Draft bylaw 525.3: my questions and comments

Above, the overlay map of Eco2Urb’s proposed five-tier conservation plan contained in their 2020 report. The emphasis was on eco-corridor and forest canopy protection and resilience, not on halting all development.

By now, most Hudson residents will have received in their mail a one-page invitation to participate in a written public consultation on Draft Bylaw 525.3-2021 ‘to further amend the planning program — protection of natural areas.’ Observations, questions and comments are welcome until Monday, Feb. 7. And in bold letters, this piety: Your opinion counts!

To help residents understand the mechanics of the process, the town has scheduled a Zoom info session and live question period for next Wednesday, Feb. 2. An explanation of how to access the webinar is posted on the town website. Those unable to attend will be able to watch the recording and find the draft bylaw at https://hudson.quebec/en by clicking on Public Consultation.

To be clear, this public consultation is a legally required second step in the adoption process of the draft bylaw and revised interim control measure. Proposed changes to planning programs and zoning bylaws begin with a council’s approval of a first draft. And before we get our hopes up that our opinions will count, here’s what MAMH, Quebec’s municipal affairs ministry, says on the subject of public consultations:

A consultation scheme is a two-way communication with information exchange where citizens can ask questions, express concerns, expectations and opinions or comment on the project, the policy or approach under consideration. It is a way for the municipal body to understand the views of citizens on an issue, problem or policy. It should be noted that public consultation often occurs at an already advanced stage of the project, policy or process, which limits the ability of citizens to actually influence the final decision. This is an important distinction from interactive and collaborative participation schemes.

Or in plain English, council isn’t bound by anything submitted during this two-week exercise. Moreover, it has yet to commit to making the changes subject to approval by referendum. 

To recap, council adopted the first draft of Bylaw 525.3 at its Dec. 6 council meeting. It also froze the issuance of subdivision requests and building permits on every Hudson lot falling — entirely or in part — within one of five colour-coded tiers contained in a 2020 report by Eco2Urb (now Habitat) ranking conservation priorities. The five, in descending importance: core conservation areas; top 25% conservation priorities; top 30% conservation priorities; Montreal Metropolitan Community and Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC conservation priorities and lastly, a catchall labelled remaining natural areas. 

As you’ll see, three of the five tiers are based not on science, but on hypothetical scenarios and political discussions at two workshops held in the fall of 2019 and attended by fewer than 30 people.

In the spirit of this consultation, here are my three questions and a series of observations:

Q#1: If the 2020 Eco2Urb report is the bedrock on which council’s proposed overhaul of Hudson’s planning program and zoning bylaws is based, what gives this administration the ethical or legal right to extend the current freeze to hundreds of landowners whose properties were never characterized in Eco2Urb’s report? At what point in the process will these restrictions be lifted or made permanent? 

I’m referring to significant differences between Eco2Urb’s five tiers and the town’s interactive version. (The original is posted here, while the town’s version is found on the website or at: 


Start with Tier 5: remaining natural areas. We find less than a dozen of these purple blobs on the Eco2Urb overlay, yet they’re scattered throughout the town’s interactive map. For example, the town map draws a swath of purple covering some 18 lots between Shepherd and Mount Pleasant you won’t find on the Eco2Urb map. Purple predominates in parts of Hudson Valleys and Alstonvale. Who authorized these additions? On what basis were they characterized thus?

Above, lots near the urban centre characterized as natural areas in the town’s interactive map, but not in Eco2Urb’s report. Below, sectors of Hudson Valleys. Who added this? On what basis?

Q#2: Eco2Urb told those attending the workshops that the town has access to the software to enable property owners to determine by address or cadaster whether their lot is within one of the tiers. If so, why hasn’t this ability been made available to concerned citizens as part of the process? 

On the town map, we see all or parts of built lots characterized as Tier 2-5, even on long-developed streets and subdivisions: Bellevue, Seigneurie, Oakridge, Olympic, Whitlock West, Windcrest, Fairhaven, Birch Hill, Upper Whitlock, Evergreen, Mount Pleasant to name a few. Will these characterizations be lifted? When? If not, when will their owners be made aware of the constraints on development?

There is a DIY possibility here. Property owners can find their cadastral numbers on their tax bills. Armed with that knowledge, they can Google Infolot, zoom in on their property, then match it with the lot shape and location on the town’s interactive map. For those without the inclination or time, wouldn’t it be easier to reprogram the interactive map with cadastral numbers? 

Q#3: What part of the proposed changes to 525.3 are science-based and what is based on conjecture and politics?

