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Open Letter to the Mayor and Town Council

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.
Sincerely,
Brian Merrett

Notes from Town Council Meeting Sept. 8, 2014

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Jane Meagher presented the Petition to the Town Council at their monthly meeting. Thank you Jane, here are her remarks:

Good evening – Mr. Mayor, Councillors of the Village of NH and my fellow citizens of NH
I am here tonight on behalf of a growing number of citizens of NH who have concerns about the proposed development project for NH. In particular, I am here to present a petition that since September 2, has received over 200 signatures.
I will be making my short presentation in both French and English and will begin with the French presentation which will be followed by the English
Bonjour Monsieur le Maire, Conseillers municipaux, concitoyens de North Hatley,

Je me présente : Jane Meagher – 4e génération à North Hatley – dans 2 ans je vivrai à NH à l’année. Je suis très impliqué dans une Fondation destinée à protéger le lac et conserver les terres qui l’entourent.

Je suis ici à la demande de certains citoyens de NH afin de vous présenter une pétition qui, depuis le 2 septembre, a obtenu presque 300 signatures de résidents, propriétaires et autres personnes intéressées à l’avenir de NH. Les signatures continuent de rentrer.

Je veux commencer en vous disant que je crois que la majorité de ceux qui ont signé la pétition sont d’accord que la création d’un ensemble résidentiel contenant quelques commerces est souhaitable. Ils sont à l’aise avec le développement prudent de son centre et sont prêts à appuyer tout projet intelligent et esthétique.

Par contre, les commentaires dans la pétition confirment de grandes inquiétudes à l’égard du projet du projet de développement de Monsieur Laliberté.

Je voudrais prendre quelques minutes de votre temps pour résumer ce que je comprends être les préoccupations, quasi-unanimes, des citoyens de NH.

Elles sont en gros celles identifiées par Jean-Eudes Guy, ancien architecte et responsable de quelques projets à NH dont l’agrandissement de la bibliothèque et le concept de la Maison Lucien Vachon, dans sa lettre au Conseil du 14 août dernier.

Ces préoccupations sont les suivantes :
• Un projet de 230 unités de logement, comprenant 270 places de stationnement, semble d’une échelle et d’une densité vraiment excessive. Les commentaires des signataires de la pétition sont très similaires et quasi-unanimes sur ce point.
• Une hauteur moyenne de presque 4 étages, avec certains bâtiments de 5 étages c’est trop haut et ne correspond pas de tout à l’âme et échelle du village.
• Augmenter la population permanente du village de 2/3, presque le double, au du cœur même du village ne peut pas se faire sans affecter les qualités d’un des plus beaux villages du Québec
• La taille imposante, le bloc massif du projet, jumelé à une quasi-absence d’espace vert) risque de débalancer complètement l’harmonie du centre du village. (je ferai remarquer qu’une des beautés de NH est l’omniprésence d’arbres et de verdure).
• Il faut prendre le temps de bien analyser tous les aspects de ce projet afin de s’assurer d’une belle réussite – L’enjeu est très important car il changera à jamais l’aspect de NH
• Il faudrait entreprendre le projet en plusieurs phases-afin de pouvoir apporter des ajustements majeurs nécessaires pour assurer la réussite du projet
• Il est souhaitable de créer un comité de revue du projet en impliquant des professionnels (architectes, urbanistes, et autres citoyens avec d’expérience pertinente etc) qui travaillerait main dans la main avec le Conseil pour une réussite voulu de tous. Entre autres les questions regardant les zones d’inondations devront être résolues.

NH est et doit demeurer un village exceptionnel et beau. Ce projet doit transformer le village de manière positive et attirant pour ceux qui souhaitent et souhaiteraient y vivre.

L’immense réaction de la population prouve s’il en est son attachement à ce qui fait de North Hatley, North Hatley Les citoyens ont parlé; il faut maintenant les écouter.

I will now continue in English. Let me present myself – JM – 4th generation in NH – and will be living here permanently within the next two years. I am on the Board of Directors of a Foundation whose mission it is to protect the lake and conserve the land surrounding it.
I am here at the request of certain concerned citizens who have asked me to present to you this evening a petition signed, since September 2nd, by close to 300 residents. And the signatures are still coming in.
I want to start first by saying that I believe that the majority, if not all, who signed the petition, agree that a careful development of a residential neighbourhood with some commercial establishments in the centre of NH would be desirable and that they would support such a project if it were done in an intelligent and esthetic fashion.
However, the 200+ persons who signed the petition have genuine concerns about the current proposal. These concerns are the same as were expressed by Mr. Jean-Eudes Guy in his letter to Counsel dated August I4; Mr. Guy is a former architect and was responsible for several projects in NH, including the extension to the library and the design of Maison Lucien Vachon. I will not go through all the comments of the concerned citizens who signed the petition. What I have noted though is that the comments of the signatories are remarkably similar and virtually unanimous on the following points:
• A project of 230 units with 270 parking spaces is too high a density.
• An average height of almost 4 storeys, with certain buildings that are 5 storeys high is too high and doesn’t fit in with the scale and esthetics of the village –
• Increasing the population of NH by almost 2/3rds, or almost double, in the heart of the village can’t be done without changing the beauty and quality of one of the most beautiful villages in Quebec .
• The scale, size and density of the project and the lack of green space will completely unbalance and destroy the downtown core. (Note that one of the aspects of NH that makes it so beautiful is the omnipresent greenery that surrounds the lake).
• All concerned have to take the time to fully analyse all aspects of the project to ensure it is a success and not something we will regret having allowed to happen
• The project must be done in phases to allow for adjustments to be made as it proceeds
• To ensure a successful project, there needs to be a Planning and Design Review Committee set up – (architects, urban planners, and other citizens who have relevant experience). that would work hand in hand with the Counsel to attain the successful objective we all wish to see happen. Among other things questions with respect to the flood zones must be properly studied and resolved.
North Hatley must remain a beautiful and exceptional place to live. The project must transform the village in a positive way that will attract new residents and remain attractive to those that are there now.
If nothing else overwhelming response to this petition is a clear indication that the citizens of North Hatley care about what makes North Hatley what it is. They have spoken loud and clear.

THANK YOU – MERCI –
Me Jane Meagher, Ad. E.