A race of eunuchs

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Janet and George Ellerbeck during a walk through their proposed residential development. Ellerbeck says he has permission to develop to an average density of 12.5 units per hectare.

Sunday, I ran into George Ellerbeck at Mike Lawrence’s 80th birthday bash and asked him whether there was any news on Willowbrook, his proposed residential development. Turns out he now has MRC approval for an average density of 12.5 units per hectare on his 16.7 hectares between the AMT right of way, Main Road, Léger and Parsons.

The agreement scales the project down to 98 doors, a mix of single-family and semi-detached units on 47% of the total acreage. A larger conservation zone (totalling almost a third of the total square footage) would serve to ease the shock of the number of new doors in Como. Two parks and three buffer zones together represent another 9%.

Fewer units will require less water during the 3-5 year construction period and ensure the sewer system won’t be overtaxed. Ellerbeck points out the Como system that would be serving Willowbrook is currently operating with the aid of chemicals to keep it flowing for lack of volume. “Our development would eliminate the need for the chemicals and new flow from the WillowBrook 98 is within the capacity of the system.”

He confirms previous administrations missed an opportunity to acquire an additional 90 arpents zoned agricultural as a conservation area between the tracks and Harwood Blvd.

“Janet and I offered to donate the 90 arpents to the town during the Corker years to an indifferent council, and were told to get it surveyed, which we did,” George recalls. “Our plan was to keep the southernmost 30 arpents towards Harwood for future development.”

In the 2008 Teknika HBA greenspace audit which forms the technical basis for Hudson’s new Conservation Plan for Wetlands and Natural Areas —Urbanization Perimeter, (CPWNA) the 30-arpent area was “magically anointed” a ‘woodland of interest’ B10. The area north of the tracks was designated B11.

All 90 arpents are now off the table, Ellerbeck told me, deposited in a family trust. “During the Elliott years the donation was interpreted as a condition for a development as no one thought that we had voluntarily wanted to give the town the land. Such is life in a small-minded town.”

How advanced is the project? Ellerbeck said it’s headed for Article 22 certification, which will determine the precise number of units based on environmental constraints. He already knows he’ll have to carve off 15,000-square-foot lots fronting on Main Road to satisfy the sector’s SPAIP designation, two parklands representing 17% of the total land area and a 15-metre buffer adjacent to the tracks, a requirement since the Lac Megantic disaster. There’s the unresolved issue regarding B10, the ‘woodland of interest’ based on the presence of a newly classified butternut species and shagbark hickories.

Here’s the takeaway for residents concerned about the loss of citizen input on future development projects:

The change in zoning allowing Ellerbeck’s Willowbrook project is no longer subject to approval by referendum since council adopted its three planning concordance bylaws earlier this year. Consultation will still be required but as Ellerbeck puts it, NIMBYs no longer have the power to stop or alter a project once it meets MDDELCC (the acronym for Quebec’s ministry of sustainable development, environment and the fight against climate change) and MRC regional government guidelines and satisfies Hudson’s new Conservation Plan for Wetlands and Natural Areas —Urbanization Perimeter.

A work in progress, the CPWNA includes Willowbrook in a list of six vacant sectors with a high development potential. The latest version was presented to citizens at a sparsely attended Aug. 23 public consultation. CIMA+ presenter Stephanie Besner described the presentation as a formality, another step in the long, convoluted road to determine Hudson’s development future. The process began with the 2008 Teknika HBA inventory and is on track to be completed next year.

Following the meeting, Besner confirmed the town’s goal in drafting the plan is to grandfather as many development projects as possible into the CPWNA  before it’s sent off to the MDDELCC for comment. The revised plan is then bounced back to Hudson council for adoption.

Under draft Bill 132, municipalities have five years to draft a conservation and development plan. Hudson’s delay isn’t entirely of its own making. Besner and Hudson DG Jean-Pierre Roy explained they’re still waiting on the ministry for “unusual analysis delays” pertaining to wetland swaps enabling developers to backfill low-lying parts of Sandy Beach and Como Gardens. (Roy explained this has no connection with a revised 100-year flood zone.)

Without development, the CPWNA paints a bleak picture of Hudson’s future. The urban perimeter accounts for roughly half of Hudson’s 2,162 hectares zoned white, or developable. The perimeter is 93% developed, with 62 hectares of unbuilt land (excluding Alsonvale/Hudson Valleys). “This surface area appears to be adequate with regards to the negative democratic growth forecasts […] for 2014-2024, consisting of a decrease in population assessed at 380 people [over] the next 20 years.”

Without development — especially development on the sewer system — taxes will inevitably increase as a factor of the valuation roll which determines how much municipalities are assessed for policing, public transit and regional government. The growth in Hudson’s valuation roll is almost entirely on account of real estate transactions.

Besides Ellerbeck’s development, the plan identifies Sandy Beach east and west sectors (11.34 hectares bounded by Main, Royalview and Wharf); R-55 (six hectares bounded by Ridge, Oakland, Hillside and Côte St. Charles); east central (2.37 hectares bounded by Main, Daoust and Mt. Pleasant); UK2 (3.4 hectares between the tracks, Como Gardens and Main) and four hectares between the tracks, Wilkinson and Parsons in Como.

As tedious as this process is, it will determine how Hudson develops, not whether it develops. I know it makes people sick to keep reading this, but Quebec’s shadow bureaucracy at Hudson town hall will function regardless of who is elected Nov. 5. Taxes will be collected, bills will be paid and services will continue. Council’s purview will be confined to discretionary spending, which represents less than a fifth of Hudson’s $12 million 2017 budget.

Thanks to concordance, development ceases to be a political issue; it’s now an administrative process with significant oversight from the province and two levels of regional government. (Ellerbeck told me he was one of a dozen Hudson developers or landowners investigated by the municipal affairs ministry in the wake of dissident councillor Rob Spencer’s influence-peddling allegations against mayor Ed Prévost. “We were all vindicated and were advised to become enterprise lobbyists,” Ellerbeck notes.  “As such, we can meet the town’s/MRC officials and then we are only permitted to discuss our own projects.”)

What’s it mean for Hudson? Less local input on development issues. When it comes to deciding where and how Hudson should be developed, we’re witnessing a mayoral race among eunuchs. Let’s hear Hudson’s mayoralty candidates speak to this new reality.

This post was edited to correct the number of units and other technical information and to clarify the impact of Hudson’s concordance bylaws on the development approval process.

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2 thoughts on “A race of eunuchs

  1. Thanks Jim for you crisp reporting, how refreshing. IMHO, the Ministry of Environment won’t accept the Conservation Plan until the boundary is enlarged to take into account the entire territory of Hudson. Also, in looking at the revised Regional Master Plan for the MRC, it looks as though they are also looking at beyond the Urban Perimeters of municipalities. Do we get a sense that the ‘destructured’ Agricultural areas are next on the shopping block? I saw too many glib smiles and lips around staff and potentially affected land owners not to feel that this is not the next Trojan Horse we need to keep an eye out. Again, my intent is not to block but to make sure the right minds, planners and decision makers are at the table. Until that is guaranteed, a charrette process makes sense. Citizens have a rare opportunity in the next 60 days or so to be heard clearly, to make clear demands to their next electorate. Lets not miss this oince in 4-years opportunity. My own 2 cents.

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  2. Good questions, Chloe. Question is, why should that 53% non-voting bloc care? How will it affect Hudson? I saw the PMAD adopted partly because the Green Coalition got its people out. People need reasons to vote.

    Liked by 1 person

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