Borough to ban motel, hotel development on St-Jacques Street in NDG

With a notice of motion and sparsely attended public consultation out of the way, Côte-des-Neiges–NDG's Projet Montréal majority plans to adopt a motel moratorium that will ban hotel and motel development on St-Jacques Street from St-Henri to Montreal West.

CDN-NDG wants to create more 'family-friendly' neighbourhood without motel 'challenges,' councillor says

Coun. Christian Arseneault says anybody who lives in NDG knows the motels on St-Jacques Street attract problems to the area. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce officials are envisioning a new future for St-Jacques Street, and that future does not include new motels or hotels.

With a notice of motion and sparsely attended public consultation out of the way, the Projet Montréal majority plans to adopt a motel moratorium at next month's borough council meeting. 

The moratorium will ban all new motel construction on St-Jacques Street from Décarie Boulevard to Montreal West.

All motels now in operation will be allowed to continue, and a new hotel under construction just west of Cavendish Boulevard will be permitted to open.

Calling it a "pre-emptive zoning change" that prevents any type of development that "could be problematic," Coun. Christian Arseneault said there have long been suspicions of gun, drug and human-trafficking crimes at motels along the stretch.

Arsenault represents the Loyola district where three of the street's four remaining motels are currently located.

"Absolutely everybody who has grown up in NDG, lived in NDG or spent time on St-Jacques knows these motels, the existing ones, do bring major challenges," he said.

"The borough wants to see what we can do to make St-Jacques more welcoming, to potentially make it into a more inclusive and family-friendly, accessible neighbourhood."

St-Jacques through the ages

There was a time when St-Jacques — or Highway 138 — was a busy thoroughfare, and the motels that cropped up on both sides of the street were used by road-weary travellers and the occasional vacationing family.

But times have changed. 

Highway 20 has been the main artery into downtown for more than half a century, allowing motorists to bypass the traffic lights and lower speed limit on St-Jacques.

Nowadays, St-Jacques Street's asphalt is rutted, its curbs dressed in orange cones, and slow-moving traffic crawls by car dealerships, mechanics, restaurants, bars and big-box grocery stores.

Empty storefronts dot the street from end to end, and a wooded escarpment, known locally as the Falaise Saint-Jacques, divides NDG from the Sud-Ouest borough.

The Motel Colibri offers rooms by the night or to rent for three to four hours a time. It has been in business for more than 50 years, according to its website. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

The motels still in operation have luxury and not-so-luxurious cars parked in front of tightly drawn curtains day and night. Front-desk clerks stand behind glass in most, renting out risqué rooms with options like ensuite jacuzzis, pleather sofas and ceiling mirrors.

There's one establishment that rents rooms for three to four hours at a time, while another costs as little as $55 a night.

Residential towers are currently under construction where two motels once stood, and at least one hotel developer was eyeing property near the McGill University Health Centre when the borough's notice of motion was adopted last month.

Now that the notice of motion has been approved, no new construction permit applications can be submitted.

Plans are in the early stages for revitalizing the Westhaven neighbourhood to the west and the Saint-Raymond neighbourhood to the east. St-Jacques Street connects those two neighbourhoods. No matter what the borough decides to do, Arseneault said, nothing will be done at the expense of local businesses. 

"There are indeed plenty of businesses on St-Jacques that we want to make sure NDGers continue to support," said Arseneault, noting the borough is consulting business owners along the stretch to hear their ideas about the street's future.

"There is an important commercial offering on St-Jacques, and we don't want to take away from that. But there are very few kinds of businesses that lend themselves to the kinds of issues that we have around the existing hotels and motels."

Opposition councillors Lionel Perez and Marvin Rotrand both declined to comment on the zoning change.

Sergakis sees potential in St-Jacques

Local businessmen Peter Sergakis, who has owned several buildings and businesses along St-Jacques the past five decades, said lodgings like the hotel he is building across from the Provigo bring tourism to the area.

His new place, which has been under construction for over a year, will be a classy establishment for people looking to stay close to downtown, the hospital or the airport, he said.

Rates start at $55 a night at the Motel St-Jacques. Once fronted by a rowdy country bar, it is now tucked behind a residential building. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Sergakis supports zoning changes that would allow for residential development, but hotels and motels could easily be integrated into residential sectors as is done in other areas, he said.

Regardless, he sees the street as a good place to build hotels, not just because of its location but because there are so many services nearby.

His hotel will team up with local businesses to offer guests discounted meals and services, he said, suggesting other hotels could do the same.

"We are very happy to invest in a hotel on St-Jacques Street," he said. "It's in the middle of everything and there's a need in the area very much for it."


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