CSL council votes 4-2 against rezoning for proposed synagogue

Côte St. Luc council during the April 12 public meeting.

Côte St. Luc council voted 4-2 Monday night against the second reading of a rezoning for the Fondation Sepharade Kollel Avrechim project on Mackle Road, on part of the current Public Works yard land.

This effectively stops the project as proposed, which was a five-storey, 79-foot building with no setback from the sidewalk. The Kollel is being encouraged to return with a new proposal.

Councillors Dida Berku, Steven Erdelyi, Mitch Kujavsky and Mike Cohen voted against, while David Tordjman and Sidney Benizri voted in favour. Councillor Oren Sebag was not visible on screen during the virtual meeting's vote.

Councillor Mitch Kujavsky proposed deferring the vote to May, but Mayor Mitchell Brownstein pointed out that during the 15-day public consultation process conducted in writing because of COVID, the city received 162 e-mails opposing the project as proposed.

"We did not receive any e-mails in favour of the project, although three were received saying they would consider it in another location," the Mayor pointed out. "Our obligation as a council is to act based on the process. As a council, we have a legal obligation to act and not create a false sense of belief that this project can go forward.... We have to stop it here."

Brownstein added that, according to a legal opinion, the city is not allowed to accept changes to the proposal at this point "unless they're extremely minor." He said a new bylaw will have to be proposed. The deferral was not approved.

Tordjman said the council is supposed to be "a force for good.

"Every single time there's been a motion to establish an institution, there's been opposition... and alarmist rhetoric about how this would change the nature of our city. Every one of those institutions has enriched our community.... I agree this project can be improved, but the majority of this council was in favour over the last three years of planning. We told the Kollel what to do and they agreed. We must stop pitting residents against each other to mitigate this and previous councils' repeated failures.

"This council has failed by not passing this resolution tonight. This is not fair and it's not right. We are letting an entire community down today."

The councillor added that for the last 30 years, nothing was done by councils about synagogues located in homes "for fear of making waves," and that he himself wants an end to such non-conforming institutions.

"They wanted to conform and build legally, but no options were made available to them and nothing was done to stop them from establishing themselves. This is not proper governance."

Brownstein countered that over time, he supported Beth Chabad's search for a location, and the expansions of Hebrew Academy and Congregation Or Hahayim.

"But we are going to deal with all the non-conforming institutions in our community and find out from the neighbourhood if the community is happy where they are or if they need to be in strip malls."

Cohen, who recently also said the project was not viable as is, expressed unhappiness with the tone of discussion amongst residents, including on social media.

"In the 16 years I've been on city council, this has been the most divisive issue I've been involved in....We have a lot of mending to do in our community."

Erdelyi said he felt this was a failure by council.

"We should have sat down with Rabbi Yehouda Benoliel and said, 'no, you need to fix this, you cannot have a zero setback.' ....We agreed to things that the public will not accept in terms of height and size. I hope we will be able to better advise them on what makes more sense."

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