Critics seek alternative plans for Griffintown

2- U.S. firm plans private hospital in Griffintown; 3- We must do it right


Jason Magder, Montreal Gazette - The proposed mega-development planned for Griffintown would rob the area of its unique character and turn it into another generic suburban development, a residents group has warned.
Chris Gobeil, a Griffintown resident and part of the committee for sustainable development in Griffintown, said the city should take the time to make a proper plan for the site rather than allowing one company, Devimco, to dictate what the area should look like.

The group held a brainstorming session last night to come up with alternative plans for the development to counter the Devimco project.
The committee plans to present a brief during a public input session for the project scheduled for March 10. The Southwest borough will hold an information session on the project Feb. 21, where Devimco will present its plan for the neighbourhood. Both sessions will be held at the École de technologie supérieure on Notre Dame St. W. at 7 p.m.
The company has proposed to build 3,830 residential units and 60 to 80 stores on a 10.2-hectare site.
Gobeil said he doesn't understand why Devimco has been able to dictate what the urban plan for that area should be.
"There is a whole office at the city that is supposed to design these and call for tenders," Gobeil said. "Then you get all the developers making pitches. They get the best architects, and you get the best projects that way. How the heck are you going to get the best stuff if you hand it over to a company that is famous for making shopping malls in farmers' fields?"
Georges Bossé, a former Verdun mayor who's working for Devimco as an urban planning consultant, agreed the process is unorthodox, but he said there are some advantages to the way it is being done.
"I think there is an advantage for one person to look over the whole project to make sure there is cohesiveness throughout, so you don't have one building with red bricks and a building next door with pink bricks," Bossé said.
Bossé added that Devimco has already changed its plans for the development many times to respond to the concerns of residents, as well as the city. He said Devimco's presentation on Feb. 21 will show a plan that is significantly different plan from what was presented when the project was first unveiled in November. And he said the plans will likely change again after public consultations.
David Hanna, a professor of urban studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal, agreed there are advantages to one company overseeing development.
"The advantage is that you get an overall coherency, and probably only with a big developer are you going to get a streetcar (line) built there, because the money is there to do it with a big developer," Hanna said.
A.J. Kandy, who is a member of the committee for sustainable development in Griffintown, says he's not necessarily against Devimco but would like to see a project that will stand the test of time.
"They better build something that will last for 100 years because it may be one of the last big things we build on the island of Montreal," he said. "It's not like we can necessarily knock it down in 20 years."
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2 - U.S. firm plans private hospital in Griffintown
Jason Magder, Montreal Gazette

Wednesday, February 06
An American company that specializes in medical tourism is planning to set up a private hospital at the southeast end of Griffintown.
The company is hoping to occupy at least 24 stories of office space as part of a construction project planned for the area bordered by the Peel Basin and the Bonaventure Expressway.
Roland Hakim, one of the developers, wouldn't reveal the name of the medical tourism company, but said the health complex would serve mostly people travelling to undergo medical procedures, such as knee and hip replacements, but could also serve people from this country.

The hospital would have the same comforts as a four-star or five-star hotel, Hakim said.
He added medical tourism is becoming very popular. People travel to undergo medical procedures, either because it's usually less expensive than doing it in their own countries, or they want to schedule a vacation around their recovery period.
It would be part of a 2.8 hectare project that includes an intermodal station, for a planned tramway into Griffintown, as well as a train that is planned to link Montreal with the South Shore.
The project also calls for a heli-port at the top of one of the towers where several helicopters can land. There would be a movie theater, shops, restaurants, conference rooms, office towers and a hotel.
"It would be the first thing people see when they come to Montreal and we want it to be something nice," Hakim said.
He said the first phase of the project, which includes the hospital, could be built in three years.
However, Pierre Varadi, Hakim's partner in this project, and the president of Canvar, said nothing can be built before the Bonaventure Expressway is torn down and rebuilt at street level, a project still in the planning phase.
"They say they will do it within four years, but I don't know if they will do it that quickly," he said.
The development is one of many being planned for the area. Canada Lands is expected to present a proposal later this year to redevelop the defunct Canada Post sorting station. The massive project would cover about 11 hectares of land and would be built just east of the 10.2 hectare project proposed in November by the company Devimco.
Hakim said development of Griffintown is inevitable.
"The downtown core has to expand and the only place it can expand is further south," he said. "This will become the new downtown core."
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3- We must do it right
Henry Aubin, Montreal Gazette

