A developer wants to replace Pointe-Claire forest with massive mixed-use complex. Not everyone is on board

The giant, multi-use complex, which includes residential and office towers as well as retail and a hotel, will require clear cutting roughly 40 acres just west of Fairview Mall.

Project has yet to be approved by local government, but residents are already planning to fight

Pointe-Claire resident Geneviève Lussier is ready to fight the project, alongside fellow residents who are also opposed to destroying a forest. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

While a deep-pocketed, Toronto-based company is touting its plan to construct a "vibrant mixed-use city centre" that will attract thousands of new residents to Pointe-Claire, plans still have to pass through city council.

And so far, the red carpet has yet to be rolled out, as the massive complex will require clearcutting roughly 16 hectares just west of Fairview Mall.

"The scope of it is too big," said Pointe-Claire resident Geneviève Lussier.

She's not against condo developments, she said, but the forest is important to her and to the community.

She is already planning to fight the project, alongside a group of residents who want to preserve the forest.

"It's a wind barrier. It's a sound barrier. It's mitigating a heat-island effect in an amazing way. There is only concrete, there is only asphalt all around it. There is no other forest in the area," Lussier said.

Urban densification is important for the environment, she said, but that doesn't mean forests are unimportant.

"And I think that the value of the forest totally outweighs the value of asphalt and concrete," she said.

Sustainable development is at the core of the project planned for Pointe-Claire, a small suburb of Montreal, according to developer Cadillac Fairview. (Submitted by Cadillac Fairview)

Mayor John Belvedere says he knows only what has been published in the media, as the company has yet to present any detailed plans to the city.

While he said the project looks promising, it would have to be done properly to gain approval.

The council would have to first "make sure that the  green spaces are protected — that the quality of life for the people would be good," he said.

Company promises sustainable development

If all falls within the city's urban planning vision, the development could eventually be approved, but the mayor wouldn't commit to giving the project the green light by next year.

That's when Cadillac Fairview plans to put shovels in the ground and begin building a downtown-like project that would include a seniors' residence and retail spaces mixed with office and residential towers.

There will be a boutique hotel and parks, all centred around the incoming light-rail train station and bus terminus. The project would considerably increase the city's current population of about 31,000 residents.

Cadillac Fairview, the Toronto-based company behind the proposal, is more than 50 years old. The project would require the decimation of a 16-hectare forest. (Submitted by Cadillac Fairview)

Jeroen Henrich, vice-president of development for Cadillac Fairview's eastern portfolio, says sustainable development is at the core of a project he described as an extension of the Fairview Mall — a shopping centre that his company built in 1965.

"And the approach we're talking about is really an extension of a vision that we've been developing for some time, which includes densifying and adding new uses to the existing centre," he told CBC. "We'll start on the existing shopping centre line and we'll continue onto the vacant land next door."

The project would begin with a few hundred units and eventually 4,000 or 5,000 in total, he said, with the REM station playing a key role in attracting new residents of all ages.

The company, which says it has been working with the city since 2013, plans to preserve some three hectares of marshland and forest to create park spaces with trails and "pedestrian friendly streetscapes."

Henrich said those pedestrian areas will "really accentuate a beautiful part of the West Island."

Protected wetlands in the way

Yet the project will have more than just residents to convince of the plan's viability.

There are protected wetlands in the area and the developer will need permission from the province to build, the mayor said.

Belvedere said the project could be "very advantageous for the city" and, while it could draw thousands of new residents, it's not going to happen overnight.

John Belvedere, mayor of Pointe-Claire, says the plan sounds advantageous for the city, but the council has yet to see plans. (CBC)

In the coming decade, the needs of the community will develop with the two new REM stations.

The mayor said, given the fact that project is next to a transportation hub, people won't have to rely on their cars to get around and it may not have a substantial impact on roads.

"What it will mean is it will be a living environment, a working environment and somewhere to play, around public transit," Belvedere said.

"So it would be a lifestyle that would be very interesting to people who want to come to Pointe-Claire and stay in Pointe-Claire."

Based on reporting by CBC's Jay Turnbull