By Robert Frank
The Suburban has learned that the province turned down Beaconsfield’s request to protect private land in Angell Woods from development under Quebec’s Sustainable Forest Development Act (SFDA), soon after the city sent it’s request to Quebec City.
“On April 28, Beaconsfield requested, via Resolution 2014-04-699, that the Quebec Natural Resources Ministry recognize a portion of Angell Woods as an exceptional forest ecosystem (EFE),” said assistant deputy minister Léopold Gaudreau in a July 18 letter to Diana Shahmoon, president of Seda Holdings—one of two firms that own most of the private land in Angell Woods.
“However, under SFDA, EFEs are only recognized if they are located on lands in the domain of the State, in other words, on public lands,” Gaudreau continued. “The legal provisions do not apply to private lands.”
According to Mayor Georges Bourelle, the city knew SFDA was limited to public land when it passed its resolution.
“We recognized that it had never before been authorized on private land but we tried it anyway,” he told The Suburban.
“We had hoped that maybe the [provincial] government would consider it, even though it was on private land,” he said in an interview, “but we were aware when we made the request that it had never been done on private land before, so it is not surprising that [the Quebec government] said what it said.”
“Basically we will see, now that the [Montreal agglomeration’s new] urban plan is being put together, what the next step will be,” Mayor Bourelle added. “We will wait for that.”
“I don’t know what provisions of the urban plan would affect Angell Woods,” he concluded. “We do know that it was identified as a forest of metropolitan interest within the Montreal metropolitan council for a long time. It goes way back.”
“The city’s behavior is incoherent,” Shahmoon said in an interview. “It makes a big deal about passing resolutions that it knows will not go anywhere. Then, when they go nowhere, it doesn’t inform the public. At the same time, they keep telling us that they want to negotiate with us [to purchase the land]—but no one has contacted us.”
SFDA, which came into force April 1, 2013, was Quebec’s effort to promote sustainable development by the province’s massive forestry industry, which has long harvested timber to turn into lumber for construction and pulp for Quebec’s paper industry.
Before last year’s municipal election, the previous city council proposed a plan that would have preserved at least 80 per cent of Angell Woods in perpetuity, while permitting a small-footprint, transit-oriented residential development beside the Woodland commuter train station.
The Montreal agglomeration supports transit-oriented development as an environment-friendly form of urban planning.
During the election campaign, Mayor Bourelle endorsed his predecessor’s plan.
“I would favor a partial maximum two-storey residential development of Angell Woods at the south end with proper by-law controls and negotiations with the private landowners that will ensure that 80 per cent of the Woods is kept as a preserve, as long as a traffic solution for Elm and Woodland crossing is conceived and/or negotiated and implemented by council before any development takes place,” Mayor Bourelle wrote in a pre-election online comment, Sept. 11, 2013.
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