At 1 p.m. this afternoon, François Legault hit his first false note when he announced a three-week extension (until May 4) of the forced closure of all businesses deemed non-essential.
Until today, Legault led the country and the continent in his measured response to the developing coronavirus pandemic. Quebec was the first jurisdiction in North America to tighten the net on public gatherings, then lock down most public activities in mid-March, when the rates of infection, hospitalization and deaths continued to accelerate. Legault waited until March 23 before ordering non-essential commerces and businesses to shut down until April 13. He was careful to characterize measures taken to overcome community resistence as being required for the common good. Political peers from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Doug Ford and Jason Kenney listened to what Quebec’s premier had to say.
At every step, Legault and his team had the unquestioning support of the majority of Quebeckers, a big reason why Google Analytics credits Quebec with leading the continent in containment measures.
I have no doubt Legault’s lockdown extension is based on good medicine. With 94 deaths and almost 8,000 confirmed cases, Quebec’s curve is showing no sign of flattening. With more than 500 COVID-19 patients (154 in intensive care), Quebec’s emergency care system is nearing its capacity to cope, especially if a significant percentage of the population refuses to take basic precautions — distancing, remaining at home, wearing masks, hand-washing, etc.
Yes, Legault has good reasons to extend the lockdown — but only if he and his staff redefine what’s essential and what isn’t.
Is Pratt & Whitney’s South-shore turbine plant essential? Why? To whom? The private jet industry and the holy grail of nonstop flights anywhere on the planet to protect the ultra-rich from the grubbiness of people suffering? Why are the SAQ and cannabis outlets essential? Why are some workers deemed essential enough to have to struggle into work while others in the same office can work from home? Why are big-box home improvement franchises essential but my neighbourhood garage isn’t? The essential/non-essential designations need rebalancing in light of what we now know about this virus and society’s reaction to it.
A month into this nightmare, I’m seeing governments assisting the monopolies at the expense of small and medium-sized businesses. Consider Ottawa’s measures to encourage businesses not to lay off their employees. How does that help any business that isn’t on the essential list and thus can’t open for business? How does that help a business whose clients are themselves having to close up shop or work from home? Will Ottawa cover the mortgage, the business loan, the rent? Will the banks defer payment on the commercial landlord’s mortgage? Talk to your bank, not to your politicians.
I’m seeing our supply chains being altered, possibly for good. Our local IGA struggles with the volume of shoppers, including people from out of town who shop in Hudson because they think small towns are safer. My daughter, who lives in a COVID red zone in Montreal, shops in Ile Perrot for exactly that reason. After our phoned-in order was delivered half-filled, with wierd substitutes (tangerine-flavoured IPA?) our neighbours suggested we try the Vaudreuil Walmart. I’ve always shunned Walmart because of the impact it has had on local business but this pandemic has that effect on principle. South of us, most Americans think Trump did the right thing in ordering 3M to stop exporting masks to us. Most Canadians think we should retaliate by cutting off 3M’s crucial supply of wood pulp required for N95 masks.
In a pandemic, do two wrongs make a right?
A new definition of irony: national governments bailing out the airlines, who allowed this pestilence to invade our homelands at the speed of jet travel and assigned their untrained employees the responsibility of deciding who should be allowed to infect a planeload of passengers. It’s no different than the 2007 bank bailout after their dodgy practices destroyed the economy and shattered the social contract. Why are we not billing the feckless cruise industry with the cost of repatriating the nationals their lax hygiene measures aboard their horizontal hotels made sick? Why are people being repatriated to Canada by the feds and their airline buddies not being tracked by provincial health authorities? Instead they’re being asked to honour a promise to self-isolate, which from what I’ve seen in my home town, means diddly squat. When did the Privacy Act trump my right to life? Pure political bullshit. South Korea requires these repatriates to wear electronic tracking devices — and bills them.
At today’s briefing Legault was joined by Industry Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon, who touted his Panier bleu campaign to encourage Quebeckers to shop chez nous before buying imports. Fitzgibbons’s prescription was more political fabulation. Listening to his quackery, one might believe the salvation of our local economies lies in more bureaucracy.
As I rode through Hudson this afternoon, the streets were empty except for a handful of diehard exercisers and a Manoir resident tottering down the centre of Main Road. I wondered how many of the shuttered businesses will survive. Much is made of the generosity of those who buy meals at the local frites joint with a Post-it note but the truth is that an extended lockdown until May 4 may mean the difference between life and death for our local businesses. It is immoral to pretend they’re not as deserving of help as a salaried employee.
People are trying to work around Legault’s edicts. I ran into a Hudson contractor whose phone never stops ringing with work. Word of mouth. He told me he’s chosen to stop working. The $10,000 fine has a lot to do with it. I saw others still at work, perhaps in violation of the decree. On a Sunday, when the COVID cops are taking a break.
On Sandy Beach, a couple of young women were distancing themselves from a trio of young men ignoring the town’s six-foot distancing edict. SEPAQ, Valerie Plante and the forces of quarantine have shut down Mount Royal, Ile Notre Dame and all but a handful of the island’s greenspaces. I can only imagine what our town will look like if this slow-motion disaster lives on into the summer and four million people desperately seek somewhere to breathe. Will Hudson be able to open its municipal pool, operate its day camp and proceed with our usual calendar of public events? Montreal has already cancelled the Tour de l’Ile, the Francofolies, the Jazz Festival, Osheaga and rescheduled Just for Laughs to the fall. What do you think?
I guess I can’t burden Legault with all this. I think he’s doing his best and I hope this was a one-day slip. But it would have helped if he had announced a proposal that would ask all 125 National Assembly members to take a 50% pay cut for the duration. Symbolic, but in light of the sacrifices the rest of us are making, significant. It might even trigger a similar action in Ottawa and the other provinces.
This coming Tuesday, Legault will be giving Quebeckers the long-term prognosis on how he and his experts see the pandemic playing itself out. We’ll get death estimates, just as Doug Ford shared last week. It was the only time in the past month that someone upstaged Quebec’s premier. I hope it’s the last.
