Montreal

Hampstead residents call for referendum on luxury high-rise project

Enough signatures were collected to force a referendum on the construction of a 10-storey luxury apartment on Côte Saint-Luc Road in Hampstead.

Neighbours in affordable housing unit fighting owner's demolition plan

The proposed condo project would demolish two buildings currently housing affordable apartments. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

Hampstead residents who oppose the construction of a 10-storey luxury apartment building on Côte Saint-Luc Road are one step closer to blocking the project, after collecting enough signatures to force a referendum on it.

The proposed project would replace a two-building rental complex that is filled with longtime tenants.

"Well, I can tell you that democracy won," neighbour Mony Schinasi told CBC.

Sharon Hyman, who lives in one of the buildings slated for demolition, said she is thrilled that 252 people signed the registry, 40 more than were necessary.

"We will continue to triumph in our quest to preserve affordable housing in the town," said Hyman. 

Beyond the loss of 26 affordable apartments, nearby residents worry about the impact such a project would have on the neighbourhood — setting a precedent for more multi-storey buildings to be constructed.

Such decisions are made on a case-by-case basis along Hampstead's stretch of Côte Saint-Luc as per municipal regulations.

In this case, residents are breathing a sigh of relief.

"I'm really glad that, finally, the democratic process is working the way it should," said Andrew Martin, who lives in one of the buildings threatened with demolition.

But the fight isn't over yet.

Quebec municipalities will often nix zoning changes when enough signatures demanding a referendum are collected because of the costs involved in holding the vote.

Mayor William Steinberg said the town council will decide on Monday on whether to go ahead with the zoning change. 

If they do, he said that the referendum would be held at the end of November, with 2,009 residents eligible to vote.

Split votes among council

The town council is split on the issue.

Council cancelled the project in July with a three-two vote, but the mayor vetoed that decision on the grounds that Coun. Harvey Shaffer was not present.

In August, the vote was evenly split and Steinberg broke the tie, approving the project.

Signs posted around the apartment blocks in question oppose the plan to demolish the buildings and build a high-rise complex in their place. (Lauren McCallum/CBC)

Jonathan Goldbloom, a communications consultant hired to represent the numbered company that owns the buildings, said they are confident they have enough support from the community to succeed with the development project.

The developers have been going door-to-door, and have collected some 700 signatures backing the high-rise.

Wednesday's register collected its 252 signatures against the project in just one day. And to sign the register, people had to visit municipal offices.

The referendum would also require people to vote in person.

'Catastrophic from many points of view'

Schinasi is a member of the Committee for the Preservation of the Garden City of Hampstead, a group that has been fighting the zoning change as part of its ongoing effort to protect the municipality's largely low-rise skyline.

The group argues that the proposed 10-storey project would ruin the neighbourhood's character.

The opposition in the community is strong, he said, because such a project would be "catastrophic from many points of view." 

"Traffic is going to be murder, as if it's not already, and some people who live on Queen Mary Road, like myself, are going to be deprived of a lot of sun because of the height of these buildings," he said.

The project would also take away from the town's tree canopy and vegetation, he added.

Tax benefit not worth the cost, councillor says

Coun. Jack Edery is opposed to the project. In charge of the town's finance portfolio, he said the high-rise would only bring a 0.7 per cent increase in the budget while costing many residents the ability to enjoy their property.

Neighbours Andrew Martin, Marie Pontini and Patrick Demers have said they'll do everything they can do stop their buildings from being bulldozed. (Robbie Proulx/CBC)

Instead of seeing trees and sky in their backyard, they would see a wall, he said.

He and other councillors are also pushing for a fair settlement for the people who are facing eviction if the project goes ahead.

"We don't want people to be just thrown out when there's enough money around to help," said Edery, who is encouraging residents to have empathy for those opposed to the project.

At the same time, he would like to see a more reasonable proposal brought forward, he said, as residents would likely be less opposed to something six or seven storeys tall.

"I am not against development. What we want is sustainable development," he said.

With files from Lauren McCallum

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