News  Parc Oxygène fights to survive

Green space more important than condos, residents say

After 23 years of fighting against potential condo development to preserve Parc Oxygène, a small patch of green space in their neighbourhood, the Milton Park Community took their case to the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal borough’s council meeting on September 3.

In the mid 1980s, residents pooled their money together to transform a small alleyway – stretching from Hutchison to Parc, just north of Prince Arthur – into a green space. Residents brought flowers and potted plants, and landscaped the small park. It has been kept up by residents on a volunteer basis ever since. In recent years, condo developers have begun to sniff around the small space again, which, although tended to by residents, is privately owned by realtor Maurice Fattal.

In 2008, a zoning change made to the area after a request by Fattal left residents fuming. According to residents, Projet Montréal promised to lend a hand to the Milton-Park community. However, until now, they’ve been disappointed with absence of any help from the borough council.

“It’s inconceivable that such an eco-friendly administration could let [the destruction of Parc Oxygène] happen. This administration has done so much for the Mile-End, and [not much] for the Milton Park district,’’ said Alanna Dow, chairperson of the Milton Park Community.

Derek Drummond, emeritus professor of architecture at McGill, told The Daily that it would be “a crime to not even think of preserving” Parc Oxygène, and other small green spaces like it that were so valuable to neighbourhoods.

“These small parks in [neighbourhoods] are social gathering places. It’s like going to the coffee shop without having to pay ridiculous prices for a cup of coffee,” Drummond told The Daily. “It’s a place where people can go and meet their neighbours on mutual terms. And everyone’s equal in those places, there’s no hierarchy, and that’s what’s so valuable about them.”

Later in the meeting, City Councillor Alex Norris, from Projet Montréal, supported by his party leader, Richard Bergeron, presented a motion to ask the Heritage Council of Montreal to protect Parc Oxygène as a heritage site.

The council unanimously adopted the motion, which underlines the “historic and patrimonial interest of this site stemming from the community groups who fought to preserve it and their means of action.”

The plans presented by the architects of the real estate promoters were supposed to be examined by the Heritage Council on Wednesday; however, the Heritage Council will first examine Parc Oxygène as a potential heritage site.

Neither the Milton Park Community nor the borough administration could tell how long the process of evaluation will be.

Although the residents do not technically own the land of Parc Oxygène, they have an easement – a right to use the property without technically owning it. Luc Ferrandez, mayor of the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, presented this easement as a way to hold the development project, and strongly encouraged the group to use this as leverage as soon as possible to stop the construction.

According to Ferrandez, in order to get this easement enforced, the Milton Park Community would have to spend around $6,000 in legal fees. Although they refused to discuss their legal strategy, the Milton Park Community asserted that his figure was an underestimate, and claimed that a legal battle would cost at least $10,000.

Either way, the money would be a significant amount for the group who, as a housing cooperative, have “already invested a lot given its non-profitable constitution,” according to Dow.

Ferrandez also pointed out that in the worst case scenario, his administration could buy Parc Oxygène altogether, therefore preventing any development now or in the future. At the end of the meeting, he invited the Milton Park Community to sit down with their borough councillor to discuss the details and follow up on any possible plans.