Martin C. Barry
The Villeray/St-Michel/Parc Extension borough council voted without the support of Mayor Giuliana Fumagalli on Feb. 22 to allow the demolition of a commercial block on Beaumont Ave., thus paving the way for the construction of new four-storey building slated to serve as a student residence.
Activists were opposed
The decision, taken during a special meeting of the borough council in the early afternoon instead of in the evening when regular council meetings take place, went against the wishes of housing activists in Park Extension. They had staged a demonstration prior to the February council meeting several weeks before when the demolition motion was first tabled but was postponed pending further study.
The housing activists have been urging the borough and the centre city for years to create more social housing, rather than only supporting construction projects they say contribute to the gentrification of Park Extension. In the case of the Beaumont Ave. property, the city previously had tagged it as a possible site for future social housing, but lost out in the end when a private developer made a winning bid for the site.
Could not support
“It is with no surprise that I announce to you that I will not be able to support the project as presented today,” Fumagalli said in a statement at the beginning of the meeting. “Like you and like the other elected officials, I hope to make more social and community housing in the borough.”
While noting that the borough council adopted measures at its last regular meeting to create social housing in Saint-Michel and in François-Perrault, Fumagalli said, “This is very good but it’s not enough. We are far from the ambitious target identified by the administration in power.”
Mayor explains reasons
She said that if she was opposing the Beaumont Ave. project it was for two reasons: “In the first place, I am not convinced by the opportunity of demolition taking account the public interest. In the second place, I think it would have been necessary to impose relative conditions about the pre-utilization of the ground cleared to allow greening while reducing heat islands.”
She added that she was “not convinced that this project answers to the needs of the population of Park Extension or of the borough.” She said that the opening of the University of Montreal’s new satellite campus in the former Outremont railway yards “will effectively bring with it – and we see it already – pressure on available rentals and will force our most disadvantaged households to leave the area.
Project didn’t respond: Fumagalli
“Please understand what I am saying: I am opposing this project because it doesn’t respond in any way to the vision I advocate for our borough,” said Fumagalli. “I remain all the same convinced that we can do better together.”
She said she would be meeting with local housing advocates in the near future “to develop strategies in order to better respond to our households.” She said a work session with all community activists from Park Extension is scheduled for March 14 at which time all the possibilities will be examined.
By the letter of the law
In an interview with Nouvelles Parc Extension News following the meeting, local city councillor Mary Deros explained why she voted in favour of the project. “All indications from the services with legalities and the way the project was studied and brought forward were that everything was legally done,” she said. “And it is only a responsible decision to follow through and approve.
“Why our mayor voted against?” Deros continued. “To appease those that complained against the project. But there are ways to go about doing things correctly and legally. And to vote against a project that was done correctly and legally to me is not responsible.”
She caved in, says Deros
Deros maintained that the borough mayor caved in to the activists and social housing advocacy groups. “Because of pressure from the groups she buckled and she voted against,” she said, while insisting that the developer had done all its homework and it would have been legally risky to reject the project under the circumstances.
“I feel that it is an irresponsible decision that she took as mayor, where she has to be open to all development in the borough as mayor, and not give support to people who oppose it for their own reasons. It was not legal to vote against it. We could have been pursued. And we don’t have the kind of money to go to court just because of that.”