Hudson’s Trojan Horse

The_Procession_of_the_Trojan_Horse_in_Troy_by_Giovanni_Domenico_Tiepolo.jpg

As I predicted they would, Hudson’s Prévost administration has discovered a way out of holding referendums on zoning projects the town perceives as beneficial. How this council did it — and how it justified removing the right to subject zoning changes to approval by referendum at the May 30 public consult on the proposed assisted-care seniors’ residence in the Wyman United Church parking lot— is an interesting exercise in bureaucratic manipulation.

(NOTE: Revised draft bylaw 692.1 tabled at the outset of the June 5 council meeting rezones lot #5 970 081 exclusively for a seniors’ residence and  makes it subject to a public consultation June 20. The designation is therefore subject to citizen approval by referendum. Bylaw 691 removing Wyman Memorial United Church from Zone P-57 and adding it to Zone C-27 is a change to the town’s master plan and is therefore not subject to approval by referendum.

Before we get into that, something equally interesting emerged at the meeting. This was Daren Legault’s impassioned plea on behalf of the project. Legault’s argument: we’ve all seen how NIMBYism has blocked progress in Hudson. The town needs an assisted-living facility for seniors, so we should hold our noses and get it built.

It’s a tempting argument and I’ve been worrying at it since Tuesday evening’s consultation. Does the end justify the means? Or is this the Trojan Horse that will be used to re-engineer Hudson without the need to consult residents? It may be the right thing to do in this case, but is it ethical to place potentially disruptive projects like Sandy Beach (250 doors) two Cameron residential developments (36 doors) and a possible 40-unit densification east of Mount Pleasant beyond approval by referendum?

And the corollary: what projects should go to referendum and which should be exempt? Why should Daniel Rodrigue’s Mayfair townhouse project have gone to register (where the rezoning was pulled) while this project won’t?

Both consultations on May 23 and May 30 fulfilled the municipal affairs ministry’s legal requirements but left residents feeling cheated of a voice in the process. Worse, the administration failed to explain clearly what they were proposing to do and why. The way the truth emerged left residents feeling they were being hoodwinked.

There’s general agreement Hudson desperately needs an assisted care facility. If Hudson’s churches see fit to make eldercare part of their social mission, good. St. Thomas and St. James both own excellent sites. But Wyman’s site is far from ideal. Even its proponents agree it’s small for a three-storey structure 144 by 100 feet where parking and traffic will be an issue. Neighbours fear there won’t be enough trees left to provide a screen, especially in light of the town’s failure to deliver on past promises. They’re urging the promoters to move the project to the east side of Wyman, at the corner of Main and Selkirk.

Christine Redfern, whose house will be next door to the proposed facility, lived through this before when the town built the new firehall and extended the public works yard to her property line. She’s still giving me grief for failing to follow up on the town’s promises to mitigate the effects by building something similar to the big wooden noise barrier off Chemin St-Louis in St. Lazare.

“Blocks the view, blocks noise + has lovely plants growing up around it — about 10 different local varieties of shrubs, vines and trees have been planted,” she wrote me. “Then did you ever look at the fence you pushed for at the public works yard? The nice side facing inwards, not one tree planted and all winter long big trucks parked 6 feet from the neighbouring property where the town promised 21 feet of green space?”

Redfern says she’s had multiple meetings since with the town, with landscapers, with councillors and has sent some two dozen follow-up emails. “I always get a positive response, no action.”

Without the possibility of a referendum to leverage negotiations, Villa Wyman’s neighbours have one option. Once bylaws 691/692 are adopted at next Monday’s monthly council meeting, citizens have 30 days to collect five signatures and file a request with the Municipal Affairs Commission to determine whether the bylaws conform with the town’s planning program.

Then there’s the trust issue. The zoning change (call it what it is) moves Wyman and its parking lot, including the proposed site from P-57, the zone currently occupied by the church, firehall, public works and the town-owned 539 and 541 Main and into C-27, a commercial/residential zone with fewer restrictions. Why move the site into a commercial zone? Twice before, Hudson has been screwed by developers who promised to build assisted-care facilities if the town agreed to zoning changes. Kilteevan and R-55 are legacies of those broken promises. If the Villa Wyman project falls through, nothing prevents the owner from selling it to a developer for any multi-unit residential project.

Or for that matter, the United Church from selling Wyman Memorial.

