This coming Monday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m., Hudson residents will be asked for their questions, comments and suggestions concerning Bylaw 526.8. (The numbers and the fact there’s a public consultation tell us it’s a proposed change to Hudson’s zoning bylaw.)
But in the words of Leonard Cohen, everybody knows the dice are loaded.
Draft bylaw 526.8 will directly affect as many as 10% of Hudson’s 2,200 residences and threatens to burden future budgets with legal fees we haven’t seen since the Prévost administration.
Who will be affected? Council was supplied with a map showing how the 30-metre buffer extends out from the wetlands characterized in the 2008 Teknika audit, but it lacks the precision to allow someone to see exactly where the red line falls on their property. Legally, citizens can demand and receive the original map because it was compiled with publicly available information.
Today I was assured that a modified map and a cadastral overlay should be ready in time for Monday’s consultation so that property owners will be able to see how the bylaw affects them.
There is sufficient data on the the original map to say this: anyone living next to a wetland, no matter how insignificant, will be affected. Anyone whose properties back on Viviry Creek, Pine Lake and the chain of wetlands running from the Vaudreuil-Dorion border to Brookside will be affected. Originally, I estimated that 100 properties might be affected. Since then, I’ve been told the number could be more than double that and that we can’t even put an estimate on the legal costs of pioneering this approach. (So far, we’re the first municipality in Quebec to edict a 30-metre buffer without public consultation.)
By now you’re asking the same question I did — why is the adoption of 526.8 not subject to approval by referendum? I have been told that it is based on Article 113 (16) of the Loi sur l’aménagement et l’urbanisme (LAU), which rules out the registry/referendum process.
In exchange for removing the referendum approval process, the LAU requires Hudson to adopt a public participation process tailored to our local reality. Such a policy should “look to favour the availability of information, consultation and the active participation of citizens in the land use and urban planning process.”
Here’s the kicker:
“Once a municipality’s public participation process respects the requirements of the Act […] motions adopted by Council [under this Act] are not subject to approval by referendum.
However, the LAU requires that a municipality looking for a way around referendums must satisfy the following 10 requirements:
— A transparent decisional process;
— Consulting citizens prior to taking a decision;
— Complete, understandable, specific information on what is being decided;
— The right of citizens to influence the decision;
— The active participation of the mayor and council in the consultation process;
— Reasonable timelines that allow citizens to grasp what is being proposed;
— Allowing all points of view to be expressed, with a goal of reconciling different interests;
— Rules ensuring that everyone knows the rules on what the consultation can accomplish, who can participate, what constitutes fair comment and how it will be used to modify the project.
— Adoption of a bylaw governing public participation;
— The town’s participation policy MUST be posted on the town website.
I can’t find a trace of a Hudson public participation policy, either on the town website or in any of the documents made available to council. One could argue that the town, in failing to fulfill the LAU’s terms for public participation, is therefore not entitled to adopt 526.8 without a referendum.
How about a non-binding plebiscite? The town is within its powers to set up a register where those both for and against this bylaw have the opportunity to say yes or no. Backers of 526.8 claim 650 residents signed a petition in support of a moratorium on wetland development, but we’re hearing from people who insist they never would have signed had they known this bylaw will affect their tax bills, their neighbours and the town’s spending priorities.
Besides, a petition drafted by an unelected anti-development lobby group is’t recognized by the LAU as part of the legal process.
A plebiscite may not be binding on the town, but it would give some credibility to this botched process and provide much-needed balance to this hijacked debate.
So why haven’t citizens heard more about 526.8? Both the notice of motion and draft 526.8 were presented at the October council meeting. (It’s a legal trick allowing citizens no opportunity to ask questions before council votes.)
At the beginning of the meeting I asked that we defer 526.8’s adoption until council was supplied with a solid scientific basis on which to triple the protection around wetlands. The mayor declared me out of order, which was incorrect. My deferral motion lacked a seconder, so it died.
Council then voted 5-2 to extend the buffer to 100 feet from Quebec’s statutory 10 metres. Daren Legault and I voted no.
The science behind the 300% increase has never been disclosed or discussed. Instead, councillors appear to have agreed to the increase with the understanding that it could be dialled back if there was a problem.
Council was assured the scientific basis for a 30-metre wetland buffer would be supplied by Eco2Urb, a consulting firm specializing in the use of data on technical factors such as resilience, biodiversity, biodiversity, connectivity, flood mitigation and recreational or historical importance. I attended last Monday’s Eco2Urb workshop; the 30-metre buffer never came up in their presentation and nothing I heard supports Bylaw 526.8.
From the outset, council had trouble understanding how all the pieces leading to 526.8 would fit together.
Would Eco2Urb’s data give us better tools with which to shape Hudson’s future development? Some favoured freezing all development until we figured it out. Others supported a partial freeze based on what we already knew from two previous studies. Most saw 526.8 as a temporary measure pending recommendations from Eco2Urb and Axiome (another urban planning firm specializing in the legal aspects of development.
Eco2Urb was hired in June on the mayor’s recommendation. No invitation for competitive bids was extended to other consulting firms offering similar services. At the time, council was wrestling with ways to protect wetlands and forests of interest identified in a 2008 audit by consultants Teknika HBA. (A 2016 followup by CIMA+ applied only to the urban perimeter, which accounts for less than half of Hudson’s total land area). We all agreed on the need to integrate the results of both reports into our zoning bylaws but disagreed on the best path forward.
A council concern was how Eco2Urb’s formulaic approach to ranking wetlands and woodlands would serve us in coming up with better ways to defend against Hudson’s known vulnerabilities. Example: the mature forests covering Hudson’s many steep escarpments and ravines have no protection from affluent landowners willing to pay big fines for that million-dollar view. Another example: preventing landowners from backfilling and landscaping to the edges of wetlands and watercourses, wiping out shoreline vegetation that would otherwise mitigate erosion and flooding.
On June 3, council voted 5-1 to hire Eco2Urb on the basis of their prior knowledge of our region. (The lone standout was District 3 councillor Chloe Hutchison, who felt the Teknika and CIMA+ studies contained the data required; we needed an urban planner/biologist/lawyer combination to incorporate existing data into our bylaws.)
Council approved the more expensive Option 2 ($89,367.50 plus tax) because it included workshops where Eco2Urb could explain their methodology to council and citizens. It was agreed that residents should be made aware of any decision that could conceivably alter real estate values.
Citizens will get their one kick at the can beginning at 7 p.m. next Monday evening at the Community Centre.
Next: How Eco2Urb’s data makes Bylaw 526.8 redundant.