OCPM Namur-Hippodrome consultation gets off to a bad start

City has yet to draw up a plan for Montreal’s old Blue Bonnets Race track property

Twenty-two minutes after OCPM (Office de Consultation Publique de Montréal) commissioner President Bruno Bergeron opened the evening’s consultation, Montreal’s Michael Shafter had enough.

“Can we have a few words in English, please?” said Shafter. “This is a bilingual community, and we have a right to be addressed in English.”

Others joined Shafter’s protest, and the rest of the evening could have gone badly if OCPM President Dominique Olivier had not stepped into the breach to salvage the proceedings. During a short interview that took place later in the evening, Olivier told The Suburban that “the city gave us our documents, and we didn’t have the time to translate them, so in the end, we had to deal with what they gave us.”

Maybe so, but according to Derek Robertson — a local activist with extensive experience on local zoning issues — it was still a lack of consideration and respect for citizens who deserve to have a clear understanding of this project.

“If that means information and discussion in English, then so be it,” said Robertson. “All that’s required is a minimum of good sense and manners.”

Despite Bergeron’s attempts to use a bit of broken English to placate his bilingual, and mostly anglophone audience, the damage was done. While there was a minimal effort to provide translation (if necessary), there were no more complaints as the OCPM persisted with the evening’s unilingual presentation.

Aside from its potential as a residential development site, the old racetrack’s recent history is already beginning to complicate the city’s efforts to develop the site. According to the 2017 agreement between the city and the province, the city had six years to work out its plan before it could begin to “piece off” the land in order to sell it off to the city’s developers for profits that would be equally shared between the city and the province. However, as the usual delays due to demolition and decontamination have already reduced the city’s schedule to little more than three years, time has already become a big factor because the province can take the land back if shovels aren’t in the ground by the end of 2023.

According to city planners, four factors will dominate both principles and a collective vision for the future development of the 46 hectare property that’s equal to the size of some 80 football fields.

• The site’s development must include innovative, avant-garde architecture with an emphasis on a carbon neutral, sustainable signature that includes “green” energy, and an enlightened water use policy.

• It should be defined by a diversified and inclusive family environment.

• There should be an emphasis upon active, and environmentally equitable and sustainable transport facilities.

• It should include an integrated public space, including a “green” belt along the back of the property facing the train yards.

According to Bergeron, consultations will be finished in the new year after which the city is scheduled to produce “un plan d’ensemble” — an urban plan – by the end of 2021. Following further debate about the site’s assorted zoning regulations, the site should be ready for the developer’s bulldozers in time for the 2023 deadline.

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