To remind us of how things have evolved, here’s my March 23 journal entry:
March 23, 2020: Today I’m loving my country. Team Canada led the world in announcing we won’t be sending our athletes to Tokyo in July. The PM has just announced $192M for research into vaccines. Research teams across Canada are experimenting with antivirals and compounds to calm the human immune system’s reaction to the coronavirus. The pandemic has our politicians working hand in glove with doctors, scientists, business, industry and unions as each new day brings new challenges and the need to make the right choices.
We need good news. Economically, Canada was already fighting stiff headwinds when the COVID-19 tsunami hit us. Pipeline protests cost billions and cost jobs. Two major fossil-fuel megaprojects were cancelled or lost partners. Parliament resumes tomorrow for emergency debate on financial relief; here’s fervently hoping our MPs remember they’re there for Canadians, not politics. Will the money go to help working Canadians already struggling in a shifting economy? Will it be used to offset new fiscal challenges facing Canadian municipalities?
We’re seeing signals of bailouts to industry. From the scramble to repatriate stranded Canadian, you know Air Canada, WestJet and their affiliates are on the list. Banks, too. Manufacturers are jostling in the rush to board the medical-supplies gravy train. Some sectors of the Canadian economy may even profit from coronavirus.
There seems to be a dawning awareness in government that the measures required to reverse the rate of infection may end up killing small business. Anything which impedes consumers from consuming targets the service sector and their employees. That’s why it’s not enough to offer wage subsidies and worksharing to businesses that can’t operate. What good is filing a BDC loan application when one’s bank won’t extend a business’s line of credit? Who has to swallow the cost of cancelled contracts, of unsold inventory, of unfilled seats? If the aviation industry is offered a bailout, why not the hotel and restaurant sectors?
I dare to hope this is the crisis that will force us to rethink how wealth is distributed in a capitalist democracy. One of the first acts of the Ford Conservatives in Ontario was to scrap a guaranteed-minimum-salary pilot project that would have helped its participants cope with the cost of social distancing. All levels of government need to keep in mind how the coronavirus ignores equal-opportunity guidelines.
Como Bog was frozen solid, glittering in the bright sun under a thick coating of ice this past Saturday — ideal conditions for a walkabout on the site of Hudson’s controversial housing development on Como Gardens.
A clay berm surrounding the project appears complete, one of the provincial environment ministry’s conditions for a certificate of authorization. The theory behind the impermeable berm is that it will block the flow of water between the 13-bungalow project and the surrounding bog.
As housing projects go, this is tiny, but it has taken a decade to reach this point. It never would have gotten this far if Quebec’s current wetland protection regulations had been in force when Sebastien Weiner, the original developer of what was then known as UK2, had set out to make it happen.
Some 10 years back, Weiner took possession of 8.5 hectares of the 9.73-hectare Como Bog, then came to an agreement with Quebec’s transport and environment ministries which would allow him to deforest roughly 3.4 hectares, strip-mine the peat and backfill to a level 18 inches above Como Gardens before starting construction of a dozen or so single-family units. (How that and similar wetland-trade deals were possible back then is another story, which I’ll get to.)
In return, Weiner agreed to donate five hectares of the bog to the Transport Ministry, which would then sign it over it to the town or recognized conservation organization for a dollar. To compensate for the part of the bog he proposed to develop, Weiner paid an undisclosed sum to protect 7.45 hectares of wetland in Rigaud.
Details of Weiner’s UK2 development were first presented at the September 2012 town planning advisory committee (TPAC) meeting. Although there only two items on the agenda, it would be a busy evening for councillors Robert Spencer (chairman), Madeleine Hodgson and Tim Snow plus committee members Susie Aird, David Croydon, Joyce Galliker, Andrée Bourassa, Brian Grubert, Marcus Owen, Dianne Laheurte and Phillip Avis. Besides UK2, TPAC would be presented with the latest version of George Ellerbeck’s Como subdivision – the Willowbrook development. According to the minutes, mayor Michael Elliott, urban planning manager Nathalie Lavoie and town engineer Trail Grubert were also in attendance.
Weiner presented his case for UK2. He pointed out the land was already zoned for single-family residences. There would be an easy connection to the new sewer system via the pumping station across the street. He maintained that the wetland trade allowing development was none of the town’s business, seeing as how he already had the required authorization certificates from the environment ministry.
Long before the meeting, public opinion was running against the project even though the town stood to take ownership of 80% of the bog. Residents pointed out that Weiner’s land was identified in the June, 2008 Teknika greenspace audit as part of MH-25, a 9.73-hectare peat bog characterized as the most environmentally sensitive wetland in Hudson. How, they demanded, could the town allow development of part of the bog to save the rest if development threatened the entire ecosystem?
Mayor Elliott and council maintained their fallback position — that Hudson had no jurisdiction over the provincial shell game that allowed Weiner to develop the bog. At one point, council asked Weiner to sell them all 8.5 hectares at 14 cents a square foot. Weiner’s counteroffer: I’ll sell the town the proposed building lots, but at fair market value. [Uninformed guesstimates ranged between $1 and $2.5 million.]
To understand the Como Bog file, we need to go back to April 2012, when Liberal environment minister Pierre Arcand tabled Bill 71 permitting the development of a wetland in exchange for the protection of a wetland of equal or superior value in the same watershed. The act was in direct response to a Quebec Superior Court ruling earlier that year in the case of a cranberry producer denied the right to expand his operations.
Bill 71 gives the environment ministry the power to require compensation measures to restore, protect or enhance a wetland, a body of water or a piece of land as the price of the right to develop. Once the law came into effect, anyone looking to develop a wetland MAY be required to include compensation measures when applying for a certificate of authorization.
Because the ministry customarily required developers to implement compensation measures on projects affecting wetlands, the government made Bill 71 retroactive. This means that any compensation measure imposed in an authorization or a certificate of authorization issued prior to March 12, 2012 remains valid despite subsequent changes to Quebec’s environmental protection, municipal jurisdiction and land use legislation.
Fasken Martineau’s analysis of Bill 71 observes: “Interestingly, the Bill contains no clause allowing for derogation from Section 6 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms concerning fundamental property rights.” In other words, the right to develop trumps a municipality’s right to impose restrictions on development — but only for wetland trades with certificates of authorization issued prior to March 12/12.
