Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg broke a council tie vote to enable Altus Solutions Group to conduct a feasibility study of Hampstead's portion of Côte St. Luc Road, to determine potential tax revenue for housing development in that area.
The contract is for $22,000 plus taxes. This approval follows an attempt to build an apartment building in the area, which was defeated in a town referendum last year.
Each councillor spoke.
"To do what is in the best interests of the town of Hampstead, and make an educated and informed decision, I need to have all the information," said Councillor Harvey Shaffer, who voted Yes. "The Altus report will assist me in making such a decision."
Councillor Warren Budning voted against.
"While tax revenue is definitely a consideration, the crux of this problem is an urban planning situation," he said. "This is why we had an urban planning firm produce a study for us, in which they did not recommend 10-storey buildings, so I do not understand how we can move forward and spend money, analyzing a situation that is not recommended. It doesn't make sense. Also, there was a referendum in which about 70 percent of eligible voters voted No against a 10-storey building.
"I will always listen to my constituents. I will not be voting for contracts that tell me something I already know."
Councillor Michael Goldwax agreed with Budning, and also voted No.
"I don't feel we need to spend that kind of money to know a 10-storey building will give us more revenue than an eight-storey, or seven, or six, or five," he said. "We know that. Altus is typically a company that is mandated by developers —we're not developers."
Councillor Leon Elfassy voted Yes.
"The ultimate decision [about CSL Road] is not about the Altus report," he said. "The ultimate decision will be when we have all the information....The development of CSL Road will happen. All of this discussion right now is premature."
Councillor Jack Edery voted No.
"I think it's immoral and unethical that we should have gone through the entire process of a register and referendum, have a majority of the town vote — every poll came back negative — and now we're just going to disregard that," he said. "It's immoral from a democracy point of view....We're not desperate for money."
Councillor Cheryl Weigensberg voted Yes, saying she also favours getting more information.
"This is not about the height of a building.... I don't see it as a selling out of our residents."
Steinberg voted Yes, making the vote 4-3. He also read a line of a 2019 pre-referendum flyer by the three councillors voting No, saying the residents' voting decision at that time should be an informed one.
"That's it in a nutshell," the Mayor added. "I believe Hampstead residents want complete information. We asked BC2, which did the urban planning study, to look at six, eight and 10 storeys. When you read that report, you will see that they used one criteria, the impact on the homes behind the buildings. That should not be the only criteria.
"I'm amazed councillors would talk about the cost of doing this, $22,000 — the same councillors are talking about our multi-million dollar surplus. The cost is trivial compared to how much tax revenue we may get. This will impact Hampstead residents — present and future — for decades."
The debate became fractious later when Steinberg quoted from the opposing councillors' 2019 flyer again, regarding the importance of "informed opinions."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Mayor, you can't keep calling us out and pulling things out of context!" Budning said. "We had a letter strictly related to them voting and making an informed decision. Information is important, however information in the context of your decision-making capacity! I would love information on what a 17 or 25-storey building would bring in in tax revenue, but it's irrelevant to the discussion and the decisoon to be made."
Steinberg countered that information about tax revenue from six, eight or 10-storey buildings is relevant.
"I think you have a complete disrespect for the residents that voted in the referendum!" Budning said angrily.
"The rest of the  letter should be shared," said Goldwax.
"Read the rest of the letter, Bill!" Edery said.
"As Councillor Budning said, it's not relevant," Steinberg responded. "The referendum is over! It's relevant if people make a general statement that residents need maximum information.
Budning looked incredulous. Steinberg then conceded the letter said "informed," not "maximum information," but countered that the 2019 voters came from 40 percent of the town.
"There's another 60 percent you guys keep ignoring!" the Mayor said. "You keep talking as if the whole town rejected the project!"
Goldwax countered that in an election, 50 percent of the town comes out to vote.
"That should give you great confidence and comfort," Steinberg said. "I want to keep doing what I swore to do when I took my oath of office four times, to do what I believe is in the best interests of the residents of Hampstead. At the end of November 2021, the residents will have their final say. If they think I don't represent them, or you guys don't represent them, they will have their say. That's fine."