Communication to Mayor and Council – Jamie Cameron

Date: August 31, 2014 at 3:42:21 PM EDT

To: Members of the North Hatley Town Council

Fr: James Cameron, 490 chemin Hovey, North Hatley


I am writing to provide you with my comments on the above proposed development.

I have spent almost 15 years reviewing proposals such as this as a member and now the chair of the Planning Board in Hastings on Hudson, NY, a town of about 9,000 just north of New York City. As a Planning Board, we deal with new developments, zoning variances, recommend land use law changes and approve major renovations. For example, in June we approved a new development by the largest residential developer in Westchester of 66 units of housing in three mostly three storey buildings on 5.2 acres with both underground and outdoor parking, with a 100 year flood plain and the Saw Mill River running through the site.

I think much of the controversy regarding this proposed development arises from the lack of good and accurate information about what is going on in this process for those most affected, the village residents and homeowners. Things have improved as of late and I hope more information will be forthcoming as discussed below. It is still difficult to understand what is happening when you do not have the dimensions of the buildings and have only artist renderings of the facades. Incidentally these artist renderings usually do not provide an accurate representation of what is being proposed and are often just as expensive to produce as simple line drawings of the buildings with dimensions.

As outlined in the Agreement in Principle passed by the Town Council in early 2014, the development would occupy 15,370 square meters (or approximately 3.8 acres) in the center of the village. The developer is allowed building coverage of 50% of the site or approximately 7,685 square meters (1.9 acres or 82,720 square feet). The agreement in principle allows for 5 storeys (limited to 32% of the building area) with the remaining 68% at a lesser height.

The developer has not provided the square footage of the proposed buildings. However, if one assumes full use of the allowable 5 storeys for 32% of the building area and 4 storeys for the rest, you would have approximately 33,200 square meters or 357,350 square feet of space in this relatively small area of the Village (plus the approximately 80,000 square feet of parking space underneath). This sort of square footage can be compared to the aggregate square footage of over 100 of the larger homes in Village, all in 3.8 acres. I would ask that you think long and hard about this sort concentration, which results in the height and length of the buildings discussed below. It is totally out of character with this village and is located in its heart.

Exacerbating the above density, is the effect of the height and length of these buildings. The developer has declined to inform the public of the height of the buildings. The reason given was that he did not yet know how far the underground garages would stick out above ground. The height from the first floor level could have easily been provided. As you know, a storey is not a height as it can vary considerably. For stores or restaurants, a height between floors of more than 10 feet is very common, particularly where there are dropped ceilings for air ducts and ceiling lighting. It seems that many of the floors are 10 or more feet and with peaked roofs, buildings appear to exceed 60+ feet in height for the 5 storey sections and be approximately 50 feet for the 4 storey sections. The building closest to the lake looks more like 60 feet high.

The largest building is approximately 270 feet along the roughly east west section of Chemin Mills and continues south another approximately 250 feet along the roughly north south section of Chemin Mills. The separate artist renderings provided by the developer depict it as two buildings. However, it has a single foundation and is in fact a single extremely long building and will appear as such from the skating rink area. There is also almost no set back between the 250 foot section and the road on the north south section of Chemin Mills.

The three buildings closer to the lake also share a foundation and are in fact connected for at least three floors. They are also massive structures over 180 feet long going east west and perhaps 170 feet going up the bike path. It would be interesting to see a proper drawing of them from Chemin Main, closer to Dreamland Park.

No amount of coloring and facade change will hide this in reality, although it does disguise it to some degree in the artist renderings. What has been depicted in the artist renderings (with the bright colors and strong lighting) will not last and it will blend into one large mass over a very short period of time. Some have mentioned Auberge La Chocolatier as a comparable existing sized building; however it is at most only a small fraction of the size of the proposed buildings at only 40 feet high on the street side, 30 feet high at the back side which is built one floor into the hill and only 60 feet long on the street side.

The Agreement in Principle allows for up to 230 units and, while not in the Agreement in Principle, mention has been made that up to 150 of these units would be for Independent Seniors (over 55 years old). In my conversation at the Community Centre with the developer on Saturday morning, he said that he was only going to do 90 units for Independent Seniors. I do not know if this is final on his part or means we will have less units or less density, but it would be nice to know the answer to this. I do have doubts that the planned stores will ever work in this community, even with the slightly augmented population.

