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Sunday, July 26, 2015
The Griffintown story from the Montreal Gazette (hopefully in it's entirety ,I had trouble posting)
Too little, too late? Urban plan for Griffintown came after the fact
The parking lot is promised as a park, one of at least six new parks slated for Griffintown. It is an echo of the desolation of the area just a few years ago; one can imagine that a park would provide much needed green space amid the condos and concrete.
Overview: Griffintown rising
The city, which is now in the process of expropriating the land, might have toshell over a small fortune for the lot if it pays market value. With the average price of land in the sector now about $300 a square foot, the lot of almost 90,000 square feet could be worth about $27 million.
In fact, the city has earmarked just over $28 million to acquire the lot.
Ten years ago, you could have bought any piece of land in Griffintown for between $8 and $20 a square foot, said community activist and landowner Harvey Lev. The same rising cost applies to future schools, he added.
“Why did the city not designate land for parks and schools 10 years ago?” asked Lev, who sees a disaster in a landscape of bland condo towers.
The price tag for the park land is just a hint of the repercussions brought on by lack of planning from the outset, critics say.
Meanwhile, Griffintown has become a trendy name, with burgeoning condos and businesses generating buzz.
“But trendiness is not a long-term solution,’’ said Heritage Montreal policy director Dinu Bumbaru, noting that much of St-Laurent Blvd. has gone downhill as other areas have come up. “We want this to become an attractive place for a generation, not just a season.”
Jeffrey Dungen, a resident who campaigned against zoning changes in 2008 that allowed for towers as high as 80 metres in some sectors, said activists made a concerted effort to brand the Griffintown development as controversial.
Today, Dungen said, when you hear the name Griffintown, “you think of New City Gas, rooftop parties and condos and having good time. It seems trendy.”
For him, the toughest part about the changes is seeing all those towers on “a city grid almost 200 years old that was never made to see buildings 60 metres tall.”
The activists’ efforts did pay off, however — there is a lingering stigma to the changing Griffintown.
THE BOROUGH’S PLAN
Sud-Ouest borough mayor Benoît Dorais acknowledges Griffintown’s bad reputation. Like many people, he contends that the administration of former mayor Gérald Tremblay did a poor job of planning for the district’s development.
“It’s a paradox,’’ he said, ‘’because Griffintown has this bad press — on planning, on the construction sites, on the belief that it’s just condos, which is not true. But at the same time it’s growing incredibly, it’s incredibly popular; people want to live there and developers want to invest, and there are a huge number of businesses opening.”
As development moves forward, Dorais is armed with the borough’s Programme particulier d’urbanisme (PPU) — the special urban plan for Griffintown’s development — set in motion in 2009 and adopted in 2013, as well as $141 million the city has earmarked for infrastructure and parks in the area.
Dorais said only about half the land in Griffintown is spoken for at the moment. That there is a lot of land left to develop is a good thing, he said, because there is still much to accomplish.
The borough is planning “rue habitées” — streets designed to favour pedestrians over cars — on small stretches on Montfort and St-Paul Sts., with other nearby streets to be redesigned later.
A concept for Peel St. is to come next year, Dorais said.
There are also early plans for a cultural corridor on Ottawa St., with commercial zoning for the ground level, and plans to highlight remaining heritage buildings such as New City Gas, the Griffintown Horse Palace, art galleries and fire stations.
The city is also working with the STM to create new bus lines linked to the métro system, while infrastructure needs are being studied before new streets are laid.
But is it too little and too late? Has Montreal lost the opportunity to create a world-class development? It all goes back to planning.
A CHANGING CONCEPT
In 2008, long before the Sud-Ouest borough’s urban development plan was adopted in 2013, the Peel-Wellington sector of the area was re-zoned to allow developer Devimco to build a commercial centre similar to its Dix30 mega mall in Brossard, with towers as high as 80 metres, or 20 storeys.
As Dungen recalls, early public outcry to the Devimco plan resulted in “Mickey Mouse consultations’’ during which a lot of people rallied around preserving the neighbourhood. The consultations were undertaken by the borough, not the independent Office de consultation publique de Montréal.
Dungen calls the consultations: “A little fake show.”
Devimco’s $1.3-billion plan died with the 2008 recession, perhaps also deflated by the public’s opposition.