…which brings us to the compliance loophole. Residents got a sneak peek at the May 23 public consultation for Bylaws 688, 689 and 690, the land use and density resolutions bringing the town’s planning process in line with those of the Montreal Metropolitan Community (CMM) and Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC. Many of those attending that first meeting were still under the illusion that Hudson could dodge the MMC/MRC densification bullet on the basis of a municipal resolution asking to be excluded.

They were to learn this administration had no such intention.

“One thing you all must remember,” pro-mayor Deborah Woodhead said as she called the consultation to order, once the town brings its planning program into compliance with Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC’s revised land use plan, “we will be in a much better position…we’re on the outside now. Once we’re on the inside we can discuss things like the TOD.”

Over the next two hours, the council and administrators attempted to convince residents transport-oriented development (TOD) is just a pretext. By agreeing to TOD-level densities in Hudson’s downtown core, the administration claims it will be able to exempt the rest of the community from MMC/MRC densification guidelines.

“They told us it would be possible after we were in compliance […] after the compliance, we will be able to regress [to lower average densities],” Hudson’s director-general Jean-Pierre Roy told residents.

Confusion continued into the May 30 meeting, where town clerk Cassandra Comin Bergonzi explained how the town could enact zoning changes without going through the usual procedures. Council, she said with a straight face, has the discretion to proceed in this way because it is in the midst of amending the planning program. It can make changes to a zoning bylaw because to not do so would create zoning which would no longer conform to the planning program. “If we don’t amend our zoning bylaw, our zoning bylaw won’t be conforming to our planning program.”

Hudson’s three compliance bylaws are based on the work of Jean-François Viens, an urban planning consultant for L’Atelier Urbain, the firm contracted last year to prepare Hudson’s compliance file. As Viens walked residents through the compliance process, it became clear that densification without consultation had been this administration’s goal from the outset of the process.

Following the meeting, Viens told me that Hudson doesn’t fit the TOD concept, a one-size-fits-all densification tool designed for suburban dormitory communities stretching from Boisbriand to Boucherville. The aim of the TODs was to encourage development like we see along Vaudreuil-Dorion’s de la Gare, with dozens of commuter trains and express buses to and from downtown Montreal and scores of shuttle buses between West Island and off-island destinations.

The core belief driving the CMM’s PMAD and these TODs is that urban sprawl is something to be avoided. New developments mean new services – roads, public transportation, water, sewage treatment, waste management, schools and other municipal infrastructure. Densification makes better use of existing infrastructure and helps local economies remain sustainable.

Hudson, with its two trains a day weekdays, ageing population, infrastructure issues and small-town heritage, isn’t what TOD’s originators had in mind, Viens said.

I asked him whether residents should fight the TOD designation. “It’s too late for that,” he told me. “Now is not the time for a great reflection…maybe in one or two years, with a strategic vision…”

Viens said any appeal for another delay would have to be directed to the municipal affairs minister. The concordance process in Hudson is clearly politicized with the approaching elections and it’s unlikely another delay would be granted.

Those who attended that first consultation were surprised at town hall’s haste in ramrodding concordance past residents, especially since it is not subject to approval by referendum. DG Jean-Pierre Roy said it would be adopted at the June 5 council meeting without further discussion or debate. His rationale – Hudson has already been granted two extensions (six and nine months) and is the last MRC holdout.

As we were to learn, that last statement wasn’t true.

The following night at the monthly MRC council meeting, residents Jamie Nicholls, Marcus Owen and Austin Rickley-Krindle were told Hudson is one of six of the 11 MRC municipalities in the CMM which have yet to harmonize their master plans with those of the CMM and MRC. Councillor Nicole Durand, who has been attending MRC council meetings in the mayor’s stead, said nothing. The next day, MRC spokesman Simon Richard confirmed that number to me.

Since then, we’ve learned that just 44% of the MMC’s 82 municipalities have passed concordance resolutions.

Nor is there any evidence the Prévost administration has attempted to change the CMM’s mind on density requirements in non-TOD sectors of Hudson’s urban perimeter (http://cmm.qc.ca/fileadmin/user_upload/fiche/TOD/FicheTod_11.pdf).

