Save Griffintown!


Urban Planners Discuss Griffintown, Feb. 12th by ajkandy
January 31, 2008, 11:08 pm
Filed under: Concordia, Events, Little Burgundy, UQAM, Urbanism

by A.J. Kandy

Residents, community activists and urban planning geeks™ are getting an early Valentine from the Little Burgundy Coalition, who are holding a public discussion on the Projet Griffintown issue for Tuesday, February 12th at the Centre-Culturel Georges-Vanier, on Workman near Charlevoix.

Urbanism professors Pierre Gauthier from Concordia and David Hanna from UQAM will be discussing the project with members of the Coalition and the community at a special meeting. Members of the public are welcome, but be aware that seating may be limited. (This isn’t an official public consultation — stay tuned for details on that schedule.) It’s in the morning, so ouch, but we’re both making time to be there — this matters.

February 12th, from 9AM-noon
Centre Culturel Georges-Vanier (2nd floor)
2450 rue Workman

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La Presse: “Final sprint” for borough mayor before Feb. 5 by ajkandy
January 31, 2008, 8:40 am
Filed under: consultations, griffintown, Sud-Ouest

From yesterday’s Cyberpresse:

«Ça arrive vite», a admis Jacqueline Montpetit, qui revient d’un congé afin de «reprendre son souffle». Au cours de la prochaine séance du conseil d’arrondissement, le 5 février, la mairesse, qui tiendra le rôle de présidente durant les consultations, compte dévoiler la démarche qu’elle entend suivre. Un avis public sera publié dans les journaux locaux, avec le calendrier des séances qui débuteront à la mi-février.

«Je peux déjà vous dire que ce sera le comité exécutif de la Ville de Montréal qui sera saisi des résultats de toute la consultation, a expliqué Mme Montpetit, qui n’a pas à émettre de recommandations en vertu de la loi. Mais ça ne va pas nous empêcher de penser», a-t-elle ajouté.

The article goes on to state that no independent urban planners are being consulted, as apparently the city’s already brought all of its urban planning expertise to the project. (News to me.)

The full schedule of local consultations will apparently be printed in local newspapers – probably something like Voix Populaire, I’m guessing — so we’ll keep an eye out for them and republish it here.

via Montreal City Weblog. 

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Devimco-RESO public consultation: Here’s what was said by ajkandy
January 29, 2008, 2:45 pm
Filed under: consultations, Devimco, ETS, griffintown

by A.J. Kandy

Welcome Stillepost.ca readers!

Please bear in mind we’re not advocating what Devimco is coming up with, we’re merely reporting what they have stated in press releases and in public meetings. The point of this blog is to share information and get people involved in the process. While we can understand Devimco’s particular design & urban planning decisions and the density requirements of the city, that does not indicate that we endorse them.

Our own preference for the area would be intelligent re-use and sustainable, smaller-scale infill development, but as we don’t have a spare $1.3 Bn lying around, what we can do is try to influence the outcome for the better.

• • •

Upon leaving the public meeting last Wednesday (january 23rd), we were told that the Projet Griffintown website would be up “before the end of the week,” so we decided to let a couple of days pass while we prepared for our Friday presentation at the Indyish City Mess event. Stephanie got word from one of the minute-takers that all the answers from the meeting’s questions would be up at the website, but to date, nothing seems to have surfaced. So, continuing the thread started by Steph in last week’s piece, here’s a summary of the important news about the project with adapted visuals from our most recent presentation.

Project Griffintown, Residential Space Use Breakdown

The high density is driven by requests from the City and other organizations. Originally, the project was only to have 1,500 residential units, but this has been bumped up to over 3,800 units. From the city’s perspective, this attempts to increase residential density near downtown, stem suburban sprawl, and to recover lost tax revenues. From the commercial perspective, it creates a local economic basis for shops and services; from the community perspective, it creates much more space for student residences, assisted living, and affordable / subsidized housing for working families. A representative of POPIR debated at length with Mr. Goulet about whether 400 units of affordable housing represented the proper amount (15% of the total units) as required by the City; Devimco’s position is that they are following the guidelines and subtracted the student and senior housing from the total; POPIR seems to think they should have included them. On the upside, Devimco is taking on board advice from designers that affordable housing should be spread throughout the neighborhood, rather than concentrated in a single block or street.