The Agreement in Principle requires 1/2 a parking spot for each senior unit, 1.2 parking spots for each other unit and no parking for any business. Commonly, the number of required parking spots for residential is determined based on the number of bedrooms. I was told by the developer today that the Senior units would be mostly studios and one bedrooms with a few two bedroom units. Also that the other units would be mostly 2 and 3 bedroom units. I have also heard that the parking spots will be sold separately with various prices mentioned between $25,000 and over $45,000.

First, the idea that only every second Senior unit is allotted a parking spot defies logic. The larger units will also likely need more than 1.2 parking spots. I believe it unlikely that people used to living in the country are going to be willing to pay such high prices for a parking spot. I suspect that people are going to just park somewhere else in town on one of the back streets or in a friend’s yard. The Town Council could also face the demands of its residents to use the existing Village parking. This will not be a good development for North Hatley. We need adequate parking. Perhaps a parking study is needed.

The concept that somehow public transportation will appear to bus these new residents to nearby towns is unproven. The fact that the developer does not have more space to park cars on its property is yet another indication that this proposed development is too dense.

I hope you find this useful.

Thank you for serving on the Town Council.

Jamie Cameron

Action on North Hatley Development

Dear Friends,
On July 7 the North Hatley Town Council opened up its monthly meeting for more than two hours to respond to citizen questions about any topic, with an emphasis on the proposed development by M. Laliberte, who has purchased a concentration of lots in the town centre. 
A good number of North Hatley Club members attended the meeting and were pleased by the openness of the Council to a variety of expressions of support and concern by both year-round and summer residents about the proposed project.  The Council has since circulated a thoughtful response to questions that were raised that we will forward when we have an electronic copy.
There was apparent consensus in the room that some form of development in the town would be a good thing, bringing North Hatley the opportunity to reverse a long term decline in the permanent population and the prospect of a stronger economic future.  No one present suggested that nothing should happen, but many voiced major concerns about the nature, size, scale, look and impact of the proposed project.  Council Members repeatedly urged citizens to voice their concerns in writing at
The primary concern was the prospect of 230 units, including 150 units for seniors, that could potentially double the year-round population of the town without any real understanding of the unintended consequences.
People wondered if there are indeed 150 seniors who could fill, and continue to repopulate, all those independent senior units.
People expressed concern about massing in general and in particular the prospect of a five story building in the context of one and two story surrounding structures, citing both attractive and disturbing examples near the town beach in Magog.
Many suggested a commitment to architectural review, with either a peer panel or a formal competition.
People worried about springtime flooding and wanted to be sure that the 10-20 year and 20-100 year floodplain borders are well-defined and enforced.
People asked for formal transparency about the review process, specifically who was going to be in the position to make decisions and at what point.  Many agreed that a formal document that laid out the steps necessary to moving forward would be helpful.
The Mayor and Council were clear that a revision of the flood plain code would be necessary to moving ahead and that if it were denied that the project would be dead; some expressed an opinion that the town should have an opinion on the floodplain issue before it is reviewed by ­­­MRC Memphremagog.
Attendees suggested that the Town should use its leverage at every possible moment to both encourage and limit M. Laliberté; many recognized the delicacy of the relationship.  North Hatley both needs M. Laliberté and needs to do all it can to ensure that the project finds an appropriate balance between economic development and environmental stewardship.  Some asked if the project could be done in stages.
Others suggested that it would be unfortunate if the Town changed the rules for this project but resisted reasonable proposals from other, existing, citizens.
There was some concern about how eminent domain or expropriation was or is going to be exercised as the process moves forward.
We believe the Council members who asked that people comment, and we urge members to do so but hope that the responses can be individual and not formulaic, so we are not suggesting particular language.
We believe that constructive comments about the Council, the project and M. Laliberté will be heard.  The stakes are high; a reasonable project could be good for the town; an ill-conceived effort could fail with an empty white elephant, or, perhaps worse, succeed but promote the kind of lower-end development that wouldn’t respect the beauty, heritage, simplicity and charm that makes our town so special.
The Council will be reviewing comments posted at  It would be great if you could copy one of us – or or – so that we can get some sense of what the Council is hearing
Thanks so much,
Brian, Tom and Jamie

la voix du village the voice of the village