Guess who pays these bills

DSC_3644
Hudson’s morning train. Exo replaces AMT, new Ile aux Tourtes bridge will include lanes for REM or LRT system, but there are no plans to upgrade the 30 km/h line between Vaudreuil and Hudson or replace fossil-fuelled dinosaurs. 

At Monday night’s October council meeting I proposed two amendments to the agenda. Both times I was shouted down by the mayor, a violation of both the Cities and Towns Act and Hudson’s own Bylaw 348 governing how council meetings are to be conducted.

My first motion was to defer adoption of draft bylaw 526.8-2019 controlling development in wetlands because it proposes a 30-metre buffer zone around watercourses and wetlands.  If I had been allowed to continue, I would have explained that the 100-foot buffer has yet to be tested in court. I need to hear from planners why a 30-metre buffer is required and from lawyers how much this environmental one-upmanship is going to cost the town.

In the end I had no seconder, so my only option was to vote against 526.8’s adoption and wait for a citizen to ask me why. In response to that question I explained that I have seen no legal or planning studies supporting the bigger buffer (Quebec and our MRC both mandate 10-metre buffers. ) I explained that there is no legal precedent for a 30-metre buffer that I am aware of. I also voiced my concern that Hudson taxpayers will pay dearly for the right to be the first municipality in Quebec to adopt such legislation.

Turns out it wasn’t just me with problems with the bigger buffer. Reaction to Monday’s draft adoption reverberated through town offices for the rest of the week as homeowners and developers began measuring the impact of a 30-metre buffer zone on their properties. A 30-metre no-go buffer around the town’s wetlands and watercourses will impact dozens of property owners as well as two large residential developments (Sandy Beach, Willowbrook). As currently written, Bylaw 526.8 will require the owner of a house backing on the Viviry to hire a biologist to be allowed to install a new septic tank — and you can forget about building an ornamental footbridge over that little stream on your property. It’s a bad law because it’s an unenforceable, unfair law — unless council is prepared to underwrite the cost of a town biologist available to all.

Then there’s the legal cost. Win or lose, lawyers bill. $300,000 annually? $400,000? $500,000? More?

My second motion was a draft resolution mandating the mayor, DG and interested council members to demand that the Montreal Metropolitan Community (MMC) and Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC to repeal Hudson’s transport-oriented development (TOD designation — thereby exempting Hudson from the density requirements laid down in the MMC’s master plan, or PMAD.

Purpose of resolution: to follow through with Resolution R-3976-2015 adopted Dec. 7/15 by mandating the mayor, DG and members of council to meet with the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal and Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC to demand the removal of the CMM’s Transport-Oriented Development (TOD) designation.

WHEREAS the previous council adopted Resolution R-3976-2015 based on MVH-2015-162: proposition de développement compatible avec les orientations du PMAD dans la ville de Hudson par le retrait de la désignation TOD/ A development proposition compatible with PMAD orientations by withdrawing TOD designation,

WHEREAS the establishment of TODs is ultimately the responsibility of individual municipalities;

WHEREAS existing train service is underused and not guaranteed to continue once the REM is completed; 

WHEREAS alternative transit solutions are currently being explored in Hudson; 

WHEREAS Hudson fails to meet the criteria of a mass transit access point; 

WHEREAS the higher density norms accompanying TODs are not compatible with Hudson’s growth targets;

WHEREAS the current council has yet to establish how PMAD TOD densities will apply to Hudson’s urban perimeter;

BE IT RESOLVED that Council mandate the Mayor, Director-General and a council delegation to meet with the relevant CMM and MRC authorities to ask for the removal of Hudson’s Transport-Oriented Development (TOD) designation prior to considering any further TOD-oriented development.

This time I had a seconder and the motion was adopted 5-1.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but since this vote the signature of the Stantec contract is delayed indefinitely and the CMM is consulting internally.

The deeper I dive into the Hudson TOD file, the stranger it becomes. The previous council adopted essentially the same resolution in December 2015. (Bylaw R3976-2015AMT service du train de banlieue. Proposition de développement compatible avec PMAD par le retrait de la TOD).

Eighteen months later, the former DG convinced the mayor and councillors to let the who thing drop, then engineered the infamous concordance bylaws in 2017. These bylaws approved the concept of a one-kilometre TOD with its epicentre the former station, now the Hudson Village Theatre. The intent was to clear the way for densification of the urban core to up to 40 doors per hectare. (Hudson averages around eight units per hectare; the core is roughly twice that.)

