A new bylaw for 'shoebox' homes in Rosemont will stand

Homeowners petitioned for a referendum on a new bylaw affecting the diminutive, 100-plus-year-old bungalows in Rosemont, but turnout was too low.

Rule governs renovation or demolition of 561 tiny heritage houses

Shoebox homes began to appear in Montreal over 100 years ago, when working-class families wanted a starter home on the outskirts of town. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Local government has prevailed in the latest round of a skirmish over shoebox homes, the tiny 100-plus-year-old bungalows that dot Montreal's neighbourhoods, after a challenge to a new bylaw fizzled. 

The Rosemont–La Petite Patrie borough's elected officials adopted the bylaw on Feb. 11, regulating all demolition or renovation requests for 561 single-family homes in order to preserve the working-class heritage the buildings represent.

Unhappy shoebox owners — some of whom had plans for renovations, alterations or redevelopment halted by the bylaw — then filed a petition that forced the borough to consider a referendum about it.

They said the regulations were "patchwork" and inconsistent, and that the borough hadn't paid attention to their concerns.

For the referendum to happen, enough residents living in 39 zones covered by the bylaw needed to sign a register in support of the referendum on Tuesday.

But only 99 people did so, out of a total of 26,109 eligible citizens. There were no signatures at all from residents of 12 of the 39 zones.

'The democratic process worked'

Christine Gosselin, a city councillor for the borough (and who headed Montreal's culture, heritage and design committee until a cabinet shuffle on Friday), said the process was well advertised and conducted according to the rules. 

"We believe that the democratic process worked well, and that the people have endorsed our regulations, which are not just for the shoebox owners, but for the entire neighbourhood and urban landscape," she said.

Some of the shoebox owners disagree. Wilfried Cordeau, an owner who campaigned against the bylaw, said turnout was low because owners felt the entire process was flawed. 

 "Most people skipped the whole exercise," Cordeau said. "The concerns we raised weren't all covered by the process."

The proposed referendum text didn't cover all the sections of the bylaw owners had objected to, Cordeau said, and so many owners opted not to waste part of a workday signing a register.

The borough's bylaw is intended to protect what it calls the "heritage identity" of the neighbourhood. (Radio-Canada)

Shoebox homes are single-storey, flat-roofed buildings with a veranda across the front. They began to appear over 100 years ago, when working-class families wanted a starter home on the outskirts of town.

As the city expanded, it grew around the shoebox homes, integrating them into the landscape.

In neighbourhoods like Rosemont, they're wedged between multi-storey apartment buildings.

The borough aims to protect what it calls the "heritage identity" of the neighbourhood, as well as to clarify the rules surrounding the demolition or conversion of shoebox homes, and to curb land speculation that affects the entire area.

Bylaw will rate heritage quality

Under the new regulations, shoebox homes will be ranked on their heritage quality: low, middle, or high. The constraints on shoeboxes with higher heritage value will be greater.

For example, a home with high heritage quality will have to remain a single-family building. In some cases, their facades will need to be preserved.

If another level is added, it would need to be set back from the front of the building to protect the shoebox appearance of the ground floor. Buildings can also be extended horizontally into the backyard.

Owners of homes with lower heritage value will be allowed to make conversions that add up to two rental units.

With files from Radio-Canada


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