All over Quebec, developers with wetland to trade and legalists who saw money to be made — legally, with Quebec’s blessing — rushed to take advantage of the wetland-flip loophole before it slammed shut. [Residential developments in several of St. Lazare’s most sensitive wetlands and critical aquifer replenishment zones were authorized during this bleak period of state-sanctioned environmental despoilation.] In the case of UK2, it was the government itself doing the rushing. In its haste to complete the westernmost Highway 30 section between Chateauguay and Vaudreuil-Dorion, the transport ministry was forced to backfill several wetlands. It was at this point that Quebec’s transport and environment ministries entered into the agreement that resulted in certificates of authorization permitting the development of part of the Como Bog.
Fast forward to the Hudson council meeting of March 5, 2018. Item 3.4 on the agenda was a resolution regarding the subdivision of the Como Gardens project, more specifically whether the Town should take the mandatory 10% park/playground tax in land, money, or a mix of greenspace and cash. The developer offers council three options: 14 lots (13 residential lots and one lot representing 6.1% of the total land area for park purposes); 13 residential lots but no park and a third option comprising 6.1% of the total land area in parkland, with another perpetual conservation covenants of non-construction at the promoter’s expense.
Deeply divided over the options, council voted to refer the file to the natural infrastructure committee for further study and recommendations. The vote to defer bought time, but no clarity. At the April 3, 2018 council meeting, confusion over what constituted parkland vs. land under conservation led to a serious misunderstanding which prevails to the present. The environment ministry’s certificate of authorization requires a conservation servitude totalling 1,385 square metres between the building lots and the bog. This is NOT part of the 1,171- square-metre (13%) parkland allotment, which includes a 700-square-metre corridor running between the conservation zone and the bog, plus a 471-square-metre triangular greenspace at the southwest corner of the project. The conservation area includes a major spring which feeds the bog year-round.
Together, the conservation servitude and the parkland ceded to the town exceed 28%, with 13% of that total ceded to the town. But that wasn’t the resolution council voted to approve. At that meeting, the former director-general left the hall to have a brief discussion with the developer, then returned to announce that the town would be getting what amounted to a 25% greenspace allowance. The minutes of the April 3, 2018 meeting reflect this confusion:
WHEREAS the promotor is offering a land transfer representing about 25% of the surface area; CONSIDERING a clay wall will have to be erected by the promotor; WHEREAS the promotor will have to establish the validity of his certificate of authorization;
It is moved by the Councillor for district 2 (Eastern Hudson) Austin Rikley-Krindle Seconded by the Councillor for district 5 (Eastern Heights) Jim Duff
TO APPROVE, in satisfaction of article 304 c) of By-Law 529 concerning permits and certificates, a land transfer representing 10% or more of the surface area of the land on the condition that the promotor meets the requirements of Section 46.0.9 of the Environment Quality Act.
Subsequently, both sides have struggled to correct the impression that council and residents were deliberately induced in error in order to get the project approved. Since then, agreements concerning infrastructure hookup and remediation have been successfully concluded.
Never Another Como Bog! has become the rallying cry for those who push for wider wetland buffers and tighter restrictions on deforestation, excavating and backfilling in Hudson. They’re not wrong, but their fixation on the Como Gardens development as an example is misplaced and misleading.
Begin with Bill 71, An Act Respecting Compensation Measures for the Carrying Out of Projects Affecting Wetlands or Bodies of Water. After its adoption, municipalities saw firsthand the folly of wetland flips. A series of hearings in 2012 resulted in major changes outlawing same-watershed trades. In 2017, adoption of the Act regarding the conservation of wetlands and watercourses imposed a new framework of analysis based on the ‘no net loss’ concept. Under these changes, Como Gardens would not have been permitted.
Municipalities are also having to deal with the blowback from uncontrolled wetland and shoreline development. As our climate gets warmer, it gets wetter. The more we develop, the greater and faster the runoff, necessitating increasing investment in degraded, inadequate infrastructure.
In Hudson’s case, we should be worrying about the velocity and volume of runoff from upstream, beginning with the Viviry. Within a decade, we’ll see an additional 500 doors built on the Viviry watershed. We saw what happened when a midwinter thaw destroyed the Pine Lake dam. We have no choice but to replace it and re-engineer Pine Lake into a retention/detention basin if we don’t want to see Cameron washed away — and that’s just the beginning.
Some people I talk to believe Hudson is just fine with fewer than 6,000 residents. They may be right, but as someone who believes in budgeting for reality and spending within our means, I warn that Hudson’s current level of expenditure and priorities are not sustainable with the current population level. One can’t oppose development while continuing to burn money dreaming of grandiose projects.
Yes, Como Gardens is a lesson to this and future councils — a lesson in the need to make the hard decisions quickly, decisively and without second-guessing. It may be right, it may be wrong, but at least it’s a decision. Move forward and stop agonizing over the blowback.
The following stories ran in the Hudson/St. Lazare Gazette in October 2010:
Hudson, developer clash over peat bog
By Jim Duff
HUDSON — The Town of Hudson and developer Sebastien Weiner are crossing swords over a proposed housing development on Como Gardens opposite the new Palliative Care Centre, on land classified in a 2008 wetland audit as the most ecologically sensitive peat bog in the municipality.
Weiner has reached an agreement with Quebec’s transport and environment ministries that will let him deforest roughly 3.4 hectares, strip-mine the peat and backfill to a level 18 inches above Como Gardens before starting construction of 10 or 11 homes.
In return, he’s agreed to give five hectares of the bog to the Transport Ministry, which would then donate it to the town or recognized conservation organization for a dollar.
As a further gesture of good faith, Weiner has offered the Ministère du développement durable, de l’environnement et des parcs (MDDEP) 7.45 hectares of land in Rigaud.
Details of Weiner’s UK2 development were presented at the September town planning advisory committee (TPAC) meeting. He pointed out the land is already zoned for single-family residences, with easy connection to the new sewer system via a pumping station across the street.
The town is dead set against the deal even though it would mean getting roughly five hectares of Weiner’s 8.5-hectare total, including the deepest part of the bog contiguous with two town-owned lots. They want him to sell them all 8.5 hectares at $0.14 a square foot.
Weiner has offered to sell the town the proposed building lots, but at fair market value.