Many residents are asking how the colour-coded five-tier metric evolved. Go back to May 2019, when Eco2Urb was hired to incorporate known wetlands and woodlands in Hudson’s planning program and zoning bylaws. Eco2Urb’s team began with verifying the data contained in the 2008 Teknika greenspace audit and 2017 CIMA+ study, then filled in the gaps with their own fieldwork. With cutting-edge planning spoftware, they generated the biodiversity, landscape connectivity and ecosystem service maps found in their report. 

The result of that first pass was Tier 1: Core conservation areas. Canary yellow on the Eco2Urb priorities map, they’re the yellow-edged brown areas on the town’s interactive map. These are areas already enjoying some environmental protection from municipal bylaws and provincial legislation — forested and open wetlands plus a 10-metre buffer zone, watercourses and their buffers, slopes of more than 30 degrees and their buffers, and flood zones along the Ottawa. “These are corridors of high ecological value.” the report concludes. I doubt many residents have a problem with Tier 1.

At this point, Eco2Urb’s mandate strayed from science into scenario-spinning and discussions about how to rank greenspaces in terms of their conservation and ecosystem service values. Facilitators at two workshops oversaw a handful of citizens in a consensus-building process determining what should be saved first. What would be the result if 25% of the top conservation priorities were protected? What about 30%? What happens if we add the conservation priorities of the CMM, the MRC?  The result: tiers 2-5.

Tier 2: Top 25% conservation priorities. Pale green on Eco2Urb’s overlay and forest green on the town’s version, this and the Top 30% are arbitrary numbers based on a range of assumptions presented at two workshops for council members and citizens. (The latter saw a turnout of just 26 people.) 

The workshops included blue-sky scenarios, some of which had no basis in reality. In an exercise weighing the relative impacts of transit-oriented and service-oriented outcomes, both foresaw “Hudson’s golf courses […] flipped into urban developments resulting in the erasure of Golf Falcon, the Whitlock Golf and Country Club as well as the Como Golf Club.” 

In fact, The Falcon and Como Golf are agriculturally zoned under provincial authority (CPTAQ) while repurposing all or any part of Whitlock would require zoning changes at three levels of government (municipal, MRC and MMC). 

CPTAQ agricultural zoning map: 52% of Hudson’s 36.5 square kilometres are zoned green. Nothing supports Eco2Urb’s dezoning hypothesis.

Or this: “Agricultural land would be lost in part to urban developments in areas previously zoned white.” More than half (52%) of Hudson’s 36.5 square kilometres is zoned green on the CPTAQ map. Neither the Montreal Metropolitan Community nor the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC have shown interest in supporting municipal dezoning requests even if Hudson applied — which it hasn’t in the past decade. Nothing supports this hypothesis.

Tier 3: Top 30% Conservation Priorities

Teal on Eco2Urb’s overlay and light blue on the the 525.3 map, the 30% represents what Eco2Urb believed would be the optimal conservation mix. While Eco2Urb’s overlays aren’t high enough resolution to be certain, there are enough discrepancies between the two maps to beg the question why. Were they aimed at stopping specific developments? Were they driven by an anti-development agenda? Those questions need to be asked because you can be sure the lawyers will be asking those same questions when alleged disguised expropriations are litigated.  

Tier 4: PMAD and Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC conservation priorities

Aptly Quebec blue on both maps, these natural areas are defined as high priorities in the master plans of the Montreal Metropolitan Community and MRC. What I find odd is that while Hudson’s business-as-usual data shows a decrease in the total number of hectares developed, Eco2Urb  projects significant increases in every scenario. On what basis? 

Graph from Eco2Urb’s report projects the expansion of the urban perimeter by 2070 as the result of a range of scenarios, the least being if 30% protection measures are adopted. The graph fails to explain the drop in business-as-usual development even before conservation measures are in place.

Q#3: One of Eco2Urb’s metrics in establishing the five tiers was what would happen to the town’s greenspaces if development was left to current practices. Their report doesn’t define what is meant by business as usual. The number of households in Hudson increased by 375 between 1991 and 2016 according to federal census stats. Over that period, Hudson averaged 15 new doors a year, or 7% growth over 25 years. Can we assume this is what should be considered as the business-as-usual baseline and if so, what’s the problem with that level of development? 

To sum up, this proposed bylaw revision appears to be based in part on hypothetical concerns with little or no scientific basis. I believe most citizens will agree on the need for stronger measures against unnecessary tree-cutting and wetland backfilling on undeveloped land, but this can be achieved through more robust regulation enforcement on a lot-by-lot basis.  Hudson’s ravines — and the streams and brooks that run through them — are fragile and prone to contamination from failing septic tanks and other pollution sources but this council has already been made aware of proposed solutions.

