Montreal urged to densify housing at hearings for urban master plan

“There’s a lot of reticence around the word ‘density,’ but we tend to lose the view that densifying allows us to free up public spaces,” said the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal.

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Montreal should build higher and densify its future residential projects, the head of the city’s chamber of commerce said Wednesday.

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Speaking to the Office de consultation publique de Montréal, Michel Leblanc, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, said two challenges face the city in the coming years: the labour shortage and the affordable housing crisis.

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He suggested the city could tackle both problems by densifying future residential developments in areas where they make sense.

“There’s a lot of reticence around the word ‘density,’ but we tend to lose the view that densifying allows us to free up public spaces, or even green spaces,” Leblanc told the commissioners.

He said the best places to create more dense developments are around transit hubs such as métro stations or future stations of the Réseau express métropolitain.

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“A great example” is the site of the former Hippodrome, also known as Blue Bonnets, at the western extremity of Jean-Talon St. near the Namur métro station. The city owns the land and a group is studying how to properly integrate public transit into a future project, which could accommodate up to 7,500 housing units.

“The city has a chance to develop a concept that can be used as an example of what should be done throughout Montreal,” Leblanc said of the Blue Bonnets site.

Leblanc said the city must create a long-term vision of public transit, as projects are now built with what seems to be a piecemeal approach.

Wednesday was the second day of hearings by the city’s consultation office as part of the process to draft Montreal’s master plan, called 2050 City Vision. The document will suggest the principles that should guide development through the ecological transition over the next 30 years.

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Municipalities in Quebec are legally required to adopt an urban plan, which provides the basis for zoning regulations, which in turn determine such things as the height and shape of new buildings and whether a site will be used for green space or residential, industrial, institutional or commercial construction.

Also speaking Wednesday were Frédérique Hogg and François Boulay, representing the development company Devimco, which built many of the condo towers in Griffintown.

Boulay said part of the way to alleviate the housing crisis is to build more units, as the demand for housing exceeds supply, but the city is very “timid” to act.

Hogg added that there is the potential to build roughly 5,500 housing units in the Bridge-Bonaventure sector, as well as the Peel Basin just south of the downtown core, but the city has been slow to green-light projects.

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“We were able to get all the developers around the table to outline a vision for the area, but the city is missing here,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for four years for the city to outline the zoning regulations for the area, and we’re still at Stage 1.”

Boulay said the area is by a future REM station and has enormous potential. He envisions a neighbourhood where there is a mix of office buildings, stores and housing units.

“It would really be too bad if we missed the boat here,” he said.

The afternoon continued with a presentation by Martin Lalonde of Ex aequo, which represents people with physical challenges. He said the city’s urban plan should force all new buildings and services to be universally accessible, adding it’s a human rights issue. Not to do so, he said, would amount to discrimination.

“We pay the same taxes, but we don’t have the same right to public services,” he said.

Hearings continue through next week. A draft of the plan will then be submitted to the OCPM for another round of public consultation in 2023, before the final version is sent to city council for approval in 2024.

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