./referendum or PPU) it does not require citizen approval. The Mayor and council can do that w/o consultation , I think. I have no reason to believe they will though. I agree the Teknika-HBA report was useful and interesting and as I said it should have been enshrined in some municipal legal form by the administration who negotiated and paid for it. That was not you. We’ve all snoozed since then and luckily no environmental embarrassment has engulfed us . That’s mostly because Hudson shuffles while VD and St.Lazare careen. So we shuffle on .

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  3. This file has been in the works since way before I moved to Hudson and sat on council so with all due respect Jim “I do not wish to cast stones” is really unfair since 1/4 of our mandate was spent in “the darkest days of Hudson”.Our environment committee put the emphasis on a dark-sky-by-law, on the pesticides at the golf courses, on the tree by-law making it harsher to cut down not only trees but bushes also, composting, no-idling, grants for garbage/recycle bins. The Sandy Beach file has as you so eloquently explained to us goes back to the first sale, and what you have written will help newcomers especially, understand the file. I have read the Technika-HBA audit and so did the Environment Committee members where we had 3 scientists on board. There is no working Environment Committtee with this council unfortunately. I was pointing out that the new Hudson Conservation plan leaves out the part of the wetland as that’s ok as it is now developable. That’s what I was told by our urbanism department. I would have like to see the Boisés d’Intérês for one.
    Just look at what our council managed to do in 3 short years, we were a very busy and productive council. Unfortunately we got stopped in our tracks by an embezzler and a huge investigation.
    I don’t know why when I voice a concern about the town, you always find a way to throw it back at me as if it was always my fault. Have I not done enough positive things for Hudson?

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    1. Diane, I’m sorry you think this is about you. The Elliott administration accomplished a number of things but failed to advance the few that should, in retrospect, have been a priority. It’s possible the former DG misled council on this and the need for an infrastructure investment plan but I have no paper on that.
      Last night I found myself wondering why all the fuss was made about a dark skies policy during the Shiver Fest snowshoe ramble past Hudson Valleys homes lit up like factories. As for the anti-idling bylaw, you don’t change public behaviour with a bunch of signs. Unenforced bylaws are bad bylaws.
      This is Hudson’s ongoing tragedy – wasting time and taxpayers’ money on feel-good projects that could be deferred while ignoring the real priorities. If you interpret this as a personal attack, so be it. I say what I feel needs to be said, which is why the Elliott administration tried to silence the Hudson Gazette. The file can be found on the Conseil de presse website. This administration wasn’t the first to try to silence its critics. My advice, for what it’s worth, is that anyone seeking public office should grow a thicker skin and be prepared to explain their decisions rather than lashing out.

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  4. If you read the dark-sky by-law it is for new lighting or for replacing old lighting. You are right, it is not enforced so blame last council, not the current council which is the only one to able to enforce.. The no idling sign gets people to think about shutting off their motors. St. Lazare uses signs as well and I’m sure lots of other municipalities. As far as “feel good initiatives” I think Hudsonites could use a few feel good initiatives right about now. And what makes you think I am seeking public office? So, my suspicious were right. this is what this is all about. I get it!

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    1. For God’s sake, THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU! If the shoe fits, wear it, but my point is that for the past eight years, the town has failed to address priorities. If you plan on seeking re-election, that’s your business and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to defend your record as a councillor and interim mayor.

      As I have tried to make clear in this blog, my sole aim is to get people talking intelligently about issues in the hope of raising the level of discussion and encouraging participation in the process of preparing for the upcoming municipal election. I have also pointed out – repeatedly – that I have no desire to seek office.

      If you feel threatened or slighted, I encourage you to stop posting. This is not a threat. I see this site as a soapbox for all, just as the Gazette letters page was a platform. As readers well know, I let comments stand even though I may not agree with the poster’s point of view.

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  5. We need a few signs around Hudson saying:

    “Please engage brain before operating mouth”

    But the most important sign would be:

    “We won’t spend a dime we don’t have to until we FIX THIS”

    In the past three decades, every administration has done great things but each has also had significant weakness. Every administration touts their accomplishments while ignoring or downplaying the things they didn’t do or things that they failed at. These are normal human traits.

    Such is the tragedy of municipal government, especially as we were downloaded so many new responsibilities without the funds or training to staff properly and do a good job. So we wallpaper over the cracks cheaply and it doesn’t last but it sure looks good for a few days.

    If we cannot reach a compromise with the majority of citizens to allow development of Sandy Beach, we will fail. Not because it’s Sandy Beach, but because what each and every past administration has done exceedingly well is to over spend irresponsibly beyond our means without building significant new revenue.

    In another thread Jim and I determined that since 2000 our budgets have tripled, while our population remains significantly unchanged. And screw population, it’s taxable doors that matters. But the tax burden per citizen or taxable door has roughly tripled in 15 years of very low inflation.