Wednesday, February 06
The proposed Griffintown real-estate project is too important to treat with a quick thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Let's weigh the pros and cons of this extraordinarily ambitious plan, starting with the pros.
First, the project's immense site next to downtown cries out for redevelopment. It's now little more than vacant lots, bedraggled industry and, very occasionally, heritage residences - all in all, an "urban desert," as one unsentimental resident puts it. No question, it's a superb area for redevelopment. As for the fate of the heritage buildings, the plan calls for respecting most of them.
Second, Montreal sorely needs private investment, and the developer - Devimco Inc. - would sink $1.3 billion into the project. This would be the biggest private investment ever in Montreal.

Third, the project is Kyoto-friendly. It calls for almost 4,000 housing units. Living as they would on downtown's doorstep, most residents' lifestyle would not depend on car travel. Indeed, although Griffintown is far from a métro line, as many as three commuter-rail lines might converge at a proposed intermodal on the site's eastern edge, enhancing Griffintown's appeal for office development. (The three are the existing line from Mont St. Hilaire, a proposed line from Brossard and a proposed line from the West Island via Trudeau Airport.) City hall and Devimco also want a tram line from the Peel métro station to the intermodal station.
Everyone will agree that these four things are virtues. But big questions remain. Is Devimco's specific plan the best possible way to achieve them? What are the Devimco plan's problems? Could other plans do better?
Here are the plan's problems.
One is the threat to stores on Ste. Catherine St. and elsewhere downtown. In response to the Tremblay administration's pressure, Devimco in November reduced its commercial area to 984,000 square feet of floor space. That's still huge - almost the same as the Marché Central (980,000 square feet). Retailers would occupy the two bottom floors of the residential and office towers.
To better visualize 984,000 square feet, look at the accompanying illustration. The land that the project occupies consists of 1.1-million square feet. So if the commercial space were to be unstacked from its two floors and spread out over a single level, it would cover about 90 per cent of the project's land mass. Picture a shopping centre that size. Then imagine its effect on downtown's commercial vitality.
Another problem: A single company would design and build this entire area of the city. To judge from the preliminary plan, this would make for boring, semi-uniform architectural design. The diversity that different builders typically bring to urban neighbourhoods - making them visually stimulating and fun to walk in - would be absent.
Indeed, that there is just one developer raises questions of fairness. Why should city hall do so much for one company? The family of Laurent Beaudoin, Bombardier boss, controls Devimco. The company knows its way well around city hall: Its adviser on strategy, Georges Bossé, was until two years ago in charge of economic development for the Tremblay administration.
The usual process for major developments is for the city's urban planners to draw up a plan, then for developers to compete to carry it out. Here, the process is reversed: The builder decides how to build an entire quartier, insists on monopoly rights, then asks the city to ratify the plan.
Interestingly, Devimco owns none of the land but holds options to some of it. If city hall approves the plan, Bossé tells me Montreal might expropriate additional land for the company.
Understandably, Devimco's special status infuriates existing landowners (not all of whom are speculators; some are would-be developers). If they don't sell to Devimco, the city could expropriate their land at a price presumably inferior to what they would earn if they could build on it themselves.
Here's the final questionable aspect of this process. Ordinarily, a major project would automatically go to the city's Office de consultation publique de Montréal, an apolitical body that gives such plans credible scrutiny. Yet city hall has bypassed the OCPM, instead sending the plan for study to Southwest borough, where Griffintown is located.
A plan can get easier review by a typical borough than by the OCPM, and the results can be unhappy. City hall in 2005 avoided sending the Université du Québec's planned Voyageur campus to the OCPM, preferring Ville Marie borough's rubber stamp. This helps explain why that mega-project is a fiasco.
It's important to review Griffintown properly - not only for its sake but for the sake of precedent. Consider this little-noted fact: The federal government owns 1,024,000 square feet of land - virtually as much as Devimco's prospective property - contiguous to Griffintown on the west. It now wants to sell this land (the site of abandoned postal operations) for mixed use.
If developed well, these neighbouring expanses represent an extremely rare, glorious opportunity for Montreal's growth. Let's be careful.
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