Anywhere but Meadowbrook?

Never, in my experience, has a proposed condo development received so much praise.

Suzanne Deschamps presented the Petite Rivière project at UQAM yesterday evening on behalf of Groupe Pacific, a private developer. The most notable thing about this development is that it takes environmental considerations way beyond LEED standards and aims for “real sustainability.” Deschamps described the principles behind one-planet communities, which aim to create a place where residents are able to live with an ecological footprint that does not overstep their fair share of the Earth’s resources (currently, if everyone on earth lived like the average Canadian, it would take more than four planets to sustain us all).

A full 70% of the site would be public space, including a naturalized buffer zone at one edge of the property, a decontaminated Rivière Saint-Pierre, reconstituted wetlands, and a more landscaped public park, as well as a the streets and squares. The development boasts proximity services, a mid-rise form with the density of the Plateau, and affordable housing (by condo standards anyways). The designers have big plans for transit oriented development (as long as the AMT is willing to add a stop along their train line) and the new development will aim for a ratio of 0.8 cars per dwelling, half that of the surrounding Montreal West and Côte-Saint-Luc.

After the presentation, nearly all the questions and comments carried the same message: this project would be welcome just about anywhere except Meadowbrook, the site that it is planned for.

Anywhere but here

Nice project, wrong site, read a flyer produced by “Les Amis de Meadowbrook,” a group of vocal citizens who have been passionately defending this site since 1989.  Their mission is to “protect Meadowbrook from development and transform it into a new 57-hectare nature park open and accessible to all Montreal Islanders.” This mission is supported by the CRE, the David Suzuki foundation, Equiterre, Greenpeace, Héritage Laurentien, and Projet Montréal  among others. The group declared victory last November when city hall came out agains the developer’s proposal. But of course halting development is just half the battle.

For the past 60 years, the Meadowbrook has been used as a golf course and as such has remained green, at least in colour. Majestic trees line the site and dozens of animals, most famously red foxes, can be spotted there. But, while this is one of the few large undeveloped tracts of land in area, a manicured golf course is  hardly an ecological reserve (this video of a golfer feeding the foxes in broad daylight only emphasizes that point) and, as a private club with less than 200 members, it is barely accessible to the human population of Montreal.

Preserving the Meadowbrook as a golf course is not an endpoint.

A Dangerous Enclave?

The ecological value of the site is not the only limiting factor. It is also entirely enclaved and even crisscrossed by train tracks. The development, which includes 1600 condo units, would have exactly one entrance from Côte-Saint-Luc road. It can’t be merged onto the existing street grid because, the adjoining neighbourhood is all winding suburban roads and dead ends. The accessibility to the site depends more or less entirely upon the AMT’s willingness to create a new train station along the Montreal-Hudson line, something they have refused to do in the past. And even if this TOD were to work out, the train only runs a dozen times a day (3 or 4 on weekends): it hardly seems enough to cut car ownership in half.

To make matters worse, this site is surrounded with train yards and industrial areas which pose added nuisances and risks. While plenty of residential development in Montreal rubs up against train tracks, one city councilor at the meeting pointed out that this generates a lot of noise complaints: why repeat old mistakes, she asked.

Perhaps most importantly, the city turned down the project because the cost of hooking up a new community with the existing infrastructure was deemed too high.

This is compromise

Richard Bergeron also took the mic during the conference yesterday to propose that Groupe Pacific trade this property for a piece of the Turcot Yards which will soon be liberated and turned over to the City of Montreal.

But of course the development proposed here seems so great because it was designed within the limitations of the Meadowbrook site. Naturalized buffer zones are almost certainly included because of the proximity of noisy, potentially dangerous rail yards; a park is likely included because the OCPM and the Commmission Labrecque both called for this site to be preserved and converted into an eco-territory. None of the developer’s other projects look quite so awesome. This is a compromise.

Stalling our way to sustainability?

If we had a choice between this development and a public eco-territory then it should be the latter. Right now we don’t: we have a choice between a particularly green development or a golf course.

Groupe Pacific bought the 57ha site for only $3 million in 2006, a price that, according to Les Amis du Meadowbrook, assumes that the land was undevelopable. However, a portion of the site remains zoned for residential development in the 2005 urban plan.