Two major developments — Sandy Beach and Willowbrook — were quickly approved with a mandatory public consultation where nobody at the front of the room had a clue with it would mean. Meanwhile, the developers and DG moved quickly; the development agreement for the Sandy Beach project was given final approval the day before the previous council was dissolved for the November 2017 election.

What was the story behind the 180-degree flip by the last council? Here’s the timeline:

• Spring 2015; after the “Omnibus” bylaw project comes under question, Keith Heller questions the basis for CMM’s decision to designate Hudson for TOD zoning (as per PMAD). Asks mayor and council for information about who is responsible for assigning the designation and offers to make a case for removal on behalf of the town. 

• August 2015; A meeting is held between Mayor Prevost, Duncan Campbell (Hudson DG), Mayor Pilon (Vaudreuil Mayor and CMM representative), Jean Lalonde (Prefect of MRC), Alexandra Lemieux (Urban Planner at MRC), Keith Heller and Fred Dumoulin. During meeting, the case is made by Keith and Fred as to why it would be best to remove TOD designation from Hudson. The proposal to ask for removal of the TOD is met with general consensus amongst all meeting participants. The meeting discussion then shifts to talk about how to achieve this. It is decided that, following a council resolution, a letter should be sent to the MRC making a case for removal of the TOD designation. Fred agrees to draft the letter. 

• August 2015; a first draft of the letter is sent to Mayor Prevost and Duncan Campbell for review the following week. After a few reviews and iterations, the letter is accepted. 

• December 2015; council passes a resolution to pursue TOD zoning removal and to formally send letter to the MRC. 

• Summer 2016; after hearing no news on the matter, Keith probes the new Hudson General Manager, Jean-Pierre Roy, for an update on the situation. A meeting is held between Jean Pierre Roy, Nathalie Lavoie, Keith Heller and Fred Dumoulin. At the meeting, we are updated on the fact that subsequent to the letter being sent to the MRC, another meeting was held between Hudson Council, the MRC and Pilon. Although it’s unclear what exactly transpired at the meeting, we were told that there wasn’t a strong consensus between council members about the issue, which resulted in the other meeting participants recommending that the matter be abandoned. 

• Summer 2016; Keith and Fred pressed for an additional meeting with Jean-Pierre Roy and council members to gain further clarification and to restate the case for TOD designation to be removed. No progress was made in obtaining a meeting. 

• May 2017; Keith reengages with Jean-Pierre Roy to follow up on the matter and ask for clarification on why the town is no longer pursuing the TOD matter. Jean Pierre responded the following day and agreed to schedule a meeting. However, the meeting was never scheduled and no further progress was made.

Jump to September 2018. An email chain between the town’s former grant writer and his opposite number at the CMM sets out the terms and conditions for a grant of up to $100,000 for a study concerning Hudson’s TOD. It mentions a single TOD, although earlier correspondence mentions TODs, plural. The study must be completed by year’s end.

Despite suggestions in caucus that the study should focus on why Hudson is in the TOD in the first place and what can be done to reduce the impact on Hudson’s quaint small-town core, council eventually opted to approve spending over $82,500 plus taxes on validating what is essentially the mayor’s vision for the core — fewer vehicles and less public parking, narrower streets, wider sidewalks and plenty of greenery. There would be consultation with citizens at some point.

Monday night, council split 3-3 on a proposal to hire Stantec, Inc. to facilitate the mayor’s orientations. The mayor broke the tie, voting for the Stantec hire. The study wouldn’t cost taxpayers a cent, he assured residents. The CMM will be picking up the tab — if the Stantec contract is approved.

While this is going on, another $80,000++ study ($81,923 plus taxes) is somewhere between started and finished. Although the Eco2Urb study should be close to done by now (given the desperate need for justification of that bigger buffer) I haven’t been briefed, leading me to wonder what we are getting for the money.

I do know this: the TOD/PMAD fight is hurting Hudson.

Critics accuse the administration and council of using the PMAD as an excuse for overly large and disproportionate infill projects in the town core as well as justification for greater densities in the east and west ends. Others insist the town has far more control over density, lot use, parking, landscaping and planting than it currently exercises. Everybody’s angry because they see their vested interests challenged.

As council agreed Monday, wouldn’t it be smarter to seek a way out of the TOD before we spend more money accommodating it?

Annexed below are documents I presented to council Monday.