The facts suggest the town is willing to densify wherever it can. At the May 23 consult, a contingent of residents from the Hillside/Charleswood (non-TOD) sector demanded that the town un-tick a box in 689’s Appendix C which would have allowed multi-family dwellings as well as a seniors’ residence in R-55, a five-hectare lot that lies between Côte St. Charles, Oakland, Charleswood and Ridge.

The group’s spokesman, Keith Heller, noted that residents approved zoning in 2007 for a continuing-care seniors’ campus with fewer than 150 doors — but not for a development that would allow double that number of multi-family units.

Heller was especially incensed that two lots he owns at the site’s southern extremity linking the main body to Charleswood had been rezoned without his knowledge or consultation. Town planner Natalie Lavoie told him she did it to satisfy a potential developer.

The knowledge of the audience and the quality of questions at both meetings has been, and continues to be, the high point of this process. Those who stood in line at the mic represented three generations and included a former mayor (Elizabeth Corker), both declared candidates in November’s mayoral race (Bill Nash, Jamie Nicholls) and several potential council candidates. I counted half a dozen former Town Planning Advisory Committee members and probably missed some.

Most of the questions were focused and informed. Most who asked them succeeded in keeping their tempers. Some of the sharpest observations (“What sidewalks?”) came from young residents who will be voting in their first municipal elections this fall. It was tremendously heartening to see the youth and experience working in tandem. One result: the creation of a group tentatively calling itself the Hudson Group for Smart Development (that may end up being a working name, with an official shingle and structure to follow a June 19 gathering.

A lot still isn’t clear. We know there’s a draft bylaw in the works to bring Greenwood Centre for Living History into compliance. We can assume the town would like to make similar concessions for the Auberge Willow Place Inn, Como ferry and a list of grandfathered businesses operating in residential and agricultural zones. From what I’ve learned about Bill 122, the province’s draft legislation handing more power to municipalities, referendums will become the exception in zoning and land use.

Is this good or bad? Like all powers, this one depends on whose hands in which we place it.

This story was edited June 5/17 to make it clear the town is proposing to transfer both Wyman United and its parking lot from  P-57 to C-27. It was further modified June 6/17 to reflect a land use bylaw revision making Bylaw 692.1 subject to approval by referendum. 

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12 thoughts on “Hudson’s Trojan Horse

  1. Whose hands……. November beckons .
    Knowledgable residents please apply.
    Deer in the headlights councillors need not stand up

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  2. Jim, good stuff once again. In all honesty, I hope I came across more as; “let’s all work together to find a way to get this project done” vs “just hold our noses”. I maintain that not only the town of Hudson needs this project, we all as individuals need this project. And more like it!

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  3. Ah Jim, the tyranny of democracy rears its ugly 4 year head. We vote ’em in and we hope for the best and for the next 4 years we torture ourselves . We used to have the comfort of a referendum resort to make sure they didn’t empty our pockets (loan bylaws ) and that they didn’t plonk a high rise next to a farmhouse( zoning bylaws). The PPU rat/loophole has stripped us of that comfort. Its all on the pretext that our urban planning departments know what’s best for us . Our urban planning dept. has never seen an edict from a higher authority it didn’t revere to the point of pornography. Steve Shaar was absolutely , morally correct . Our collective pants are around our municipal ankles . We need to wipe off the lubricant and pull them up.

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  4. Clearly Hudson’s zoning is a patchwork or past and present priorities, many of those past ones will lock us into problems developing in today’s world.

    The Villa Wyman lot is a sub-divided part of the Wyman church property in question and is currently zoned P for public, which allows for a wide variety of uses including churches and also “adult entertainment” without an change in zoning but does not allow for multi-unit residential rentals.

    Rezoning the Wyman property C (commercial) is the plan, to allow Villa Wyman and (my words) that makes more sense for the totality of the Wyman property as it fronts on Main road. C allows for churches and multi-unit residential rentals.

    If re-zoning Villa Wyman doesn`t get approved, Wyman can and likely will sell the lot in question, and will then lose control of the end use.

    Land purchased at fair market value in Hudson won’t be purposed to subsidized assisted living. While not a perfect lot or project, it’s the one and only potential project of this type that we do have.

    This excellent opportunity might pass us by, yet again, because we gaze into navels too deeply seeking some idealist’s vision of cosmic peace and unattainable perfection while the world just doesn’t stop.

    One must look at a balance that’s within the possible or no progress ever happens.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well , at least , Peter and I are in sync on the “pornography” and “adult entertainment” front. As long as the seniors’ residence is not plonked on the “church lawn” as nimbied by the residents up there on Lower Maple and Park I will stand down.