To fully protect the site, the city would have to acquire it from the private owner and turn it into a park. Deschamps says that she has neither approached the city, nor received an offer, and Petite Rivière is probably as close to an accessible park and eco-reserve as we’ll ever get from a private developer.

Alan DeSouza said that the site will likely continue to serve as a private golf course. “I hope it will be there for decades to come,” DeSousa said during a public meeting, reported in the Gazette. Meadowbrook’s future has already been debated for over two decades.

Despite the applause that this proposal received, there are some serious kinks to work out:

  • negotiations have to happen with the AMT before the site is built, not after there are 3000 people living on a dead-end road;
  • additional access needs to be built, for instance a link with Lachine to the south;
  • the infrastructure cost should be shared by the developer and the city who will benefit from increased property tax dollars.

But halting an environmentally conscientious project in order to maintain a golf course and a glimmer of hope is a spineless excuse for sustainable development.


image credits: top Groupe Pacific, Petite Rivière website; bottom, Walking Turcot Yards.


  1. I must agree Alanah. 

    It seems to me terribly short sighted of the groups opposed to this development project.

    For once, we have a developer who actually shares our values and is willing to put them into practice; rather than bemoan what could have, should have been, why not seize this opportunity to raise the bar for all future developments? 

    There are so many environmental battles to be fought; why is energy being spent in opposition to what everyone concedes to be an amazing project?

    From where I stand, THIS is the project that has the best chance of SAVING Meadowbrook… 

  2. Malheuresement Montréal est devenue immuable et son développement immobilier est freiné par des groupes citoyens obscurs et «one-mind driven». C’est une répétition perpétuelle du syndrome Pas-dans-ma-cour. Le Groupe Pacific a travaillé avec les fonctionnaires de la Ville de Montréal et probablement les meilleurs architectes en matière de développement durable. À la lumière de ce billet, on est porté à croire que les citoyens sont plus connaissants sur l’aménagement du territoire que les experts en architecture verte, les urbanistes et les fonctionnaires. Est-ce que les Montréalais ont si peur de leurs experts au point de ne plus leur faire confiance? Franchement, Tous ces gens, qu’ils travaillent ou non pour les promoteurs immobiliers, sont tout aussi, ou plus connaissant, des dernières pratiques et méthodes de développement durable.

    À titre d’expert en aménagement qui travaille pour un cabinet privé qui a comme ces méchants promoteurs, je trouve ça décevant que notre travail est examiné et critiqué comme si l’on n’avait pas fait nos devoirs. J’aimerais bien me retrouver dans une séance de travail avec ses citoyens et ses blogeurs sur un projet controversé. La réalité du client / promoteur immobilier est très cruelle. C’est pas tout le monde qui comprend les exjeux du développement durable mélangé avec le développement immobilier. Lorsqu’un promoteur immobilier fait les premiers pas, je pense qu’il faudrait l’applaudir et l’encourager… Au lieu de voir son travail avec suspicion!

  3. Not a very dense project however. I am always amazed that people confuse green, the color, with green as a term to discribe sustainable development. The two are most often opposites.

    Montreal could easily sustain 2, 3 times the population density without suffering any crowding nor loss of significant public spaces (build higher).


    To be fair, the environmental and community groups have plenty of good reason to be suspicious and mistrusting of developers’ intentions. Same is true of politicians and city officials. There is no shortage of examples of corruption, manipulation and deception in the name of profit and at the expense of our urban environment (Turcot is but one example). Thank goodness for dedicated, determined citizens’ groups that care enough about the common good to question projects. 

    In this case however, I suggest that there is much more to be gained by environmental groups conceding on this issue and working with the developer so that innovative projects such as la Petite Rivière become the new standard and not the exception.

  5. A park is realistic as it enhances values of existing property.

    Please read:

    RE: Keep Meadowbrook green
    McGill Daily
    There is a dearth of parkland in southwestern Montreal, as it is suffocated by … for example, would impede the fluidity of AMT’s Vaudreuil-Hudson line, …

  6. Le bruit incessant sera infernal. Rien de vert à vivre dans une cour de triage.

  7. “Meadowbrook” started out as a natural landscape, was transformed into fallow farmland during the 19th century – and during World War 1, was converted into a rail-accessible private recreation park by the CPR.

