NDG residents who were hoping to block Concordia University's plan to extend its science complex are now facing a significant obstacle — the law.

The group, led by Irwin Rapoport, was trying to force the borough to hold a referendum on a new building that will be built on a green space at the Loyola campus.

Concordia will use about 15 per cent of a soccer field behind the science complex to build the building, which is part of a $52-million project to encourage science research and innovation at the school.

They collected what they thought would be enough signatures, only to be told by the borough that Bill 122, passed in June, exempts this kind of project from the referendum process.

Bill 122 gave municipalities the choice of abandoning referendums in favour of public consultations.

Rapoport said the borough took out an ad in a local newspaper that said residents had a right to protest the project.

"The borough knew that they were saying that we could hold a referendum and then lied. I can't think of another word," he said.

Citizens have a say, not a veto: borough mayor

Borough Mayor Russell Copeman said borough officials only clarified the new rules after the ad was published.

He said the borough secretary wrote to the dozens of people who signed the petition to inform them of the situation.

Both Concordia and the borough held public events where residents could voice their opinions on the project, Copeman said, adding that it is unanimously supported by his colleagues.

Concordia field

Some neighbourhood residents say the field, behind the science pavilion and near the Hingston Hall residences, is well-used public space. (CBC)

"Citizens have a say, and they will continue to have a say, but they don't have a veto," he said.

But NDG city councillor Marvin Rotrand says the borough is too quick to apply the law, pointing out that it gives municipalities the choice to either keep the referendum process or replace it with mandatory public consultations.

Since the City of Montreal hasn't come up with a consultation process yet, referendums should still be allowed to take place, he said.

But both Copeman and Projet Montréal councillor Peter McQueen say the law makes the referendum issue a non-starter.

Construction on the building is slated to begin in 2018.

With files from Navneet Pall