“I’ve turned the world around to make everybody happy on this. Now they want all of it for free?
“An unscrupulous developer could mine the whole bog, put in new roads, put 30-40 houses, he added. “I’m protecting it, free to the town because of the transport deal, only using existing infrastructure….It’s really a win-win deal for everybody.”
Weiner said he doesn’t need the town’s permission to cut trees, mine the peat, backfill and build. Peat, he explained, is considered a mineral resource, like gold or oil; “Peat bogs fall under the provincial mining law, putting them beyond municipal jurisdiction…Legally, it is a mine.”
“Saying that peat bogs are in danger is false. They’re not,” he added. Peat bogs — either carex or sphagnum moss — make up 17 percent of Canada’s total land area — 117 million hectares — and nine percent of Quebec. Ninety percent is untouched. Of Quebec’s 12 million hectares, 174,000 hectares are exploited — 1.45 percent. Hydro-Quebec accounts for 120,000 hectares of that total.
He recognizes that the town may try to block the deal by refusing to allow him to connect to the sewer system even though there’s a pumping station across the street.
“Are you going to put a septic system 50 feet away from a sewer line? It’s just common sense here.”
He says he’s ready to discuss details of the peat-removal operations with his one neighbour, the Palliative Care Centre. “I’ll go talk to them…obviously it is not going to be done at midnight, it’s going to be done during normal regular hours. If there was a house being built across the street, there would be the same shovel, the same noise, the same everything.
“The land was zoned residential, from way before [the Centre] was there. The point is to be a good neighbour. I live across the street from it…I did recognize there was a compromise to be had.”
Weiner notes he was born here, grew up here and decided to live here, so he’s aware of Hudson’s desire to preserve things the way they are.
“I spent two years of my life negotiating a compromise whereby more than 80 percent of the peat bog would be protected for free for the town of Hudson. I structured a deal between the Ministère des Transports, MDDEP and myself whereby Transport would create a conservation zone — and give it to the town for free.”
Why the Ministry of Transport? Weiner said it appeared that it was “some kind of old IOU for an old project between the two ministries and this fit the bill.It has nothing to do with the Town of Hudson…the Town of Hudson just ends up being the beneficiary.”
MH-25 tops 2008 Teknika list
Sebastien Weiner’s land was identified in the June, 2008 Teknika greenspace audit as part of MH-25, a 9.73-hectare peat bog characterized as the most environmentally sensitive wetland in Hudson.
That characterization was reached on the basis of points assigned for size, diversity and rarity of flora and fauna and the nature of the peat subsoil, which reaches depths of approximately 11 to 12feet in the centre of the bog. The audit identified four plant species as well as four wildfowl species characterized as vulnerable. There are approximately 12 million hectares of peat bogs in Québec (9% of the province) of which 98.55% are virgin. Peat is a mineral substance as defined in the Provincial Mining Law. As such, extracting peat is considered a mining operation which benefits from special privileges and is governed at a provincial not municipal level.
Weiner’s six-sided lot is bounded by Como Gardens, Hodgson, Main Road, the Canadian Pacific right of way and a town-owned lot stretching from Mullan to the Canadian Pacific track.
His agreement with both the Ministère du Développement Durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs (MDDEP) and the Ministère des Transports (MTQ) allows him to extract the peat from a band of land, approx. 100 feet wide, along Como-Gardens and Hodgson roads.. After backfilling to the same level as the Palliative Care Residence across the street, he can then subdivide the 100-foot strip into roughly a dozen 30,000-square-foot lots.
Because the area is already zoned residential, Weiner needs no zoning change.
Under the terms of the deal he’s proposing, the town would get roughly 5.8 hectares at no cost — 5.4 hectares from the MTQ, including the area of mature trees and the four identified plant species as well as the deepest part of the bog and another 0.4 hectares as part of the 10-percent greenspace allowance the town is entitled to when a property is subdivided.
The town has the choice of where it will take the 10 percent, or whether it will take it in cash.
Also part of the deal, Weiner has worked out an agreement with the environment ministry to acquire and transfer to the an area of equal size in Rigaud.— Jim Duff
Long after Donald Trump is dead and gone, the fake-news label his tweets spawned will live on. Twitter, Facebook and their imitators will see to that.
The real-news tests taught in journalism school will still apply to traditional print and broadcast outlets, but their credibility has suffered. New York Times and Washington Post? Fake news to anyone who doesn’t buy the truth. The same goes for CBS, CNBC, CNN, and any other mainstream outlet with professional reporters and editors.
I see the same thing happening in Canada with the attacks on CBC, CTV, Global and print media. The new test for journalism: believe what you want to believe and disregard the rest.
I get a chuckle out of being singled out as a source of fake news. It’s a lot easier to apply a fake-news smear than it is to come out with one’s own account of what happened — or to seek recourse through established channels.
Of all the Canadian provinces, Quebec’s journalistic standards are the most demanding. The Quebec Press Act sets those standards. The Quebec Press Council, an arm’s-length tripartite body funded by the provincial government, the information industry and the professional body representing working journalists accepts complaints regarding news articles and opinion published, broadcast or posted by readily identifiable sources, including thousandlashes.ca on WordPress.
After deciding whether the complaint is founded, the Council’s secretariat contacts the complainant and the respondent to get their versions. The file is then assigned to the decisional tribunal. Once a decision is rendered, it is made public.
There is an appeal process if either side feels the decision is unfair. The Conseil also offers mediation.
So, rather than indulging in innuendo, the prudent course of action for anyone who feels wrongly done by would be to file a complaint with the Conseil de presse. The procedure can be done online and decisions are generally arrived at within a reasonable delay.
Another principle is in play, that of public comment by an elected official. Two years ago, the issue came up at a training course for newly elected members of council. None of those giving the course could venture an opinion based on jurisprudence. All agreed it was a grey area and it might be preferable to take these matters to the Quebec Municipal Commission.
When I think of the hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money squandered the last time someone took an internal fight to the Quebec Municipal Commission, I’ll stick with the Conseil de presse. It’s free.
Hudson’s controversial Bylaw 526.8 is not on the order paper for Monday’s December council meeting, but that won’t stop its supporters on council from trying to add it to the agenda.
