Save Griffintown!

End-of-the-year news update by ajkandy
December 31, 2007, 1:42 am
Filed under: developers, Devimco, Events, news

Welcome Gazette readers, and anyone who’s come from Spacing Montreal or Urbanphoto!

First off, a little background on our “activism.” We’re mostly professionals or students who either live in the area, or are concerned about the impact on the neighborhood for several different reasons. We’re not full-time activists — that term has come to be equated with ‘troublemaker’ in the corporate media so let me de-spin this a little bit.

None of us are opposed to development, per se, whatsoever. We’re not the sort of knee-jerk anti-gentrification types that have made the headlines before; I think all of us recognize the fact that gentrification, done properly, is actually a boon to neighborhoods, particularly in the context of intentionally mixed-income planning.

What are we concerned about? The environmental impact, the urban fabric, the street grid, issues of scale and timing, proper balance of retail and residential space, the long-term future of the project in a potentially low-energy future, protection of existing homeowners’ rights and space, and heritage and architectural issues.

At the meeting Steve Faguy attended, we essentially were trading notes; no one person seemed to have a clear picture of the whole project. Besides what we’ve read in the paper or online, specifics were hard to come by, and everyone had a different piece of the puzzle, therefore it was an opportunity to confirm or debunk rumors.

John Bradley, a local SSSS worker whose job is to coordinate issues between citizens’ groups and developers, and to work on nonprofit housing projects such as the still-projected reuse of the Canada Post sorting plant, was extremely helpful in pointing out who the various stakeholders in the project were and to provide a good deal of clarification. He provided the excellent example of the community organization in the Pointe that came up with its own urbanism plan for the Alstom Yards site, still under discussion at the moment; I’m not sure there’s enough of a critical mass in Griffintown to get something similar together yet.

Representatives of Devimco — namely, Luc Ouimet of “Le centre de consultation et de concertation,” and George Bossé, at one point the former mayor of Verdun among many other things — recently had a meeting with a community group in Pointe Saint Charles to discuss the impact of the Village Griffintown project; Chris Erb, a writer for Spacing Montreal and a Griffintown resident, attended on our behalf. (Apparently, the community group was happy to have us there, but Devimco weren’t entirely pleased, nor aware that anyone lived in Griffintown except for the heritage townhouses on de la Montagne…)

While Devimco maintains there are only 47 homeowners in the footprint of the development, what this fails to take into account is a larger number of people who rent — particularly live/work commercial lofts. We’re still not sure how many, if any, spaces will be dedicated to the rental market or if this will be up to individual property owners to decide.

That said, we were pleased to hear Devimco state the following:

The bulk of the space in the development is aimed at residential use; they claim only 4% will be given over to large-surface retailers, 6% to smaller boutiques and 8% to smaller and mixed-use retail. Wal-Mart is not going to be a tenant in this property; nearly every community group in the area is opposed to it.

The two largest “superblocks” in the current development seem to have big-box stores at their cores, surrounded by medium and small spaces. It remains to be seen how this development will address the streetscape properly, if at all, but the rough diagrams and renderings would seem to have boutiques facing the street, not the interior of a mall-like structure.

The plan aims to bring 3860 housing units to the area (to complement the 1500 other new units that have been added recently with the Terrasses Windsor, ETS student residences, Lowney Lofts and Redpath Lofts), with a split of 585 student residences, 927 senior residences, 472 affordable housing units, 437 subsidized housing units, and 1439 medium-to-high-end condos.

The project aims to meet Canada Green Building Council LEED standards. This is quite a positive aim, as we’re not aware of any LEED buildings or projects in the downtown area. There’s also plans afoot to work closely with the ETS to come up with unique environmental solutions for the project.

There will be 600,000 square feet given to 12 parks and public spaces, but the ownership of these is not entirely clear. (Also, given the city’s penchant for calling a 20-square-foot patch of grass a “park,” I’m not sure how serious that is).

Buildings along the canal will be limited to 6-8 stories, similar to existing condo projects west of the Atwater Market.

Infrastructure costs will be split between the city and Devimco; the developer will split the cost of above-ground, while the city pays for everything underground.