I appreciate the enormity of the task this administration has set for itself in attempting to plug every loophole in Hudson’s planning program and zoning bylaws, but that isn’t an excuse for using Eco2Urb as justification for slamming the door on development. That orientation is nowhere in the report and this council will be reminded of that when the inevitable disguised-expropriation lawsuits arrive in civil court.

My advice to the mayor and council: Understand that this isn’t an exercise in proving how environmentally woke you are. Get your head around what this means to all of Hudson’s citizens, not just those who elected you. And above all, listen and take the advice of those who submit their questions, comments and observations. They’ll be the judges of your honesty and transparency.

(For more on how the colour-coded tiers came about, read my previous thousandlashes.ca posts Development vs. conservation: hope for a path forward, Nov. 14, 2019 and Eco2Urb report: plan to protect, July 9, 2020.)

Development: tolerance zero

Hudson’s current save-the-environment mantra provides convenient cover for a municipal council seemingly determined to halt all development anywhere in the municipality. I might be referring to the retroactive freeze on Willowbrook’s 30-door first phase, but in this case it was council’s decision at last Monday’s January session to reject a 10-unit townhouse project at the corner of Main and Daoust — without being able to explain why to the landowner.

Following the rejection of his proposal, Jean-François Duperron asked mayor Chloe Hutchison what he would have to change to get his project approved. First, TPAC recommended its refusal, followed by council voting to refuse, he noted. What doesn’t conform? I don’t know where to start. Can someone please tell me what I need to do?

Mayor Hutchison told Duperron that urban planning would work with him by conveying the whys and wherefores of the refusal to help establish the right orientation. She redirected the conversation to TPAC chair Peter Mate, who quoted from the criteria of the Site Planning and Architectural Protection Program for the Sector H: the heritage belt and scenic road along Main Road. I can hear the conversation now with Urban Planning, where Duperron will be punted back to the mayor and council because the project ticks the zoning checklist. In almost every other municipality I know, development is an administrative process. In Hudson, it’s a political decision. No wonder most experienced developers run from the place.

(Roughly half a dozen SPAIPs govern demolition, new builds and renos, mainly along Main Road and in the urban core. Collectively, the SPAIPs represent roughly 15% of Hudson’s 2,481 residential units. Although the wording varies, the common aim is to “preserve the architectural character of the buildings of interest during major renos or expansion works”, and in the case of new buildings, “favour a rural or country architectural character with high-pitched roofs and exterior siding materials such as wood, natural stone and brick in shades of red or brown to be in harmony with neighbouring buildings and the environment.” Ditto with architectural details.)

Duperron’s proposal faces an additional hurdle. His 10-unit rowhouse project is conditional on demolition of the existing house at 356 Main, but he can’t apply for a demolition permit until his replacement project is approved. The existing bungalow was built in 1956 and recently upgraded, but with a valuation of just over $400,000, its real value is in the corner lot it occupies — 2,944 square metres/31,694 square feet, with 99.1 metres/325 feet of frontage.

In any other municipality, a fully serviced lot of this size on the edge of the downtown core with a dwelling of no particular archtectural value would be a prime candidate for redevelopment. Not in Hudson, where the usual discourse about the morality of tearing down a perfectly good house takes precedence over basic common sense and where every council comes under pressure to save some pile of bricks or sticks (ref. Torrance cottage, Lavigne homestead, Macauley barn, Hodgson house, St. Mary’s Hall). In every case, the conversation ends when councillors are presented with the legal options — negotiate an acceptable development compromise or be prepared to ask taxpayers to buy the land.

Back to the case at hand, I find myself wondering how to read the 356 Main rejection. Most developers expect their initial presentation to be refused. It’s an opening gambit in a process that sees everyone involved — the client, urban planning, TPAC, council — working to negotiate a compromise. Listening to Monday’s comments from the mayor and TPAC chairman, one didn’t get that. What I heard was a mayor and councillor gaslighting the property owner into thinking he might get his project approved if he jumps through hoops, when in fact there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell he’ll get his demolition permit and approval for as long as this council can keep the old Hudson sport of moving the goalposts in play.

Suggested reading: Brian Grubert’s recent post regarding 356 Main on Hudson and Vicinity. Grubert claims the provincial land use and development act gives the town the power to say no to the project even though it was green-lighted by 2017 changes to zoning bylaw 526 as a result of the TOD designation. Grubert maintains that according to the LAU, Hudson’s Planning Program takes priority over zoning bylaws, giving council the power to reject this project outright. A trial balloon? It wouldn’t be the first time.