One of the consequences of all this analysis paralysis is a year’s delay of the promise to pave Main Road between Côte St. Charles and Beach. The DG had found the money ($1.32 million) in this year’s budget. The head of infrastructure had it figured out what needed to be fixed first and what was needed for the loan bylaw. But concerns were raised about whether the timeline was realistic, especially given Stantec’s Dec. 31 deadline.  Can an call to tender wait that long? Can we consult citizens and stakeholders and integrate their ideas and concerns in sufficient time? Might it not be better to defer Main and pave somewhere else? Already, we’re running out of time if we want to post on SEAO, the province’s management system for all contracts of $101,000+.

I’m sure every councillor has her or his preferences. Mine would be to widen and rebuild  ring roads like Lakeview and core arterials such as Selkirk, Oakland, Elm and Maple. If we are to rebuild Main, where will the traffic go? I can’t see 18-wheelers on Lakeview, a street of dog walkers, mom pushing strollers and kids on bikes. I suggested that we rebuild and widen Lakeview and save a finish coat of asphalt for once Main reopens.

ANNEXES:

Fred Dumoulin summary:

My view has always been that we should have the TOD designation removed, not just because it gives the town better flexibility on how to plan for growth, but also because the designation as defined in PMAD fails to take into consideration the particulars of each location. It’s applied in a “one size fits all” approach. The density figures required for a TOD are the same regardless of actual population, access to, and capacity of mass transit, or roadway infrastructure to support ingress and egress to mass transit access points. For example, the TOD at Atwater Market is considered the same as the one in Pointe-Claire, or in Hudson. At least this was the case as I understood it when I looked into this in 2015. At the time, we had been told by mayor Pilon, who was then also a member of the CMM committee representing our region, that removal of TOD designation was mainly a choice of the towns and that they could likely have it removed if they made a strong and valid case for it to their MRC.

DRAFT OF LETTER TO CMM

This letter from the Town of Hudson to the Communauté Métropolitaine de Montréal (CMM) makes its case for removal of its TOD designation. Hudson is a rural community with a total area of 2,162 hectares, of which slightly more than 50% is zoned for agricultural use exclusively. It is rich in heritage and is distinguished by its access to greenspace and nature trails, and by its focus on arts and culture. These characteristics form an important part of its appeal. They need to be preserved because they will be integral in the realization of the strategic revitalization projects now under way. 

The Transit Oriented Development (TOD) designation assigned to the Town of Hudson is detrimental to the town’s urban development goals. In the case of Hudson, it is in conflict with some of the key premises of the Plan Métropolitain d’Aménagement et de Développement (PMAD) that aim to preserve greenspace and increase the use of public transit. 

Furthermore, Hudson does not satisfy the criteria required to create a TOD The concept of a TOD is proven and desirable in dealing with the issue of urban sprawl. The characteristics of a TOD were defined by Peter Calthorpe, the urban planner, and are accepted as industry standards. It requires, for example, high frequency transit, which does not exist in Hudson. Hudson is currently developing a strategic plan to support its revitalization and growth. It will ensure a vibrant community that meets the needs of its residents and business owners. This planning process embraces and prepares for the projected population growth expected in the Greater Montréal Metropolitan region, as noted in the PMAD. 

The projections published in the PMAD state that the Montréal region may grow by 530,000 new residents between 2011 and 2031. About 20% of this growth is expected in the “South Belt”, which includes the Town of Hudson. Based on these projections, on the relative size of Hudson and of its developable land of about 80 hectares, it is reasonable to plan for an influx of between 1 to 2 thousand new residents during this time. To utilize diminishing land resources as effectively as possible, Hudson’s urban development goal ensures that population growth occurs primarily in designated urban areas. 

This supports the underlying premise outlined in the PMAD which calls for increasing density in urban centers rather than sprawling into woodlands, farmlands and greenspaces. It is important to note that Hudson is not opposed to densification of its developable land and plans to comply with the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC’s density requirements of 16 units per hectare. The Town of Hudson also aims to improve its residents’ access to effective public transit. This will make the town a more viable option for daily commuters to Montréal and contribute to decreasing traffic congestion. The primary transit currently available in Hudson is a once-daily commuter train which provides access to Montréal via the neighboring transportation hub located in Vaudreuil-Dorion. This once daily train service has resulted in Hudson receiving a TOD designation for the area around the train stop. This is next to the Village Theatre on Wharf Street. 

There are several issues with a TOD in this area: 

• The characteristics used to determine the location and viability of TODs were defined and published by Calthorpe Associates. They are accepted as industry guidelines. The requirements include proximity to a high frequency transit point and adequate automobile access from highways and arterials. 

• Hudson does not have high frequency transit. It has no arterial roadways connecting the regional population to the train stop. The only access roads are meandering, scenic, residential roads with 40 Km/hr. speed limits. 