What we haven’t seen addressed so far and we’re keen on seeing developed:

Is there space for children’s playgrounds and sports/recreational facilities? If not, are there adequate facilities nearby? (Some of us think it a desecration of former church grounds to think of the former St. Ann’s site as a mere park.)

Is this proposed Griffintown museum, to be placed on land adjacent to the St. Ann’s site, actually the former Art Deco comfort station, now on Wellington near the bottom of Mountain? I.e. do they really want to reuse a former public bathroom for this? The drawing certainly makes it look like the building in question.

How realistic is this tramway idea? If it doesn’t come to fruition, can a proper bus terminus be integrated into the design?

What rights do renting residents have?

Right now, Devimco have stated they’re leaving the development of the residential buildings up to other condo builders. In short, that means the designs seen in the renderings could be completely meaningless. As they look a good deal like generic Vancouver condo towers and nothing at all like Montreal residential neighborhoods — isn’t this an opportunity for firms to compete with better designs than skeletal towers clad in differently-coloured brick to provide the illusion that the building is not, in fact, a simple box? (More than one person who’s seen the existing renderings has noted its similarity to both Vancouver and Denver, which doesn’t bode well.)


[…] Dec. 31: AJ has a post on Save Griffintown going into more detail about where they are […]

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I don’t think your emphasis on how “reasonable” you are as opposed to us “knee-jerk anti-gentrification types” (in tenant and community associations, I presume) is going to win you many allies in the fight for a project that better corresponds to the history of the neighbourhood and its existing urban grid.

Sure, if more affluent people arrive (and they will) they will probably do a lot of good in the sense of restoring historic properties and allowing for more shops stocking decent foodstuffs and other goods, but the problem with “gentrification” is that it expels the poorer and more vulnerable citizens – tenants and in some cases owners of small homes – from areas, and makes them homogenous.

Indeed I have nothing against more affluent people settling in Griffintown – the old working-class neighbourhood was all but destroyed – but it is essential to fight for a more than token amount of social housing (co-ops, HLMs, non-profit housing schemes). And get onside with community associations in neighbouring southwest Montrreal neighbourhoods.

Comment by Maria Gatti

Hi Maria, thanks for your comment, but I think you misunderstand the context. I’m talking about how the media tends to paint anyone who raises a question about development as some sort of wild-eyed rabble-rousing type. So far the only major public voice of opposition in the English press has been one op-ed piece by Raphael Fischler; all the other pieces have been more-or-less given over to the voice of the developer and the paranoidly insistent tone of the mayor.

When I mention gentrification done properly it’s where new investors come in and fix up derelict buildings that would otherwise sit empty or underused — not where they displace low or middle-income people. That’s why we look at things from a New Urbanist perspective; good development should encourage a mix not only of prices, but also building types and the intelligent use of spaces. In pre-WWII neighborhoods it was quite common to have “granny flats” that would be rented out; these are only starting to come back now as cities make intelligent zoning decisions about converting outbuildings or additions, for instance.

Yes, it’s important for all of the community associations to be involved, and we’re definitely behind the idea of co-ops, HLM and nonprofit housing.

The problem becomes when you stack too much of any one income type in one area; too much social housing and you end up with something like the western end of St-Henri, where a formerly bustling commercial street has almost no shops whatsoever; the same happens in a cul-de-sac development of McMansions. It’s just bad urban design and doesn’t generate a healthy neighborhood.

Comment by ajkandy

“Infrastructure costs will be split between the city and Devimco; the developer will split the cost of above-ground, while the city pays for everything underground.”

What about underground parking lots? Will they be paid for and run by the city, and cost us the same as downtown street parking???

Comment by StatusQuo

SQ, from what I’ve heard, the lots will belong to the commercial properties, and will cost something comparable to commercial underground parking. I presume that merchants will subsidize it with “free parking with purchase” or something like that. The downtown merchants’ association complained that street-rate parking would have hurt Sainte Catherine-street shopping, so they backed off the idea of free parking altogether.

Comment by ajkandy

Thank you, AJ, for your concise and complete update. It’s rare to see all or most of this project’s red flags come up in one article. Allow me to comment on the following:

The Griff is the future Downtown Montreal :

It is important to realize that The Griff is the future Montreal signature, after several years of studies and urban analysis commissioned by all 3 levels of gov., the Société-du-Havre-de-Montreal issued its final report and recommendations, the most important of them all is the fact that the Montreal downtown core has no other place to expand but south i.e. towards Griffintown and the extension of University street.