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  6. Jim you asked “Does the end justify the means”? Obviously yes with this council. As long as they get what they want and that is to increase development and bring another 2000 people to live in Hudson, no matter the consequences. The mayor and council haven’t veered from that position since day one. What I object to is the downright misinformation given. I was at the May 23rd meeting and we were told we must pass these by-law changes to be in concordance as we were the LAST municipality in the MRC to comply. Turns out it’s not true, the information is out there, even in the whole area of the CMM 44% have not complied yet. Why lie about it and as you said Jim, Nicole Durand goes to all the MRC meetings. Not a word from her. Also, Marcus Owen asked the question of how many homes or doors are actually in the so-called TODD zone and no one at the meeting, not councillors, not the DG, not the urban planners, no one at the meeting could answer that question, “we don’t know? Actually, turns out this information is easily available, in colour no less, on the CMM stats under Hudson. There are about 720 “doors” which would mean that to add 330 or so in Nicenco’s development would have increased that zone by 45% or so. Nice if you have the infrastructure to support it….we don’t. So….no answers, or we’ll get back to you on that, misinformation to the nth degree. etc. A really sad state of affairs. I may go to the council meetings as I feel it is my duty as a citizen to be involved but I don’t expect to get any truth or real information. Is this the new democracy with Bill 122?

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  7. Well well…so here we are. We have huge swathes of land unavailable, then we cram 320 doors into limited space, and then we wonder why any administration might attempt to backdoor some legislation that might free up space to ease the burden of taxes. Supply and demand, the basics of economics. Oh damn them. Damn them thinking ten years down the road.

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  8. Long-time reader, first-time commenter 🙂

    I’m so confused. Peter, are you saying that Villa Wyman cannot be built as the zoning now stands? This is not what I understood during the consultation on May 30th. What I understood (and may have gotten totally wrong) was that the commercial zoning change was not only unnecessary in terms of allowing the project to proceed, but also opened up the site to future risks that aren’t currently an issue. At no time did Council say that if they didn’t re-zone the site as commercial that there would be no possibility of constructing a multi-unit building. At the end of the meeting and after multiple requests from citizens to reconsider the commercial zoning aspect, Council even suggested that they would be giving it some consideration. To me this means that the commercial zoning aspect isn’t a requirement for this project. Has more information become available since then, and was everybody misinformed (accidentally, not deliberately)? I ask because it’s so frustrating to see everybody spend an evening debating considerations that might not even be on the table in the long run.

    This furthers Jim’s and many others’ observation that if Council could just break down these by-laws ahead of time it would make it a lot easier to understand them, and thus avoid a lot of the back-and-forth that takes up so much of everybody’s time as we all try to understand what the heck is going on. Regardless, we are at a point where the lack of transparency, accuracy and resistance to seemingly reasonable requests (ex: where municipalities stand in terms of conformity with the MRC, and the suggestion of giving these by-laws a bit more time for careful consideration) has left citizens feeling that the only solution is to attempt to investigate and understand things on their own.

    Daren, I didn’t get a hold-your-nose feeling from what you said, it was very heartfelt. But I do agree that it could be interpreted that way, and potentially set a dangerous precedent.