Mr. Goulet mentioned that the initial target market is “empty nesters” who want to downsize and move back to the city, participate in cultural activities, and/or maintain a pied-à-terre in Montreal while they travel elsewhere. To some extent, this may be seen as reversing previous sprawl trends, or at least preserving outer suburbs at the same size they are now, as our population remains relatively stable.

The project aims to reintegrate the city with the Lachine Canal. The existing bike path will not only be preserved, but possibly also enhanced with canal-side terrasses and cafés. South of Wellington, a pedestrian-only area will link De La Montagne to the Peel Basin with a wide passageway under the elevated railway tracks; this will also lead to the proposed concert hall / hotel and then to Rue de la Commune and Old Montreal.

The aerial view, much derided in comments and the press, is likely just a placeholder image intended to show approximate building heights and massing. That means that the final architectural style of specific buildings is not yet confirmed, nor have we seen proper “street-level” renderings yet. The phrase “the final result won’t be copied and pasted like this” was overheard, which raises hopes for better-looking buildings. Furthermore, the residential condos at the west end of the project are to be designed and built by partner companies sometime in the next 10 years, so those are definitely just placeholder images for now.

One of our biggest concerns was how the two large commercial-retail “superblocks” would face the streets around them – would they be facing residential areas with blank walls, ventilation exhausts and loading docks? Mr. Goulet answered directly: No, the intent is to have living street walls lined with shops on all four sides, along with separate lobby entrances for each superblock’s four towers and for the larger-surface retailers. Deliveries, as well as parking, is to be entirely underground.

Mixed-Use and Retail Area with Street-Facing Shops and Arcades

Similarly, the interior retail spaces are to be designed after the example of successful pedestrian shopping arcades as seen in London, Melbourne and other cities. Specifically, Mr. Goulet referred to Old Montreal’s Centre de Commerce Mondial and its internal Ruelle des Fortifications as an example. Where the retail superblocks build over existing streets, the north-south axes will be preserved as arcades, intersecting with new east-west paths. It will definitely not be a standard shopping mall maze, and to some extent this preserves the old street grid, though there are issues about the privatization of public space to address here.

Mr. Goulet confirmed: there will definitely not be a Wal-Mart, nor a Canadian Tire. They couldn’t give details on who the “large surface” tenants will be, but they suggested they would be more in the vein of department stores and outlets. Architecturally, these tenants will have a street entrance but will be located inside and above the pedestrian arcades described previously.

A new street, running parallel just south of Wellington, is designated as a “lifestyle / night life” district and will probably house more pedestrian-level retail, restaurants and bars as well as two hotels. As was brought up in discussion, the multiplex cinema, being primarily a nighttime destination, may be moved elsewhere on the site.

A proposed tramway is expected to be built running north-south down Peel street from Sainte-Catherine, passing next to the Central Station towards the Canal, then along the waterfront and north towards Berri-UQAM metro. This is to satisfy the city’s criteria for alternative & green transportation, but this would only be partially funded by Devimco. While news reports have stated that Devimco wants a “sexy” tramway or nothing, they seemed more open to other solutions, mentioning electric trolleybuses for one.

The entire project is to be built in phases, breaking ground in 2009 and designed to be completed by 2019. The reason for doing it in phases is largely traffic-related, as the city cannot simply shut down major axes like Peel, de la Montagne and Wellington for years – at most they intend to have streets half-closed for a few months when necessary.

