Hampstead council voted unanimously Monday to hold a referendum in affected areas on a controversial project to demolish the apartment building at 5781-5783 Côte St. Luc Road, where many vulnerable people live, and replace it with a 10-storey luxury apartment building.
Councillors, those for and against the project, said they wanted to let the people speak.
Elana Hersh, a resident of the building, is optimistic about the coming vote.
“We feel confident, we feel we have a lot of support behind us,” she told The Suburban. “I’m happy the referendum is going to be happening.”
Last week, local democracy won in Hampstead, as 252 residents came out to sign a register to prompt the referendum — 212 signatures were needed. Council also had the choice of withdrawing the project.
Those against the project went all out, going door to door in recent weeks to encourage residents to turn out at the Adessky Community Centre. Eligible residents had from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 2 to show up, and when The Suburban arrived, some 195 signatures had already been received and there was a lengthy line with many more signatories.
There were even many on hand from outside Hampstead who turned out for the register. They had read about the tenants’ plight in local media and came to provide moral support. One Hampstead resident provided an unofficial running tally.
The residents and supporters cheered when Hampstead town clerk Pierre Tapp announced the number of signatories.
In recent weeks, the developers of the project were also going door-to-door seeking enough signatures, approximately 1,007 in the affected areas, to cancel the register and referendum. We had been told two weeks ago they were close to receiving that amount, but Tapp told us they never received the signatures from the developers. The word is that the developers collected about 700 signatures.
Resident Sharon Hyman, who has been especially vocal in her opposition to the project and has garnered support on social media, was extremely pleased with the register result.
“We feel confident with the groundswell of support that we received from the entire Hampstead community that we will continue to triumph in our quest to preserve affordable housing in the town,” she wrote to The Suburban. “We are concerned about the town of Hampstead setting a precedent in which eventually all the affordable housing in the municipality would be demolished, in the middle of a housing crisis, in one of the richest neighbourhoods in Canada. We are concerned about a mayor using what we feel was an illegal veto to override the democratic results of his own council’s vote.”
At Monday night’s meeting, Steinberg rejected a proposal by Councillor Warren Budning to hold the regular question period before council voted whether to hold a referendum. Council voted to let democracy decide, and were split once again on a third reading to approve the project — Budning, Michael Goldwax and Jack Edery voted against again, and Harvey Shaffer, Cheryl Weigensberg and Leon Elfassy voted in favour. Steinberg broke the tie, voting in favour.
A two-hour question period ensued, in which Steinberg repeated he was acting in the best interests of the town. He was asked to consider the plight of vulnerable people over financial issues like revenue.
Resident Adriana Decker told Steinberg, and later The Suburban, that she and others filed a complaint with the Quebec Municipal Commission alleging Steinberg was violating the town’s Code of Ethics in terms of impartiality. Steinberg strongly denied this.
And Budning offered harsh criticism of the process leading up to last week’s register.
“The town failed with regards to the register,” he told the council meeting. “Our website and all our social media channels did not reference this at all. The last date of information published about the register was Sept. 24, and I think that’s unacceptable.