The future Montreal downtown core will be controlled by one promoter:

It seems the 1 200 000 ft2 comprising the future new downtown core of Montreal will be owned, controlled and monopolized by one entity, and guess what? It is imposing on city hall to proceed by expropriating up to 15% of the project area. But…

The promoter promises no expropriations:

On January 9th 2008, during the public conference Devimco held at the ETS, the president, Mr. Serge Goulet, promised there would be no land expropriations. This is quite misleading, as he did not admit publicly that one of his conditions to city hall is to proceed by expropriating up to 15% of the project area.

The protection of existing owners’ rights and space:

Of all the concerns you raised, none of which are mutually exclusive, I find the protection of existing owners’ rights and space to be the most revealing of the promoter and city’s intentions, since this concern is the least written about. We are facing a veritable call to corruption as the promoter through the city, or the PPU (Plan Particulier d’Urbanisme), will be granted the right to expropriate up to 15% of the project area. Never has this happened in Montreal, and we risk losing an entire neighbourhood if we remain silent on this point come consultation time. With this power, the promoter will have the freedom to expropriate the remaining owners and exchange whichever parcel has no commercial use to the city so that the maintenance burden of that parcel will be shifted to public funds.

What’s best for one developer isn’t what’s best for the city:

Among other things, the promoter is imposing on the city to proceed with and via the Plan Particulier d’urbanisme (PPU), this implies that the local community has no say, and that the city has no urban planners. Normally, the city’s urban designers do precisely that: “Urban Planning”. What a contrast with the hell the city took ETS through when they wanted to put up their latest building!

Critical mass to get organized:

Griffintown is not a residential neighborhood as the Pointe is, so there will never be a critical mass to get organized. Residents and owners have to accept this as a fact, work harder, and plan consequently.

Devimco plans to build the big-boxes, sell the air rights to residential promoters, and dip into residential profits as royalties. Therefore, all projects that are not really profitable will have to wait, among which:
472 affordable housing units,
2000-seat theater house
Not very many residential projects can be profitable with the air rights and royalty costs such a project demands.

So, once again, here is Raphaël Fischler’s advice, an associate professor at the School of Urban Planning at McGill University, you’ve referred to in previous posts:
“. . Give city planners the mandate to prepare a Plan particulier d’urbanisme for the district that sets guidelines on local development based on what is best for the city, not what is best for one developer. Make one of these rules the prohibition against the consolidation of urban blocks (one of the features of the proposed project).
Exclude the possibility the city will expropriate land for a private commercial project. Decide now where a new concert hall and international student housing should be located (and decide that it be downtown). Enter into a binding agreement with the developer that forces him, on penalty of a large fine, to develop a mixed-use project from the start, and not build big-box stores without building housing, too.”

Comment by StatusQuo

I don’t understand why Griffintown should have any relation to the downtown core. Griffintown is a storied neighborhood that should be developed a la carte and be a standalone destination. It is almost identical in its vibe to MEPA and West Chelsea in NYC, right down to the railway tracks and the cobble stone streets in some parts. In reality, revitalizing Grifffintown should be considered and infill project as opposed to a mega development. Moreover, as a shopping/dinning destination this should happen organically; the shops and other stores should be prioritized as follows: the residents in the immediate vicinity should be able to support retail first and then then attract “outsiders”.

Finally, why on earth does there have to be a tram connecting Ste Catherine street with Griffintown? If everyone is so concerned about siphoning off people from the core, why are they pushing a tram link so much? The Bonaventure metro station lets out right at Windsor Station, a few blocks off. I would much rather see a tram connecting Old Montreal with Griffintown perhaps using a straight-line trajectory along Notre-Dame.

Comment by Edward

As a resident of griffintown I am very concerned about the lack of transparency and the unorthodox way in which the PPU is being pushed through by the promoter without any input from the community nor city planners! When we bought in the area the law stated that the maximum height for buildings was 24m now they are talking about building 60m towers. Does anybody know of any petition going around to stop this?

Comment by Véronique Miljkovitch

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