The first phase, in the lot containing the City Gas Company heritage building, will contain a mixed-use building with offices and affordable housing, a small plaza, and another affordable-housing unit at the south end. The City Gas building is slated for re-use, possibly for retail. Mr. Goulet said that this way, the project would get affordable housing units in right at the beginning as opposed to tacked on at the end. A further three affordable-housing buildings will likely be on the same triangular lot as the existing heritage townhouses on Mountain; in total, 400 affordable units will be included.

View looking south on proposed first lot of project, including City Gas building and new residential tower

When it was brought up that these proposed first buildings are right next to the train tracks – Mr Goulet pointed out that VIA trains run at very low speed along this stretch, and that residential units would start considerably higher-up than track level. (I once worked in the former Artex building which is next to the railway; we could barely feel or hear the trains, which weren’t more than a few times a day, anyway; I expect a more modern building would have better sound and vibration insulation.)

As has been previously disclosed, 12 heritage buildings will be preserved: the four facing Saint-Ann’s Park will remain untouched. Four buildings on Wellington will be demolished and reconstructed using the same material, and two other buildings will be moved.

Other issues that were raised include the accessibility for senior citizens and maximum building heights are still debated: The former were taken onboard as comments; as for the latter, Devimco is insisting that they have clearance for all taller buildings.

Given the neighborhood’s large number of artists and musicians in studios and live/work lofts who will be displaced, some mention was made about including replacements at market rates, possibly as part of the concert hall complex or elsewhere; the idea was further extended to “small business incubators,” possibly in concert with the ETS, and co-working spaces similar to Station C.

Environmental concerns were addressed in two ways; one, the two large commercial buildings are slated to have green roofs, and all construction is aimed at meeting Canadian Green Building Council LEED certification, although it’s unclear which rating system, or systems, they intend to apply here. There was also a strong indication that they would be working closely with the ETS in terms of innovation here.

Coordination with other projects was also a concern: this project will run simultaneously with the proposed demolition and redevelopment of the Bonaventure Expressway / University Street, and the development of the Canada Post site (slated to become a neighborhood of affordable housing built by a nonprofit development company). In theory, a huge, contiguous swath of land may be under construction for a very long time. Mr. Goulet promised that his company would definitely be coordinating to harmonize their efforts with others’.

Finally, the question was raised — in a city that has seen its share of Overdale-style real estate boondoggles — how do we know there will be funding to complete the entire project, and what happens if the political will changes (provincial or municipal)? Mr. Goulet replied that all of the financing for construction was completely private, and therefore immune to such changes, and that once the path was approved, they were committed to completing all phases of construction. (A good point raised by a reader at Stillepost was that the city ought not to issue demolition permits until right before construction was to begin, but the practicality of that remains to be seen.)

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Thoughts from Project Griffintown Public Meeting by steph
January 24, 2008, 1:31 pm
Filed under: consultations, Devimco, ETS, griffintown | Tags: , , ,

By Stephanie Troeth

Around 100 people attended the Projet Griffintown public meeting with developers Devimco and their associates yesterday evening at the École de technologie supérieure – appropriately, just at the edge of the area in question.

This supposedly-public meeting was not very well advertised beforehand; we were only present by the effort of community organizers who’ve been meeting with citizen groups, our network of blogs, through email and word-of-mouth. The developers admitted this was their first experience with public consultation; it seems they didn’t quite grasp that a good old traditional public forum is a responsibility to citizens, not a favour. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, and to be honest, we were skeptical: How much more could Devimco tell us, that wasn’t buried under corporate NDA?

What was entirely refreshing about the public meeting was…the public itself. The meeting attendees came armed with information, perspective, insight and concerns. Comprising architects, artists and artisans, educators, community organizers, anti-poverty advocates, residents of Griffintown and its periphery, the audience was intelligent and relentless in demanding answers from Devimco.

We were heartened by the questions everyone asked: Why are there no schools? What about recreational space for families? Are the height of these buildings legal? What about the streetscape? Can we expect a diversity of commerce and business development?