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  9. I am concerned that once again we are discussing the carrot at the end of the stick while the issue in my view is the stick. We are being sold this zoning change as Hudson ‘desperately’ needs retirement facilities with care. It is my understanding that the Wyman lot where the Church and lawn in front are situated has been subdivided from the Church’s parking, parking lane and rear section where the new 24-unit care facility is to be. How can the church’s parking be on another lot? Does this not require a minor derogation and has this been done before the lot was subdivided? Why do rules apply to some while not to others? What are rules and Standards and Uses tables for if not to be applied? Granted, this space may be so particular that no standard regulation can be applied with satisfaction as at the intersection of many issues: privacy, parking, access, disposal best containment strategy, pedestrian ir reduced mobility circulation, green space, scale and financial viability. So lets not continue this nonsense where our C-27 zone seens to have become the new ‘anything goes’ zone. It seems that non-neighbours feel that as long as the project is not in the front of the Church property, on the front lawn, all is fine. Have you thought that when this zoning goes through that the Church and its lawn will be zone Commercial also and that either could be torn-down or ripped up to be replaced with a 3-1/2 story condominium building of the same scale and setback as the new appartment building across from Halcro? No one would have a say in this taking place as would now be in full zoning right. No one has explained this, have they? I don’t mind a Commercial zone with some flexibility for diversity, attracting mixed-use synergies, but lets not be confused, this is not mixed-use. Or, at least make sure all Commercially zoned properties are obligated to hold a commercial use/space open to the public or, in my view, the validity of the zoning argument becomes questionable. Please keep your eyes and minds open: are you saying yes ultimately to a quadrant full of condominiums from across the Viviry to Stephenson’s Court? If so, then be sure it is zoned this way and provides best privacy to existing neighbours, adequate access and vehicular planning. Lets stop quartering the Town as if it is hunk of meat at the butcher shop. It is time for some mending and considerate planning where project developers and residents work hand in hand. And what about greenspaces? Trees? Where do they fit into this new ‘supersize me’ C-27 zone at the heart of Hudson’s core? I fully support Villa Wyman’s intentions, simply not this way.

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  10. Villa Wyman is likely the only opportunity for a not-for profit small scale subsidized assisted living seniors facility in Hudson. The grant process involved restricts most of the parameters of the building.

    It’s not perfect, but it’s workable and might get all the approvals required 16-20 months after the zoning change is done. Council should have simply put this to a signing and referendum.

    I live nearby and fail to see the evil impact being touted by some, fail to see the benefit of selling a petition to stop a restaurant being built there, etc. The first house (red-brick) up Selkirk from Wyman was once a restaurant.

    Wyman is working hard to make this happen because it’s good for the community. They don’t have a lot of flexibility or options.

    While I’d object to the front lawn approach for the seniors residence I’d be fine with a three story condo on the whole property replacing the church and set back further from main than the apartments you mention.

    No one else in Hudson has such a proposal on the table in the foreseeable future, and likely any such assisted seniors living would be done for profit elsewhere and not in Hudson because of the scale required for profitable operation.

    Democracy is about tough choices that simply put are in the benefit of an entire community.

    Want it or not? That’s really the simple question for all in Hudson, but a only few may be able to stop it dead.

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  11. Hudson badly needs the project and residents will benefit from it. It’s too bad the level of suspicion and cynicism has cost the promoters time and energy but Hudson is still living with the zoning fallout from two previous failed assisted-living projects and a legacy of corruption.

    That said, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for those residents whose homes will be immediately adjacent to Villa Wyman. These are the same people who were promised green screens, berms, sound barriers and other buffers between them and the firehall and expanded public works yard. They had to fight for the barest minimum and are still unhappy.

    Contrast that with the folks who got an instant forest built on their rear setback at public expense because the town failed to assess the visual impact of a neighbour’s new shed.

    This is a core problem. Hudson shows compassion and flexibility for some and a cold shoulder for others. A new business is having a tough time getting break with a parking problem even though there is an easy solution at hand. Is it because a neighbouring multi-unit residential structure might be inconvenienced? Why do Manoir residents enjoy taxpayer-subsidized free parking? I suspect parking will become a major issue with Villa Wyman just as it did with the Palliative Care Residence. Why is it that the town bends for some but not for others?

    There’s a long-standing perception that things are a lot easier for some businesses than for others. Count the shipping containers and other illegal storage in violation of the town’s master plan. Hudson has to go out of its way to make sure the playing field is level.

    I know I’m a broken record, but development is an administrative process, not a political decision depending on how long we’ve lived here and how many friends we have. Hudson has to grow up and join the 21st century by cleaning up its act. Louise Villandre didn’t operate in a vacuum.

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  12. I’m so glad the Chateau du Lac has been in Hudson since the dawn of time. Odds are if anyone tried to open a bar in its space in 2016, everyone and their uncle’s dog would have a reason why it shouldn’t open. It would bother the Medi center doctors while they were doing exams, It would bug the car detailers beside because they wouldn’t be able to paint straight with the music, Brazalot wouldn’t be able to fill in the immigration papers properly because the bar would be too much of a temptation during office hours. Sounds very much like half moon Cafe, that somehow managed to keep the seniors awake at the Manoir, half a kilometer away with the loud music from non-existent after hour parties.

    Long dull story cut short, half the people that object don’t even know what they are objecting to, just the change of it all.

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