    In the past, I took no end of flak when I wrote a column complaining about $500K for recreation, how could I be so mean spirited and short sighted? Now our 2017 recreation budget is $1.5 million.

    These are just symptoms of a successive municipal governments wanting the populace to be feeling good while they’re NOT addressing the underlying problems. Sometimes the ones they do address are at a truly unreasonable reasonable cost.

    Any idiot who has dealt with government grants and subsidies (most businessmen) knows that you can apply for a grant retroactively, but the success rate of retroactive applications is ZERO because one of the tests for grant applications is that the grant money must enable projects that won’t happen without grant money. So when the Elliott administration suggested we might get grants for the Firehall after we started they had bad information and advice, or they were just presenting alternate facts.

    So, when a town spends $5 Million on a beautiful state of the art firehall when the expert we paid says it should cost $2.5 million max, and there’s no grant money available because our own YEARS of inaction on a CSST report from May 30, 2006 on a work related death created a panic situation and we had to start or be shut down. In the end we have spent over 4 times what we should have to have a beautiful firehall that will serve the town for a long time. That is the clear fault of no one person, but of two administrations. We could have paved about 50% of our roads for the difference between what we spent net and what we actually spent.

    I’ll give them beautiful, I’ll give them state of the art, but I just won’t give them smart planning when spending public money, which needs to be the standards by which every government needs to be judged when all is over.

    Hudson needs to look at our downtown core, get over itself, stop blaming each other (we’re all responsible equally) stop trying to rewrite the past (just accept it) and we MUST start fighting for responsibly rebuilding and slowly reviving our lifestyle before it disappears.

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  6. Peter, my only comment is the price tag of the fire station. There was a lot of money spent to fix infrastructure underground before the fire station was built, infrastructure that should have been done many many years ago so of course if pushed the price up. Yes, we were told the town would apply and there was a 50-50 chance of a grant. I believed it, I believed that we needed what was built as it was built. I am proud of that station and if your house (or any resident’s) is on fire and people are saved well I would think that this is Priceless. I’m just sorry that my bs meter wasn’t as sharp as it was in 2013. Any citizen who is elected to council cannot possibly know everything and has to trust the DG and Town Clerk. What I resent is when people say past administrations did nothing or makes it sound that what they did was unimportant. . We are all human, all have the same amount of hours in a day, and I’m convinced all councillors are trying their best. Enough of this arm-chair quarterbacking and hindsight which of course is 20-20 vision. When I comment on something it’s because I was there and know the facts.

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  7. Peter, you are right. The difference between business people and politicians is that business people own their mistakes, including those of their employees. Politicians throw everybody under the bus as if they themselves were never there and or blinded by the BS. That which blinds us most is ignorance followed by a good dollop of arrogance. Give me a break!

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  8. In 2001, in exchange for a zoning change that would permit the construction of:
    1. 5 homes on 11 acres in the old R6 on 11 acres
    2. One 3-storey apartment building with 55+/- units in the old R8 on 11 acres
    3. 90+/- townhouses in the old R7 (balance of the acreage)

    The town gained:
    1. 20% greenspace including valuable wetlands
    2. 50% tree cover preserved over the entire area
    3. 75% of the trees preserved in the the Pine Forest in R6
    4. Servitude in perpetuity in favor of the town for access to the beach 365 days a year from dawn until dusk. This servitude also stipulated some restrictions including boats not being allowed to come into shore where people are swimming, etc. I dont have the wording in front of me. It also prohibited boat docks on the shoreline within this servitude.

    At the time, we thought the parking lot at the Community Centre would be adequate for anyone wanting to head to the beach along the public path. This has not proved to be the case since then and should now be rectified.

    Nicanco now wants more density than in got in the referendum in 2001. The town council should ask for something in exchange for this greater density. And more public parking should be one of the requests.

    This council I believe is going to argue that there is no zoning change being requested – that they are merely following what is required of the TOD. If so, I would strongly disagree with their logic.

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    1. Liz, you may be right, but any density increase requires a new zoning bylaw.
      You posted your comments at the same time as I posted my blog with questions for Thursday’s meeting. I think many people, while not opposed in principle, share concerns about access, water and sewers, conservation and access. My fear is that Nicanco’s sharpshooters will score on our team.

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    2. Thanks Liz, my question about the PTI and the 250,000 to be spent. Veronique asked council what it was for and Ron goldenberg replied that it was for Sandy Beach for fences security AND boat docks. Didn’t one of the maps presented at the Conservation Plan presentation also show a very light drawing of boat docks there? I am sure I remember that.

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      1. Yes, there were boat docks shown on the 2005 project overview showing the five single family units at the far end of Royalview. In fact the previous owners of the only house on the street found the water there is too shallow for anything more than a kayak or PWC float.
        The docks the town is proposing to spend money on would be to replace the existing dock at the boat launch at Jack Layton Park. The dock has already been cut up and removed because it was too small and unstable and posed a liability to the town because it didn’t conform to safety standards.

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