Noisy, heavy trucks already diminish the quality of life on Notre-Dame; would this mega-project make it worse? Would there be coordination with the adjacent housing plan for the former Canada Post facility? What’s the percentage of affordable housing? This quartier is home to dozens of active artists – why weren’t they consulted, and where would they go? What context will be given to heritage buildings? How do we know this isn’t going to be another Dix30 shopping mall?

A major point of concern was the fact that Project Griffintown is going to take 10 years – long enough for market crashes, investor pullouts, and political issues to potentially scuttle the project or leave it half-built. We were assured that the investment was completely private, thereby protecting it from market flux. (There wasn’t time to ask: can we truly be assured of this when the United States is currently suffering from a housing crisis?)

The answers from Devimco and the meeting facilitators were generally positive. We see hope, a promise of true urban renewal that gives reasonable consideration to good street design and city life, with due diligence given to cultural and architectural heritage. Yet, the public left with a niggling sense of unease. This is one very fragile project that needs to be nurtured and cultivated with utmost care. Despite all the “right things one must do” (or in the tone of Devimco’s stance, “what the city told us to do”), we worry that the developers don’t understand the spirit of Griffintown, and that sincerity and soul must go into rebuilding this once vibrant neighbourhood. That it’s not the bricks and mortar and layout proportions that make a successful quartier, but an understanding that it is a legacy for generations of Montrealers to come.



Griffintown residents: Redevelopment yes, megaproject no by ajkandy
January 23, 2008, 1:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Chris Gobeil and Judith Bauer, who’ve lovingly restored their 19th century heritage townhouse on Ottawa Street (adjacent to the old Horse Palace) eloquently state their opposition to both the form and undemocratic process of the Village Griffintown megaproject. Their point is valid; if the city wants redevelopment, why not just rezone the area as mixed residential-commercial and let the market take care of things with a range of designs, infill buildings, etc?

Given the volatility of capital markets (long expected, as the US credit/housing bubble deflates), I think another white elephant is exactly what this city doesn’t need.



Public consultation at ETS tomorrow at 5:30pm by ajkandy
January 22, 2008, 12:55 am
Filed under: consultations, Devimco, ETS, Events, griffintown

A public consultation organized by RESO, the Regroupement économique et social du Sud-Ouest, and assisted by the Centre de consultation et de concertation, is being held Wednesday, January 23rd from 5:30 – 9:00 pm at the École de technologie supérieure, Amphithéâtre A-1150, 1100 Notre-Dame Ouest. (map)

There will be four discussion workshops:

  • Workshop 1: culture, heritage, tourism/recreation, design and architecture;
  • Workshop 2: employment and business opportunities;
  • Workshop 3: transportation and traffic;
  • Workshop 4: living spaces, urban space planning, public spaces and neighborhood services

We’ll be there covering as many workshops as we can.

To participate, indicate your choice of workshop and get in touch with Rachel Desrochers at 514-606-5884, or email her at rd@c-consult-concert.qc.ca. Places are limited, so get in while the getting’s good.



Henry Aubin: Tread carefully on Griffintown by ajkandy
January 17, 2008, 11:59 am
Filed under: media, op-ed

Gazette city columnist Henry Aubin returns to the topic of Griffintown in today’s opinion piece. According to Aubin, the pros include development of a very neglected area of town, a shot in the arm of over $1.3 billion; it would be Kyoto-friendly by reducing urban sprawl, encouraging rail transit development, and using LEED building standards.

The cons include a possible negative effect on Sainte Catherine Street’s retail and nightlife, “boring, semi-uniform architectural design” due to the fact there aren’t multiple firms involved, plus serious questions of fairness; patronage (George Bossé used to work for the mayor; standard review processes short-circuited on purpose; the possibility of expropriations freezing out not only homeowners and landowners but other developers. Plus there’s the site’s proximity to the yet-to-be-developed Canada Post site; the entire ensemble needs to be balanced carefully.

Full opinion piece at The Gazette.