• Characterization studies and technical analysis of the access points have not been completed (PMAD page 84). Therefore, no technical basis has been provided to support the creation of a TOD in this area. 

• The train station in Hudson was converted to a theater for performing arts and hasn’t been used as a train station for many years. It provides no infrastructure whatsoever to facilitate or enable a transit access point. Its accompanying parking has space for 20 cars maximum. 

• The commuter train connecting Hudson to Vaudreuil-Dorion is once daily on weekdays only. It is used by a maximum of 20 people daily. 

• Commuter train ridership in Hudson is only 1.7% of total ridership on the AMT line, proving its overall ineffectiveness as a transit solution. 

• Hudson residents would be better served by using the nearby commercial core and transit hub located in Vaudreuil-Dorion. This is similar to neighboring communities such as St-Lazare and Rigaud which have no TODs. In addition to these logistical issues, the creation of a TOD in this area is in conflict with some of Hudson’s development goals. 

• Much of the developable land within the radius of the TOD is pristine greenspace, including old growth woods, wetlands and the Viviry river delta which feeds into the Lake of Two Mountains. Creating a transit hub in the midst of this sector goes against the very recommendations in the PMAD, which aim to preserve areas such as this for the enjoyment of all residents in the Montréal region. 

• The center of Hudson has been earmarked in the PMAD as one of the most important heritage zones in the Montréal region, including a scenic road which bisects the core of the town. The proposed TOD is centered in this very area. Creating a mass transit access point with the accompanying TOD in this area will put the preservation of heritage structures at risk and damage its scenic qualities. By removing the TOD designation from Hudson, the required density for new developments would be reduced from 40 units per hectare to 16 units per hectare. Hudson’s growth and revitalization plans can still be satisfied with these lower density numbers. 

Hudson can accommodate its share of growth in the Montréal region by increasing density in selected parts of its developable land, which totals about 80 hectares. At 16 dwellings per hectare, this represents a possible capacity of 1,280 new doors. Assuming 2.5 people per household, this represents up to 3,200 new residents, which far exceeds the projected growth for the town. This demonstrates that the higher density norms that accompany a TOD are not necessary for Hudson to fulfill its growth objectives. An effective shuttle service connecting Hudson to Vaudreuil-Dorion’s TOD and its burgeoning commercial district will better serve Hudson’s population. It will not only increase usage of public transit but will remove the necessity of creating secondary transit access roads and a TOD. Furthermore, it supports the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC’s broader vision of making Vaudreuil-Dorion the main transit hub for the region. 

Given that:

– The establishment of TODs is ultimately the responsibility of individual municipalities;

– Alternative transit solutions are currently being considered in Hudson; 

– The continuation of train service, while not yet determined, is not guaranteed to continue; 

– Hudson fails to meet the criteria of a mass transit access point; 

– The higher density norms accompanying TODs are not necessary for Hudson to reach its growth targets. 

It is therefore requested that the CMM remove the TOD designation from the Town of Hudson.

Letter to the editor

Local Journal

May 25, 2017          

Mayor Prevost and Hudson Council,

I have been reflecting on the Hudson consultation meeting of last evening, May 23, to discuss the proposed compliance by-laws. It is always, of course, a difficult situation when a government process restricts citizens’ rights to vote on changes that will affect them.

A key issue being discussed last night was the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) designation being assigned to Hudson as part of the MRC (regional) and CMM master plan (PMAD). Those in attendance last night strongly oppose this designation for Hudson in part because Hudson does not meet the criteria for being a TOD. As you know the significance of this designation is the requirement for much high density within a 1-kilometre radius of the train station. At the meeting I was given to understand you (mayor and council) also disagree with this designation for Hudson but felt compelled to submit Hudson’s development plan quickly to allow for completion of the MRC (regional) master plan.

Rather than submitting a plan none of us believe in, I would suggest quickly submitting a plan in compliance in all respects with the MRC master plan with the exception of including the TOD. You will then have complied with the MRC timing requirements while still insisting on not being a TOD.

It can’t be right that we are compelled to submit our plan which we do not believe is in the best interests of our town.

With Respect,

Keith Heller

Hudson

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Guess who pays these bills

  1. Great article Jim. Now you see how frustrating it is for citizens with expertise to work on a file and then it is ignored. Ditto for councillors.

    Like

    1. So true, Diane. Quebec enshrines the mayor/DG relationship but a resolution of council trumps everything. It took me two years to figure this out T the strategic level.

      Like

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