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Architects line up against Griffintown project

City pushes residents aside to rush bid through

Griffintown residents are putting up a last stand against a massive redevelopment project that would demolish 10.2 hectares of the historic neighbourhood.

While many have mobilized against the plan put forward by Quebec-based real estate company Devimco, Montreal architects and urbanists are now joining their ranks, helping citizen groups find alternative models of redevelopment and voicing protest from a professional angle.

In an open letter to Le Devoir, several prominent architects – from Canadian Center for Architecture founder Phyllis Lambert to Quebec Order of Architects founder Joseph Baker – criticized the lack of public consultation during the review process.

“I signed an open letter to the Mayor detailing the problems related to such action,” wrote Lambert. “This no way to run a city, a business, an institution.”

Montreal is famous for being a city of renters, artists, and low-rise buildings, making many citizens and architects alike, such as Chris Gobeil of the Committee for Sustainable Redevelopment of Griffintown (CSR), concerned with the type of precedent the Griffintown project sets for the future of the city.

“There are six more PPUs [redevelopment plans] in the works. If this goes through, it’s a free-for-all to grab big chunks of the city,” Gobeil said.

“[The City] just seems to be bending over and saying, ‘Here!’ If the project goes ahead, it will be like this all over.”

Community groups like Save Griffintown and CSR have begun to work with local architects to find alternative models of redevelopment, looking to environmentally friendly projects in Sweden and Dublin.

But Devimco’s proposal may be gaining popularity. A recent survey by Léger Marketing reported by La Presse found that 47 per cent of Montrealers are in favour of Project Griffintown, 17 per cent are against it, and 36 per cent are either undecided or are unfamiliar with the project.

While many residents agree that Griffintown, part of the South-West Borough, should be improved, they have been dissatisfied with the undemocratic approach the city has taken towards redevelopment.

Rather than have different companies compete to design the redevelopment plan for Griffintown, the city accepted a $1.3-billion bid by Devimco – the largest private investment in Montreal history – to monopolize the entire process.

Residents were also shut out of much of the review process because the city decided to hand the question down to the borough, cutting out the Office de consultation publique de Montreal (OCPM) and other review boards, which usually analyse projects more thoroughly.

Should Devimco follow through on its plans, all but 12 heritage buildings will be demolished, making way for 3,900 residential units – mostly condos, but with some student, senior, and subsidized housing. In addition, the developer has promised to install a tramway, more than 90,000 square meters of retail space, 5,000 underground parking spaces, and two hotels.

Community groups will likely be unable to voice their opinions to the city. On April 28, the proposal will pass to the executive branch of the borough for approval.

CSR has promised a protest for that day.