Those who call this a Trojan Horse may be close to the truth.
Adopted as a draft bylaw without prior notice at the October council meeting by a 4-2 vote, 526.8 in its original form would have imposed a 30-metre buffer around any part of Hudson designated as a wetland, regardless of size or location.
As originally written, the bylaw would have had a major impact on as much as a quarter of Hudson’s 2,200 residential properties. Owners of hundreds of properties backing on wetlands characterized in the 2008 Teknika HBA and 2016 CIMA+ studies would lose the right to so much as cut their grass except with a push mower. Hudson Yacht Club would have been barred from using their parking lots. Whitlock Golf Club would have lost the use of at least six holes.
Any request to exclude one’s property would require a biologist’s report and a survey.
Upon learning of the restrictions to their rights as property owners and the potential impact on the value of their properties as well as on the town’s tax base, residents responded with anger and concern. On Nov. 18, more than 120 people attended a public consultation on the proposed bylaw.
Note: Public consultations are required by law prior to a zoning bylaw’s final approval but because this bylaw would modify Hudson’s existing zoning bylaw 526, it is not subject to approval by referendum.
Mayor Jamie Nicholls opened the consultation with a lengthy preamble, during which he said council was split 3-3 and that he would break the tie in favour of the bylaw’s adoption. He then inferred that residents who lost the use or value of their properties could be compensated with monies from a $20 million fund run by Ottawa.
Not true, Vaudreuil-Soulanges Liberal MP Peter Schiefke wrote in a text sent late Thursday.
Schiefke said it came as a surprise to hear from numerous Hudson residents following the consultation that the mayor had told those at the meeting that “20 million dollars of federal funding was secured to purchase private and public lands in Hudson….This is simply not true at the present time,” the MP added.
This past Thursday, the mayor appeared to back off his plans to proceed with final adoption of Bylaw 526.8. “After much discussion with caucus members […] the provisions of the bylaw in article 726 which expanded the protective band surrounding wetlands from 10 to 30 metres have been modified,” he posted on two of his Facebook pages. “The protective band will remain at the original 10 metres in the amended bylaw to be presented at the December session of council.”
But since then, the mayor and his supporters have been publicly pressuring councillors to adopt an amended Bylaw 526.8 at Monday’s December meeting, specifically Article 725: Constructions, works, backfill or excavation works, dredging or extraction works in a wetland. Art. 725 allows “works intended for a construction, other works including backfill and excavation, dredging and extraction in and enclosed wetland” once it is authorized by the provincial environment ministry. If there is no ministerial certificate of authorization (CA), “only the construction of a bridge or footbridge, on stilts or posts, without backfill” is authorized.
The developers of the Pine Beach project hold a valid CA. Without the 30-metre buffer, Bylaw 526.8 now permits the development of Sandy Beach according to a revised plan submitted by the developer. At the same time, it blocks the 134-door Willowbrook development in Como because developer Habitation Robert is still waiting for a CA.
Given the mayor’s insistence prior to being elected on the need to block Nicanco’s 256-unit Sandy Beach development, what transpired to change his mind?
As the result of email exchanges with the mayor and others, and with facts drawn from publicly available sources, the following scenario has emerged:
In late August, the mayor attended a three-day Union des Municipalités summit in Wendake, Quebec, where leaders of Quebec First Nations met with mayors of Quebec municipalities. The summit highlight was a public apology by Oka mayor Pascal Quevillon to Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon for comments Quevillon made concerning the handover of some 60 acres at the centre of the 1991 Oka Crisis.
Mayor Nicholls has confirmed in an email that he and Simon spoke and agreed to convene a meeting of the two councils — and that he informed caucus upon his return.
On Sept 24, the mayor posted a live video to two of his Facebook pages indicating that he was in Kanesatake for a meeting at the band office. The nature of any discussion taking place and with whom wasn’t reported to council.
Earlier this week, Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke confirmed that Nicholls had approached him at a Nov. 21 MRC event to discuss funding options for the purchase of wetlands, including sections of Sandy Beach already protected under the town’s 2017 development agreement with the developers.
Schiefke says he explained to the mayor that the compensation assurances made to residents at the Nov. 18 public consultation were unfounded. “[…] the fund that Mr. Nicholls referred to at his consultation meeting […] was likely the Disaster Mitigation Fund (DMFA) that was created to reduce the socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts triggered by natural hazards and extreme weather events in communities at high risk.”
Schiefke says he told the mayor that it is unclear whether the DMFA will be reactivated — and if it does, Hudson residents would be on the hook for 60% of a minimum $20 million project.
Moreover, Schiefke added, the town has yet to take any action to explore the possibility or open a file.
“I shared with Mayor Nicholls that an official exploratory meeting with my office would be beneficial, and that the City of Hudson would subsequently have to submit an official request for funding to Infrastructure Canada when the application process reopens. Neither the meeting, nor the submission has occurred to date.”
Schiefke also confirmed that the mayor had discussed partnering with an indigenous community to raise the federal contribution to 75% as long as the land is deeded to that community. The mayor then explained his vision for a visitor’s centre on Sandy Beach focused on indigenous culture and healing.
In an emailed response, the mayor confirmed that he met with Schiefke “and that I wanted to discuss all options for the conservation of natural infrastructure on our territory. Again, the conversations were exploratory in nature and touched many different areas.”
The next day, Nov. 22, the mayor approached Sandy Beach developer Marc Perreault without a mandate from council to discuss paying financial compensation for land already protected under a 2017 development agreement. Alternately, Nicholls suggested its outright acquisition with monies from a federal program to fund natural infrastructure promotion and protection projects.
On Saturday, Nov. 23, I called Perreault for his version of events. He had not returned my call by the time I posted this.
In an emailed response to my questions Wednesday afternoon, the mayor said no promises were made. “It was simply an exploration should the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund be renewed.”
Nicholls said it was Schiefke who had brought forward the possibility of the $3 billion fund’s renewal.
“Nothing is set in stone,” the mayor added. “Citizens want us to explore it. Any formal engagement would require a majority of council.”
Schiefke says he reminded the mayor that even if Infrastructure Canada accepts Hudson’s application (See DMAF terms and conditions, below), Hudson’s taxpayers would be on the hook for 25%. Nicholls assured him he had the money.
