Dear Mr Mayor, dear members of Council.
The common response from the Mayor and Council is that nothing can be done about the proposed Laliberté development project until the flood plain zoning decision is issued; that the opposition and concern circulating in the village is premature, an over-reaction.
Respectfully, I disagree.
While it is true that the flood plain zoning is critical to any development in the core of North Hatley, we can be preparing for the possibility that the zoning will be changed and that a development will go ahead.
Another common theme from our elected representatives is that a developer is free to propose whatever he or she likes – it’s his or her land, it’s his or her money, it’s his or her project.
True – to a point.
What is not in the Mayor and Council’s mindset is that, at the outset of any proposal, a potential developer must be handed a sheaf of documents that describes what the village will accept in the way of development in the area. These documents would describe the acceptable type of project (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.), the limits on massing and density, the architectural norms, etc., all reflecting the accepted vision of our village.
A vision is exactly what North Hatley does not seem to have. First, the late David Rittenhouse et al gave us Vision 2000. Two years ago, five groups of students gave us their visionary input and a draft of a Master Plan. Only Council knows what has happened to these bodies of work. Certainly they have disappeared from the table.
The core area of North Hatley – defined as the area bounded by Capelton, Main, the river and the north end of the park that includes the Farmers’ Market – is in dire need of upgrading. And there is no better way to ensure that this happens than for the village to enter into a partnership with a private developer. Together, a mutually agreed-upon plan to improve the area will provide long-lasting benefits to the village.
Surely the mayor and town council can accept this.
As was commented recently, “Surely it is their (town council’s) responsibility to encourage development but to take their stewardship role of the village very seriously, to take into account the current scale of the downtown core and to ensure the development is sensitive to the quality of life of all villagers. It is the responsibility of the elected council to have its own set of conditions that can be negotiated with the developer. That won’t endanger the project….but it puts this legacy project firmly in the town’s hands, and not under the sole control of the developer, whose goal is his own profit.”
The recent petition – signed, at last count, by 341 people – was the result of a great deal of research that included input from three architects (two resident, one recent resident), a real estate expert and a town planning expert. All who signed agree that 230 units rising 5 storeys, built in an architectural style that does not conform to the village vernacular, would add excessive density and congestion, and would destroy the character and charm of North Hatley. This parallels exactly the sentiment of the public meeting held in August, 2013.
To continue the comment above, “Mr. Laliberté should be congratulated for all the openness and the listening that he has demonstrated. This project can be terrific for NH. But it should represent common ground for the developer AND the town’s future as one of Quebec’s prettiest villages. Scale, iconic architecture and the design of public space must be paramount. And those elements, and making a profit, are not mutually exclusive.”
If there is going to be a harmonious partnership between village and developer, we should have already prepared for the eventuality that something will be built on the land that has been acquired by M. Laliberté. The first goal in that preparation would be the expression of a vision of the core area.
Given that both the Rittenhouse and students’ visions of the area are apparently being ignored, does Council have its own vision for the area? If so, please would you consider informing the residents of North Hatley about it?
Will the many comments in the petition and from the Open House meetings help Council formulate or update that vision?
The petition requests that a group of local specialists become an advisory team to ensure that the Laliberté project becomes the best it can be. This team could also advise on the formulation of a vision of the core area. Would Council agree?
Thank you for your valuable work on Council.