We have a slogan at Heritage Montreal, which is ‘Give Peel a chance’
Fast-forward to the borough’s new urban plan, in which zoning stands at 80 metres near the Bonaventure Expressway, 60 to 70 metres south of William St. from Ann to Murray and on several blocks west of du Séminaire St., with the majority of the area zoned at about 25 metres.
The tallest buildings in Devimco’s scaled-down District Griffin project, the Griffix condo tower and the Philippe Starck Yoo condo building, top out at about 20 storeys.
To Bumbaru, the tallest structures went up with little regard for public spaces.
He says the area around Peel near William, with its “forest of towers,” is a missed opportunity.
There is hope, Bumbaru said, although Griffintown and neighbouring downtown Ville-Marie borough are not co-ordinating to connect with one another.
“We have a slogan at Heritage Montreal, which is ‘Give Peel a chance,’ ’’ he said, explaining that Peel is a key axis for the city as the only street running directly from the water to the mountain. “It needs a champion.”
Bumbaru cites the Griffintown Bassins du Havre condo and park projects as having been properly handled, with consultations carried out by the Office de consultation publique, and “a long-term view on the public benefit of the project, not just private returns.”
Bumbaru also doffs his hat at the row of fine red-brick Victorian houses next to the future Brickfields mixed condo-commercial project on de la Montagne St. Not only should they be saved, Bumbaru says, “They should bear a little plaque, an homage from the city of Montreal for being the pioneer that resisted the devastation of the area.”
Pockets of row houses remain in the district, Bumbaru notes, including some rather shabby low-rise dwellings on Peel near Wellington, almost in the shadow of the District Griffin towers. Bumbaru says they are old workers’ tenements.
“You don’t have to demolish everything,’’ he said. “These little houses, if they are well treated, can provide that oasis of sky on what could be otherwise a rather densified area.”
Raphaël Fischler, director of the school of urban planning at McGill, says the creation in 2013 of the Quartier de l’innovation (QI), a partnership between the École de technologie supérieure (ETS), McGill and other parties, is centred on the notion of a creativity hub in Griffintown.
The two veins — innovation and condo development — are not easy to reconcile, he said.
“It’s not been so easy, because developers are interested in putting down as many condos as possible that sell as well as possible. They are not so interested in innovation, although they benefit from the branding,” Fischler said.
“The future of Griffintown is uncertain,’’ he said, in terms of who will be there, how it will function, and what the rest of development will be.
The rapid change characterized by condo construction — meaning land prices go up and many people are displaced — does not promote QI’s objective, he said. “Condo land is not a creative milieu.”
Despite the fact that being a landowner and seller in the now-trendy area has made him rich, Lev said is not impressed with how Griffintown is transforming.
“Who in their right mind wants to live in a neighbourhood that’s interspersed with 20-storey non-architectural towers? There’s no imagination,” Lev said.
Nobody walks in 20-storey neighbourhoods, with their wind tunnels, he said — the best neighbourhoods are those with three- and four-storey dwellings, like the Plateau, Rosemont, and N.D.G.
Seeing that downtown had nowhere to grow but south, Lev’s father started buying land in the area in the 1950s and 60s. Lev has since sold buildings and land todeveloper Prével and others.
“They made me rich, richer than I ever needed to be or wanted to be,” Lev said. “I also know that I can’t stop the juggernaut.”
The city could have created something special in Griffintown, Lev said. “What major city in the world can you find, let’s say two or three square miles, that needs rehabilitation right next to downtown?”
Jacques Charette, president of the Georges-Vanier Cultural Centre, points out that 10 years ago, there was not a word to be heard about Griffintown.
“Now, everything is called Griffintown,’’ he said. “The Griffintown Vet is opening up in Little Burgundy.”
Charette and Paul-Émile Rioux, a local gallery owner and president of the merchants association for the Quartier du Canal, tried to convince the city to plan for a central square or hub, a public place where people would gather, but to no avail.
Despite his disappointment over a lack of input from Griffintown’s residents, Rioux said he is happy that there’s life in the area again.
“We missed an occasion to do something right in a place that was wrong,’’ he said. “Now, (city and borough planners) are correcting the problems, trying to do their best.”