It would be the first time in Canada that a non-indigenous municipality purchases public or private land in order to deed it to a First Nations community. At that point it would no longer be a part of Hudson, but the sovereign territory of the community it is deeded to.
This afternoon, Schiefke said his interest lies in seeking clarity and reiterated his standing offer to the municipalities in his riding. “As has been the case over the last four years, my office is always open to supporting municipalities as they pursue funding opportunities for projects that will benefit our shared citizenry.”
DMAF terms and conditions ( my highlights are in bold)
Eligible projects under DMAF include:
• New construction of public infrastructure including natural infrastructure; and
• Modification and/or reinforcement including rehabilitation and expansion of existing public infrastructure including natural infrastructure.
Eligible investments aim to reduce the socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts of natural hazards and extreme weather events when considering current and potential future climate change impacts.
Projects must meet at least one of the national significance criteria, including reducing impacts on:
• critical infrastructure and essential services;
• health and safety of Canadians;
• significant disruptions in economic activity;
• costs of recovery and replacement;
• vulnerable regions.
Projects must have a minimum of $20 million in eligible expenditures.
Eligible expenditures may include design and planning, capital cost, as well as costs related to meeting specific program requirements. Land acquisition is only eligible for natural infrastructure projects and under some conditions.
• Project bundling is allowed for projects including multiple assets that work in a complementary manner to reduce the risk within the same time period.
• Projects must be completed by 2027-28.
Note: Expenditures related to all emergency services infrastructure, relocation of entire communities, land acquisition as a sole project component, are not eligible under DMAF.
I find it unfortunate that the uproar over Bylaw 526.8 is threatening to obscure the potential benefit to Hudson from the data being surfaced by urban planner Eco2Urb.
In June, council approved Eco2Urb’s hiring on the basis of the following conditions:
— It would update and confirm data contained in the 2008 Teknika HBA wetland and woodland audit;
— It would fill in the blanks in the 2016 CIMA+ conservation plan for Hudson’s urban perimeter (the 48% of the town already zoned for development);
— Like Teknika and CIMA+, Eco2Urb would then rank these natural spaces in terms of conservation priorities that could be incorporated in a revised master plan.
Under political pressure from Hudson’s anti-development lobby, council added a fourth ask — that Eco2Urb provide a scientific basis for the tripling of the province’s 10-metre buffer zone around Hudson’s extensive wetlands.
For $89,367.50 plus taxes, Eco2Urb’s team would apply the same conservation template to Hudson that it had developed for St. Lazare. Roughly $20,000 of that was for workshops where everything would be explained to council and citizens.
Last Monday (Nov. 11) was the public workshop. Leaving out the mayor and five councillors, fewer than two dozen Hudson residents turned out, possibly because of the season’s first blizzard. Whatever the reason, the net result is that residents won’t have the benefit of understanding how and why Hudson should go about protecting its wetlands and woodlands as our region comes under increasing pressure to develop.
I wonder whether the turnout would have been greater if residents were told Eco2Urb’s data will allow allow a lot-by-lot identification of possible environmental constraints — and that eventually, this information will be available to developers, property owners and real estate agents. (No, Hudson doesn’t need Bylaw 526.8.)
There were three tables. I was at a table with the mayor and several residents of Wilkinson, a street in Como where a number of properties back on the wetland running through the proposed Willowbrook development as well as to the rear of Oakfields. Once they heard their properties could be affected, even those in favour of protecting wetlands and woodlots tended to back off when they realized the resale value of their properties could be affected.
The next table over featured councillors Robinson and Rikley-Krindle, plus members of the mayor’s Environmental Action Group, or as one observer remarked, the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) and the NOPEs (Not on Planet Earth). The third table included councillors Kurgansky and Legault as well as West End property owners.
Eco2Urb’s Kyle Teixeira-Martinsand his facilitators set up the exercise by explaining how they propose to rank Hudson’s wetlands and woodlands according to six ecological yardsticks — resilience, biodiversity, connectivity, forest maturity, flood mitigation and recreational/historical importance. We were then asked to rank the six metrics in order of importance.
— Resilience is the measure of a natural area’s ability to recover from insect invasion, disease, drought or flooding.
— Biodiversity is the sum of the trees and animals found in a natural area.
— Connectivity is the measure of an area’s attractiveness as a habitat and migration corridor for vertebrate species.
— Forest maturity ranks forests according to their age. A young forest is zero to 40 years, an intermediate forest 40-80 years and mature, 80+. A mix of all ages is the target balance.
— Flood mitigation is the potential of an area to act as a buffer against the impacts of flooding.
— Recreational and historical importance is a natural area’s importance for citizens and visitors, either because it offers recreational possibilities or is of historical interest.
The second exercise asked us to rank six woodlots according to their ecological value as measured by the yardsticks above. Although nothing was identified by name, the sites of the Willowbrook and Sandy Beach developments were included, making dispassionate discussion difficult.
While the evening was instructive, the best demonstration of the problems we face in ranking conservation areas came from Pyke Court resident Adrian Burke. Burke told the room he wanted no part in ranking forests and wetlands. Instead, he said, the data developed by Eco2Urb can be used to identify environmental constraints on a lot-by-lot basis.
Later, Burke provided council with a technical explanation of how the GIS software Eco2Urb employs allows urban planners to click on an an interactive map to access information generated by Eco2Urb. Eventually, anyone with access to the database will be able to reference possible constraints to development for that particular lot or sector.
Burke also offered advice on how the town can use Eco2Urb to move forward without the need for politically fraught decisions on rankings, moratoriums and blanket bans:
— Have Eco2Urb supply the colour-coded ‘heat maps’as well as all the mapping software data in an easily accessible, searchable form;
— Colour-coded maps will be useful and complementary, but only if used with the database.
— Ask Eco2Urb to train urban planning in their use;
— It is easy to create maps from the Eco2Urb GIS layers that can be opened and explored using GoogleEarth. These maps should be made available online on the city portal for all residents to consult and use.
This was the real benefit of Monday’s workshop. It got everyone thinking past the need for a blanket ban on land use within 100 feet of wetlands. It showed how the town can harness the technology that cost us $100,000 to accomplish what council set out to do. If we don’t seize the opportunity, this council will have failed at one of its core missions.
