On January 24, 2023, the North Hatley Demolition Committee was required by law to hold a public meeting to consider an application to demolish a heritage building at 190 Main Street, North Hatley. Should we conclude that, in fact, this committee merely heard comments from a room full of citizens, without carrying out all the duties incumbent upon it?
Indeed, section 2.5 of the North Hatley “Building Demolition By-law” states, with respect to the Demolition Committee, that “its meetings shall be open to the public”.
On January 24, it appears to me that the municipality is in default on the following points:
- Did not include all of the information that must be provided to the Committee by the applicant, thereby depriving citizens of sufficiently relevant information for everyone to fully understand what is involved and to enable everyone to make a fair and appropriate comment on the situation, such as :
- Expertise on the condition of the building has not been demonstrated;
- The safety (soundness) of the building was not explained;
- The historical value of the building was not delivered, except that it was built in 1937;
- The rarity and uniqueness of the building was not discussed;
- The impact on the quality of life of the neighborhood, totally absent;
- The visual, historical and financial impact for the municipality was not even touched upon
- Did not properly inform the Committee and the citizens on all aspects of the project that is planned to replace the building to be demolished (reuse of cleared land), thus depriving the citizens of crucial information, so that everyone can understand this issue and thus be able to make informed comments to the Committee:
- Only the footprint of the new building on the site was illustrated;
- No perspective and no elevation plan allowed to appreciate the real impact of the project, in its volume, its materials or its architectural rendering;
- No plan relating to the development of the site allowed to appreciate the impact of this dimension of the project, so important in a “Heritage Site”.
- Did not report on whether the replacement project would comply with planning regulations:
- No information to the effect that the building is located in a zone that is subject to a heritage assessment (PIIA). At the same time, no one has been able to know if the CCUP has issued its opinion (which is required) on the acceptability of the new project;
- No information was provided regarding the report of an architect or engineer (which is required) to describe all the alternatives studied before demolition
During the comment period, the Committee refused to answer the majority of my questions, asking me simply to comment on the project. But how can I comment if this committee seems to be non-transparent and I have neither the resources nor all the skills at my disposal to decently obtain the information necessary for me to properly evaluate the project from all angles. By refusing to answer my questions, I have been denied my right to understand.
After the administration’s very brief informative presentation, no member of the Demolition Committee asked any questions of the administration, nor did any member of the committee comment on the file under consideration. Moreover, the committee did not render any decision during this meeting, nor did it wish to deliberate in close session, in order to come back to the meeting to announce its decision. Finally, at no time did said committee indicate that it would return to the citizens later or otherwise to present its decision.
REFLECTION AND CONCLUSION:
By its behavior, could it be that the North Hatley Demolition Committee is indicating to us that it has already held its closed session, without all the information and considerations being shared with the citizens?
Could it be that the Demolition Committee does not intend to commit itself by issuing its opinion in public?
Could it be that on January 24, 2023, the North Hatley Demolition Committee did not fulfill its obligation to hold its meeting in public, with all that it entails?
As a municipal planner for over 35 years, I have had the opportunity to work directly with this type of committee on many occasions. As a former member of the North Hatley Planning and Heritage Advisory Committee (PHAC), I participated in the drafting of the first version of the Demolition By-law. During the term of the former North Hatley Municipal Council, I attended, as a citizen, other meetings of the Demolition Committee, where all the information was presented to us with transparency in the public meeting. Furthermore, the Committee at the time made these comments and rendered its decision in public, as it should be.
NEVER in my career and experience in North Hatley have I felt so much opacity in the legitimate delivery of information in a Demolition Committee.
I have the deep feeling that the sacred principles of citizen participation, provided for in the Loi sur l’aménagement et l’urbanisme, which sets out the actions to be taken during a meeting of the Demolition Committee, were either misunderstood by this Committee on January 24 or shamelessly flouted. This situation is very worrying, because we are in a context that goes beyond the “Access to Information Act”, for which the citizen must take a specific step. We are dealing here with the legitimate and fundamental right of the citizen to be adequately informed. This is the fundamental reason for the existence of a demolition committee, that is, to hold its meeting in public, which includes exposing in public all the parameters necessary for this committee to make a decision, in public.
I must conclude that the demolition committee did not hold its meeting in public on January 24. This fundamental defect totally discredits the process and my opinion is, that the municipality has the duty to adequately resume this session. Finally, this opacity of the process indicates to me to take means to invite the citizens to also demand the resumption of this session of the Demolition Committee.
If the municipality does not go in this direction, and because of the cruel lack of information, I am left with no other choice than to oppose the demolition of the heritage building at 190 Main Street, North Hatley.
Richard Gourde, urb. citizen of North Hatley