Municipal Elections, Issue 59

Québec has municipal elections on a set date every four years. Candidate campaigns are now in full swing with voting scheduled for November 7. Items high on the agendas in most municipalities – housing and population density.

Focus Pointe-Claire

I live in Pointe-Claire, an on-island suburb of Montréal.

It has a lot going for it including: 

  • A park system almost without equal anywhere. 
  • Several kilometres of waterfront along Lac St-Louis
  • A  bicycle path network that continues to evolve and improve
  • Three train stations providing good rush-hour service to downtown Montréal
  • A strong business base that helps reduce the homeowner tax burden.
  • Most homes are but 15 minutes by car from Montréal’s international airport 
  • Good highway access
  • Diligent water, sewer, and road renewal programs
  • Programs to maintain and improve its leafy canopy and parks
  • World class aquatic facilities with three olympic sized pools and tower diving
  • Two indoor arenas and a large soccer complex at Terra Cotta 
  • And soon, it will have two-light rail train stations that will take passengers to the downtown core in less than 30 minutes. 
Pointe-Claire Lakeshore

Like all municipalities, it has its problems:

  • The three main shopping areas, all located on Blvd. St-Jean , were built between 1958 and 1973. 
  • As a consequence, they have oversized parking lots built to meet the demands of the car centric population of the times. 
  • These parking lots (and the one at an abandoned car dealership) are the ugliest parts of the city – terrible heat islands in the summer and Siberian in winter. 
  • The average household size has shrunken to 2.44 people per home, down from over 4 per home in the “60’s and early ’70’s. Not a dramatic drop, you think? Consider that 5000 houses that were once home to over 20,000 people now have less than 12,500 people living in them. Those 7500 people ate pizza, drank coffee, beer and milk, needed clothes dry-cleaned, bought pharmaceuticals,  and home maintenance supplies. 
  • Blvd. St-Jean shopping destinations and reduced population density have combined to erode proximity shopping to the point of touristy curiosity or worse, non-existence. 
  • Nearly 40% of its population is over 55 with 25% over the age of 65. These people vote in municipal elections and resist change. 

To develop or not

That is the question! The future of residential development has become Pointe-Claire’s defining ballot box question. Several candidates, such as Tim Thomas (mayoral candidate) and Brent Cowan (incumbent councillor) are very good at saying what they opposed and what they are against such as:

  • The demolition of the Pioneer in Pointe-Claire Village. This was a dilapidated, rat-infested building that literally stank in the summer, and, that the fire department should have condemned for demolition years ago. 
  • They opposed the most attractive small condominium project on the whole of Montréal island, the Charlebois. It will have fourteen luxury units and street front retail. It will improve the Village streetscape and house a group of excellent potential customers for proximity retail and restaurants. 

Opportunities lost or to be lost?

Parking Lots – Heat Islands
  • The redevelopment of the Mazda dealership site, a part of  the massive heat island / Siberian plain that extends along Blvd. St-Jean and across Hymus Boulevard to the Wal-Mart shopping centre and beyond to the IGA. The planned project could have added much needed greenery to that area and served as a sound barrier for the homes just to the east. The traffic issue – don’t make me laugh. It was replacing a car dealership which, each day had 75 cars in and out for service; 30+ employees driving in to work; client visits & test drives;  and vehicle deliveries. Often the tractor-trailer sat on the boulevard blocking one lane for extended periods. The car dealership had way more vehicle traffic than a new condominium development. 
  • They oppose the re-development of the Pointe-Claire Shopping Centre originally developed in 1958. Another huge, under-utilized parking lot, Saharan in summer and glacial in the winter. There is opportunity to re-develop this site for mixed use without any buildings rising above the height of the apartment buildings already on site while retaining  existing character retail. 

We don’t know what they stand for, except for some kind of antiquated vision of  a car-centric town frozen in the 1970’s. Cities evolve! Cities do not stand still. If they do stand still , they rot. 

Think land use, think green

Globally, cities and the inner suburbs are densifying to make better use of land:

  • Twenty standard single family homes require about 115,000 square feet of land. The Blackbirds, Los Angeles  development cluster saw the development of 18 family homes on 35,000 square feet. 
  • Twenty-four apartment units in a three storey building can be built on 7500 square feet
  • 100 units can fit in a 3.5 floor building located on a 55,000 square foot lot.
  • Imagine the land economy in a building with ten floors or more
Blackbirds development, Los Angeles

Economic land use:

  • Leaves more available land for parks and green spaces of all sizes
  • Makes better use of road, sewer, water, and services 
  • Doesn’t push development further and further into agricultural land
  • Allows for denser population
  • Denser population leads to more and better proximity retail, neighbourhood dining, and services
  • Also, density justifies more investment in public transit
  • Better public transit reduces automobile dependence and even the desire to use a car. Less car usage equals cleaner air. 

Density comes in many forms

Density comes in various forms. Personally,  I have zero desire to live anywhere that I cannot get up to on my own two feet. The older I get, the lower the floor, maybe? That being said, there is a place for high-rise residential development, such as the corner of Blvd. St-Jean and Hymus. The NIMBY movement should have embraced the project but fought for enhanced landscaping and building orientation that would provide sound barrier benefits and maximized backyard privacy. There should be a way to re-zone a little part of the industrial park  for high-rise residential near the Sources Road REM station. 

Good / Bad

Good: The Charlebois condo project will make Pointe-Claire Village a better place. It is a modest three floors with facades that blend well with the surrounding architecture. It replaces a decaying, dangerous structure and a brutally ugly parking lot. 

Bad: The single-family development at Hastings and Walton is, frankly, butt ugly.  This is not the developer’s fault. This is not what it wanted to build. A three or four floor multi-unit building with exteriors mirroring the Magil bungalows and splits would have been a much better fit. I think that 25 % of the site could have been public park. There may even have been room for a convenience store to avoid car trips for beer or milk. 

Opportunity

The old Pointe-Claire Shopping Centre provides a phenomenal opportunity for non-intrusive, additive re-development. It could include mid-rise residential not much higher than the hill on the northern boundary, enhanced retail, flex-office space, public squares, and entertainment alternatives. 

I do think that the Fairview Forest does need protection. However, the REM station there means agglomeration / metro-government pressure to build residential on the Cadillac-Fairview lands. So, cause Cadillac-Fairview to be economical with land use. Give them height but force the greening of the shopping centre’s parking lot in compensation for any lost green space. Mature tree plantation along St-Jean, Brunswick, and the REM line would be a nice start. 

Beware of candidates seeking popular acclaim

I wanted to get into up-zoning and and the role it has to play in improving density and land use. However, this newsletter has run on long enough. My focus has been Pointe-Claire. But, somehow I think its local issues resonate in many, many municipalities. 

“Prime Ministers are not chosen to seek popularity. They are chosen to provide leadership. There are times when voters must be told not what they want to hear but why they have to know”.

“Leaders must not govern for easy headlines in 10 days but for a better Canada in 10 years – and they must be ready to endure the attacks that often accompany profound or controversial change.”

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney Club Mont-Royale, October 25, 2021. His comments were about national leadership but these two memorable quotations apply to all elected officials.

Mulroney applied: Clearly, Cowan and Thomas like easy headlines and seek popularity. This is not the kind of leadership that we need in municipal politics. I will be voting for John Belvedere. 

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