Following Monday’s workshop, I compiled a list of the factors both within and beyond Hudson’s control that will drive development for the foreseeable future.
I’m sure there are many others that I have missed.
— Planning imposed on us by the Montreal Metropolitan Community and our regional government has frozen the dezoning of agricultural land. Their goal: reduce urban sprawl and concentrate development in sectors already supplied with roads, drinking water, sewers, public transit, schools and businesses. To accomplish this, MMC and MRC bureaucrats have set non-negotiable densification targets for serviced sectors.
— With less and less land available within these urban perimeters, developers are turning to marginal sites on the edges of wetlands and floodplains. Quebec insists on a mandatory 10-metre minimum buffer zone to protect from people landscaping to the edge of their properties, then dumping lawn waste and other detritus into the protected zone.
— 52% of Hudson’s lands are zoned agricultural, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to human activity that will degrade their ecological value. Owners of agricultural lands can clearcut mature forest except for 10-metre buffers along watercourses and wetlands. They can strip-mine peat bogs. They can drain and backfill wetlands. They can build houses for themselves, family members and employees.
— Hudson’s lack of control over what goes on upstream. Development in Vaudreuil-Dorion and St. Lazare is already affecting us in the velocity and volume of stormwater making its way into Viviry Creek and its tributaries. Development in Hudson has an even more immediate effect on water quality along our Ottawa River shoreline.
— Growing pressure on Hudson’s administration from developers to set a clear, coherent development policy. One is Nicanco, the owners of Sandy Beach. The previous administration signed an October 2017 agreement with Nicanco approving their 256-door development; its partners sought clear signals from this council whether we would honour the 2017 development agreement. Willowbrook, the other major development approved by the previous council, asked for and received the town’s support for an application to the environment ministry to construct roads, a bridge and drainage infrastructure. It’s hard to get lawyers to agree on much, but lawyers have agreed that the lack of a clear, coherent development policy will end up costing Hudson considerably in legal expenses.
— Quebec legislation gives municipalities the right to say no to development, but it’s not that clear-cut. Jurisprudence — the body of legal decisions on the topic — cuts both ways. Changes to municipal legislation adopted this summer have given towns like Hudson added powers over development, including the ability to freeze new projects while their councils decide what direction future development should take.
— The emergence of popular initiatives opposed to generally accepted practices used by developers — clearcutting, draining, backfilling, levelling. Hudson is widely known among developers as a hard place to do business, especially so for multi-unit projects. At present Hudson has no mechanism to reconcile the right to ownership of private property with the rights of those opposed.
— Our vulnerability to changes to the aquifer that supplies Hudson and most of Vaudreuil-Soulanges with drinking water. Blind faith isn’t going to cancel out the cumulative effects of faster runoff, smaller and fewer retention areas on the aquifer’s ability to replenish itself. Sooner or later, there won’t be enough wetland left to capture the precipitation essential to a sustainable water supply. Joint stewardship is the only path forward, but our MRC refuses to take a leading role. So we must.
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.
On the agenda for Monday’s (Nov. 4/19) Hudson council meeting is Mayor Nicholls’s veto of the anti-TOD resolution adopted by five of six councillors during the October meeting. The mayor has justified his veto on the grounds that councillors were confused by my resolution seeking Hudson’s exclusion from the Montreal Urban Community’s TOD designation.
Since then, I fully expect that the mayor has lobbied hard to convince two or more councillors to change their vote, killing the resolution and opening the door to the Stantec study on how to apply the transport-oriented development (TOD) designation to Hudson’s benefit.
While I’m not surprised at the mayor’s veto, I’m disappointed that we’ll never know whether the TOD designation was forced on Hudson or whether we had a choice.
Adopted by the previous council after a series of public consultations in the spring and summer of 2017, the TOD designation allowed developers to pump up the size and volume of their projects to ‘meet densification requirements.’
Critics charge that these densification requirements are bogus, the result of flip-flops by both this and the previous council in agreeing to the TOD designation. They argue that the CMM’s TOD densification requirements were pure fiction, written to allow an influx of development projects incompatible with Hudson architecture and Hudson’s densities.
A close read of the chain of communications between the Town of Hudson and the Montreal Metropolitan Community’s TOD project office clearly shows the current administration’s original intent to obtain funding for an economic study on Hudson’s train service. Specifics include:
—coming up with concrete measures for the existing Hudson station;
—costing out the electification of the existing rail line between Vaudreuil-Dorion and Hudson to attract more riders;
—developing densification scenarios to ensure sustainable ridership, including two additional TODS in in the west end and on Bellevue;
The document, signed by Hudson’s former coordinator of project management, grants and subsidies, was in response to a July 2018 request from an urban planner with the MMC’s TOD project office responsible for handling Hudson’s funding application.
Before signing off on Hudson’s funding request, the MMC urbanist wanted a deeper understanding of the project.
“In the case of Hudson, we understand that there are many elements and orientations requiring evaluation (tramway, parking, densification, requalification, train level of service, etc.,”he noted, adding that it would be helpful if the administration were to prioritize what it sought to accomplish with the study.
“If I understand it well, the tramway study is an important subject. We would like to have a bit more detail on this concept, specifically what leads you to visualize an infrastructure of this type and how it would fit with your three-hubs concept as well as with existing rail infrastructure.”
The MMC urbanist also wanted to know why the town wants further analysis of the existing TOD zone, including size, densification requirements, parking management and levels of public transit service.
Since then, Hudson’s grant request somehow morphed into a study of the downtown core and how to reduce vehicle traffic and parking in favour of active transport — walking and biking — while adding greenspace and common areas. Gone are those original references to economic aspects of the TOD, multiple TODs, electrification, tramways and additional trains.
Earlier this fall, the mayor posted on social media his vision of the downtown core transformed into a bike and walking-friendly environment. In his comments at the start of the Oct. 7 council meeting, he painted a picture of an electric tram connecting three TODs with the Vaudreuil transit hub, about how his contacts with the ARTM will be the magic wand to convert the existing train a day each way into an environmentally and economically sustainable electric shuttle to Vaudreuil.