The mayor and council may not feel they have a legal obligation to inform Mr. Duperron of that possibility, but right-thinking citizens would argue that the town has a moral and ethical duty to tell the man his project is stillborn.

That same principle applies to Willowbrook. Until Monday evening, I was fairly sure council would agree eventually to exclude the 30 lots contained in Willowbrook Phase 1 so they won’t look like heartless meanies. Now, I’m a whole lot less certain. The mayor announced at the start of the meeting that there would be at least a dozen questions from Willowbrook residents. In the end, we heard from two. The others were given oral reassurances that their concerns were noted.

Now I find myself wondering whether those coy comments to Willowbrook Phase 1 residents (we can’t out-and-out state you’ll get building permits, but trust us) contain any weight.

I also find myself wondering whether that’s the real nature of the back-to-back development freezes. Are we looking at a process similar to the Legault government’s interminable lockdowns and restrictions? Is the development lockdown being extended to the entire town and every cadastral operation?

Let’s review some of the announcements and revelations emerging over the past week:

— a 15-day public consultation on amendments to the town’s land use and development bylaw 525 runs between Jan. 24 and Feb. 7. It will include a virtual Zoom information session, yet to be announced.
— at the Feb. 7 regular council meeting, a draft interim control bylaw will be presented to replace the interim control resolution (RCI) adopted Dec. 6. This new bylaw will include temporary measures to protect natural environments.
— a Feb. 24 extraordinary council meeting will adopt both 525.3 and the interim control bylaw, which will remain in effect until the bylaws affecting subdivision and zoning come into effect.

As of this past Friday, it wasn’t clear whether any of these revisions will be subject to approval by referendum, although town sources tell me some feel a moral obligation to open a register at the public consultation in the next phase (see below).

Also last Monday, council approved a $22,000 (ex taxes) contract with urban planning consultants Paré + Associés to assist in writing the final version of 525.3 and drafting the interim control bylaw that will remain in place until Hudson’s revised Planning Program is operational. Paré’s team will consult with Eco2Urb, whose findings provide the basis for the proposed woodland/wetland protections in Bylaw 525, and with the town’s legal council and urban planning department prior to revising the draft. A second public consultation places is included in the timeline. The estimated maximum delay between December’s adoption of the RCI and application of Planning Program bylaws: 24 months.

The constant in this council’s accession to power has been the speed at which the anti-development lobby has embedded itself in the administration. Monday’s session saw the adoption of a resolution empowering the Ad-Hoc Conservation Working Group (CWG), a group of environmentalists and activists to supply input to the Planning Program at the administrative and political levels.The committee’s membership (Donald Attwood, Tanja Burns, JJ Corker, Sylvie Ferron, David Kalant, Briony Lalor, Kevin Solarik) threatens to become a distracting issue following Monday’s meeting, where J.J. Corker outed himself as president of Nature Hudson, “a not-for-profit corporation representing the interests of Hudson residents affected by the Willowbrook development project.”

It’s unfortunate council members haven’t completed Quebec’s compulsory ethics-and-good-conduct course, where newbies learn their legal responsibilities and returning councillors get a refresher. District 5 councillor and CWG chair Mark Gray announced Monday evening that he and Smith had had four meetings with CWG members before the group was legally constituted. (I’ve been assured the CWG will have access to urban planning, but not to Eco2Urb or Paré.)

Also Monday, District 1 councillor Doug Smith hinted at major changes in urban planning (discussion of HR issues in open council is a no-no; Smith, a council veteran, should have known better.) These aren’t actionable, but they demonstrate the fecklessness of a council whose members appear to neither know nor care about legalities.

Meanwhile, legal considerations are piling up. One can assume the current ban on wetland backfilling will be extended to lands characterized as part of an eco-corridor. That directly affects the town’s most valuable real estate along the Ottawa River, including Sandy Beach and several smaller developments, such as John Nassr’s project at the foot of Macauley Hill.

Revisions to the town’s canopy-protection bylaw will limit tree-cutting on dozens of unbuilt lots in Hudson Valleys and Alstonvale. Lots adjacent to parks or bordering on watercourses and wetlands throughout the urban perimeter also risk being frozen pending a decision on who should and shouldn’t be grandfathered. Roughly 50 units on tracts to the east of the core are an indefinite hold.

hi With less than 200 grand earmarked for legal expenses in this year’s budget, council’s orientation (take it out of the accumulated surplus!) shows reckless disregard for the fiscal impact of saying no. Sandy Beach developer Nicanco and Willowbrook’s Habitations Robert have served the town with notice of their intent to sue for costs and loss of revenue. I expect others will follow as back-to-back freezes block their options. Time to post the big No! sign on the door at urban planning.