Future of MoWest library focus of local debate

MoWest resident Keith Henderson.

A plan to redevelop a lot of land on Westminster that includes the Montreal West Public Library has sparked debate and the creation of an advocacy group.

Mayor Beny Masella announced in late 2017 that the town was proceeding with a plan to have the land that includes the library and a neighbouring empty lot developed.

 “Developing that lot provides at least three potential benefits — increasing the tax base, increasing the variety of housing stock, and hopefully spurring redevelopment of Westminster south of Sherbrooke," Masella said at the time.

In response, the Friends of the Montreal West Public Library was formed this past March, headed by library volunteer Giuliana Pendenza. The group released a mission statement, saying it wants to work with the town, the library's board, town residents and the library's members to "advocate for the best interests of the library.

The group's points:

• Questioning whether the existing building should be demolished and replaced with a mixed-use commercial/residential complex.

"The town's own architectural plan states 'all undertakings on a building that contributes to the historic character of the Town should give precedence to conservation and authenticity over replacement and imitation.'"

• Should the library have to be moved, "Friends of the Library believes an alternative location must be selected and confirmed before sale of the current location occurs and the public must be involved in the determination of that new site."

During the late May town council meeting, Friends of the Montreal West Public Library member Keith Henderson, former Equality Party leader, asked Masella for an informal meeting between his group and members of council.

The Mayor responded that the town already had a meeting with the library's relocation committee, but Henderson said the meeting he's proposing with the town would be more wide-ranging.

Councillor Colleen Feeney said the town is dealing with the library board, and meeting with two different library-related groups could be confusing.

"That's an issue for me."

Henderson responded that his group's mission statement was adopted by the library board.

"We're working very closely with the board, and there's nothing that would emerge from this informal meeting that would be in the nature of a decision. It's to have a discussion so we're all aware of the possibilities."

Henderson also responded to Councillor Elizabeth Ulin that there are about 20 members of his group.

Masella told Henderson he would do some fact-checking and look at scheduling, and then get back to him.

The Mayor told The Suburban that the town is "trying to sell the library lot and the lot next door, and we've been working with [the library] trying to find a suitable place for them to relocate temporarily until we have a new building put up here, in which case we have right of first refusal to rent a space for them there, or to put them into an eventual recreation complex.

"My druthers, and our druthers is to put them into an eventual recreation complex because we think there's a bit of synergy (the whole being greater than the sum of its parts) there. A couple of the Friends of the Library members say 'let's leave it here, we'll make nice gardens" — that doesn't serve our purposes. We need to develop this lot of land and bring some revenue into the town."

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