I know where this comes from. One of the books Jamie lent me, Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities by his former professor Patrick M. Condon, includes a chapter on streetcar and tramway developments. Condon’s case histories come from the West Coast’s sprawling suburbs. Like Condon’s book on design charettes, the problem lies in reconciling a West-Coast design ethos with Quebec’s 21st-century realities, including the REM and its eventual push to Vaudreuil.
A year ago Nov. 7, the mayor and I attended a Union des Municipalités transit summit in Trois-Rivières. Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau spoke, as did the heads of CN and VIA Rail and representatives of Quebec’s rail freight and passenger tourist industry associations. Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel was the lunch keynote speaker. Jamie and I sat with Rigaud Mayor Hans Gruenwald at a table of CMM mayors talking about the REM, about EXO, about ARTM ——but not about trams and electrification of short lines. Their consensus: forget trams and streetcars unless you’re a major city. If you can’t guarantee traffic, the funding isn’t there for any form of rail.
Several weeks ago, I met with Vaudreuil-Dorion mayor Guy Pilon, who reiterated his belief that commuter-rail transit, even Hudson’s paltry two trains on weekdays, is disconnected from reality. It will cost $8 to 9 million to bring the EXO right of way up to minimum standards, Pilon said. Adding electrification would mean millions more in major infrastructure — hydro substations, overhead catenaries and light rail transit rolling stock.
Pilon, who sits on the CMM’s public transit committee, also predicts the eventual shutdown of the existing rail line once the REM is extended to Vaudreuil-Dorion. “Hudson is missing a golden opportunity to turn the Vaudreuil-Hudson section into a dedicated non-motorized route for cyclists, skiers and pedestrians,”he told me.
After the October council meeting I called the MMC urban planner responsible for piloting Hudson’s file through the requirements for the study grant. He told me the anti-TOD resolution put Hudson’s funding request on hold until the TOD designation issue is resolved. A meeting scheduled for Oct. 24 was cancelled; the first opportunity for approval is now Nov. 28, when the five MMC executive committee members meet to vote on TOD project grants, including Hudson’s.
Mayor Nicholls may succeed in saving the funding for the Stantec study, but what will that accomplish? Reading Stantec’s offer of service, I’m not clear on what it is we’re studying, or to what end. Multiple TODs? Conversion of the existing right of way to support an LRT shuttle between Hudson and Vaudreuil, when the existence of the Vaudreuil terminus itself is far from assured? I need to have things spelled out before I vote for them.
The mayor and I are both active transport advocates, but not just for the downtown core and not to the detriment of those who have no choice but to drive. I live in one of Hudson’s many enclaved neighbourhoods where no safe, direct all-weather walking route exists to downtown Hudson. There are no plans to fix this, which I find unacceptable.
One of the realities one learns as a councillor is to suck up one’s defeat on a file and accept the majority decision. I fault the mayor for failing to practise what he preaches — especially when 30 months ago, he was ripping the former administration for not challenging the TOD. Call me confused.
Thursday was too wet to walk the ground, so I spent a few hours exploring the wetlands map that will accompany Hudson’s Bylaw 526.8. This is the draft bylaw adopted at the October council meeting which proposes to widen the buffer zone around Hudson’s designated wetlands from 10 to 30 metres.
I assume the map will be presented at the public consultation scheduled for the evening of Monday, Nov. 18 at the Community Centre. I am told this is a consultation only; there will be no petition to sign because this proposed bylaw is not subject to approval by referendum.
By my very rough estimate, the wider band of protection adopted at the last council meeting will significantly affect approximately 100 properties. These are spread throughout Hudson. The map doesn’t include cadastral numbers so I’ll list the affected streets, beginning with the lakefront:
— Main Road from about 814 to the foot of Macauley Hill, then again further east, at the foot of Birch Hill;
— all of Côte d’Azur, extending up to the last lot on Reid;
— everything on Yacht Club Road north of the tracks;
— all of Halcro;
— most of Sandy Beach, including the higher ground behind the Manoir and four lots on Royalview;
— the section of Main between Amity Lane and Chipman Point down to the shoreline. (This includes the parking lots of both the Auberge Willow and the ferry.)
Moving to other designated wetlands in the urban perimeter, lots on the following streets will be impacted:
Seignieurie, Bellevue, Cambridge, Upper Whitlock, Chemin du Golf, Côte St. Charles, Charleswood (including R-55, the site of the proposed seniors campus), Oakland, Hiilcrest, Windcrest, McMartin, Wellesley, Cameron, Brookside, Woodcroft, Appleglen, Como Gardens, Royal Oak, Parsons and Wilkinson.
It appears that the 134-door Willowbrook development will lose about 20%, while Nicanco’s 256-unit residential project will be reduced to a string of doors along Beach Road.
Citizens should be made aware that the proposed bylaw, while within the town’s powers, will be challenged in court. Questions requiring better explanation:
— can the town apply the law selectively on a wetland-by-wetland basis?
— who decides whether a wetland is worth preserving?
— who pays for the added layer of environmental protection?
Will someone living on one of these affected streets be required to hire a biologist to determine the extent and value of the wetland before they replace a septic tank, erect a shed or dig a swimming pool?
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve gotten an earful from residents who see this as a direct assault on their property rights. They accuse council of pandering to a small number of unregistered lobbyists who have worked relentlessly to make this bylaw happen. Property owners feel they’ve been lied to and jollied along by council members who seem to move the goalposts every time a project nears approval. They can’t understand why council is taking this route even before it has the science to back it up. They’re angry — rightly so.
Even St. Lazare councillors — themselves no slouches when it comes to blocking wetland development — wonder why Hudson took this leap without examining the legal and financial ramifications. As we prepare for the 2020 budget, how much should we set aside for legal challenges? What will we be forced to give up as a result?
I urge everyone with questions about the wetland in their back yard to present themselves at the public consultation at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18. This will be the only chance you have to see for yourself what is being proposed and to make yourself heard.
The mayor has promised to present the scientific framework for the 30-metre buffer at another public consultation on Monday, Nov. 11, again at 7 p.m. at the Community Centre. If you have the time, attend the Eco2Urb presentation to get a better understanding of the game afoot.
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 R3976-2015; AMT 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.
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.
– 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
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.