Hampstead mayor breaks tie to approve controversial apartment project

CSL Road resident Marie Pontini, centre, expresses her anger following Monday's council vote.

To the dismay of area residents, Hampstead council voted Monday night 4-3 to approve a zoning change to enable the demolition of 5781 and 5783 Côte St. Luc Road to make way for a 10-storey rental apartment building on Côte St. Luc Road. Mayor William Steinberg voted in favor breaking a 3-3 council tie.

Tenants of the buildings who would be evicted, several of whom are vulnerable; and homeowners living parallel to CSL Road on Queen Mary Road, have been objecting to the project, the latter saying it is too high. A public consultation with experts present will be held at the Adessky Community Centre 8 p.m. Aug. 19, followed by the opportunity for a petition by residents in the affected zones, and a possible register and referendum.

Councillor Cheryl Weigensberg, who previously voted against the project, voted in favour. Councillors Leon Elfassy and Harvey Shaffer also voted in favour. Shaffer — though ill — came to the council meeting to vote and express himself on the issue. Councillor Warren Budning, who previously voted in favour, voted against this time. Councillors Michael Goldwax and Jack Edery voted against as well.

At the start of the council meeting, a rendering of the 10-storey project was shown on a screen, prompting loud objections from some residents. The continued objections prompted Mayor William Steinberg to say those who continued to speak from their seats when it is prohibited would be expelled from the meeting. No one was.

The vote then took place. Weigensberg, Edery and Elfasssy voted without comment, but others spoke.

"I feel that the majority of Hampstead residents want to maintain the look and feel of our garden city, and since I was elected to be the voice of our residents, I must vote opposed to the project and hope that a compromise can be reached to meet everyone’s goals," Goldwax said. Loud applause followed.

Budning said that while the council makes long-term decisions for the best interests of the town, "we were also elected to listen to the residents, to respond to their concerns, and be there for them. My decision comes down to, if I was a homeowner and I was disproportionately affected... I certainly would not want to see [the building] going up in my backyard." Loud applause followed again.

Shaffer said he "didn't become a city councillor to win a popularity contest. I want to do what's in the best interest of the town, which I took as an oath when I was elected.

Shaffer added that buildings on CSL Road between Stratford and Heath are a "total eyesore," and that it is not economically feasible to demolish the current buildings and replace it with a lower, six-storey building. Angry shouts followed.

"Just because you don't like to hear what I have to say doesn't mean I'm right and you're wrong, or you're right and I'm wrong," the councillor said, responding to the anger. Shaffer also emphasized that a democratic process is still underway, with residents having the final say.

Steinberg, in breaking the tie, said he agreed with Shaffer about acting in the best interests of the entire town and thanked him, despite medical difficulties, for being present for the vote.

Building resident Marie Pontini, who uses a wheelchair, angrily denounced those who approved the apartment building project.

"It's been two months that we're fighting this, we have no energy for this, and this is nonsense, it's disgusting!" she said, as part of comments that contained the f-word.

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