    The golf craze completely overtook the park’s recreational vocation during the 1920s ad 1930s, but the original, natural landscape has remained throughout – even as the lands to the south, east and west of the park were successively consumed as subdivisions, highways, railyards and airport tarmac.

    Private preserves and golf courses are the traditional pre-cursor for almost all of Montreal’s public parks (Mount Royal, Jeanne Mance, Lafontaine, de Maisonneuve, Angrignon, Ile Ste Helene, etc.) and there is no reason why Meadowbrook shouldn’t follow the same pattern to ensure that recreational space is reserved for future residents living in the southwest.

    Citizens groups in Montreal began lobbying for parks back in the 1850s, beginning with those who had the foresight to put a halt to the proliferation of private rdevelopment on the Mountain. 

    Sure there was grumbling from the landowners who were affected, but there was a democratic consensus that, 150 years later, has stood the test of time. Groupe Pacific’s plan to build private homes in Meadowbrook is no different from the developers of the 1850s who were required to forego their own wonderful plans to build over the mountain.

    But in both cases, aren’t we glad the City decided to step in?


  8. “we have a choice between a particularly green development or a golf course.”

    “… halting an environmentally conscientious project in order to maintain a golf course and a glimmer of hope is a spineless excuse for sustainable development.”

    Stanley Park in Vancouver was originally the site of logging and clear-cutting. It is also located on a peninsula. Talk about a dead end!

    Central Park in Manhattan was originally the location of a swamp lake.
    Also, the land was originally too infertile to grow trees, so 14,000 cu-m
    of topsoil had to be shipped in. Shovel ready, yes, but in the wrong way!

    Early critics of Mount Royal park dismissed it as inaccessible. 
    Colonel Stevenson, of the grenadier guards, had to march a cannon up the hill and fire it to prove that this was not the case… two years in a row.
    No historical indication if it was aimed at city hall…

    A level golf course with a decent existing ecosystem seems like a pretty good starting point for a nature park in comparison, no?

    Montreal has known two great eras of park building. The first was set into motion by the fight for Mount Royal in the 1870’s. The second, was started by the fight for the Bois-De-Saraguay in the 1970’s. Both were long, costly campaigns, but they still yield fruit today and will do so longer than any man made institution is capable of.

    Meadowbrook could be the starting point for a third and probably final play for Montreal’s dwindling unprotected green-spaces. To borrow a baseball term, let us ‘swing for the fences’. Before the fences of private property close in on us for good.

  9. One of the things about golf courses in urban areas is they they are amongst the most easily converted back to nature spaces around. A simple treeplanting program could turn a place like Meadowbrook into a dense oxygen producing forest in less than 20 years. You will never see 10 square city blocks demolished to build a park. Montreal desperately needs green spaces as it has a very low (8% and losing) ratio of green space. I would rather see this developer’s project go into rehabilitating underused suburban industrial space (much like Bois Franc which was a car culture mistake, so close to the Metro system, yet in another world altogether). Take a look at the bigger picture and Meadowbrook remains significant as a green space that could be an oasis that connects the north and south sides of the island as part of a larger greenbelt network. It doesn’t matter how “green” the project is, replacing potential parkland with housing is a mistake. Developing Meadowbrook is simply encouraging sustainable sprawl, as opposed to building real urban density, and anyone who pays attention to transit issues in Montreal knows that all those wonderful dangling transit carrots are just dreams the developer wants to plant in people’s heads not based on reality whatsoever. And yes, train yards are extremely loud, just ask people in The Point!

  10. JC: “Not a very dense project however. I am always amazed that people confuse green, the color, with green as a term to discribe sustainable development. The two are most often opposites.
    Montreal could easily sustain 2, 3 times the population density without suffering any crowding nor loss of significant public spaces (build higher).”

    I am always amazed that people confuse high density with high buildings. Or sky scrapers and ecological sustainable – the two are often opposites.

    Montreal can sustain 2, 3 times the population without suffering the construction of more brutal sky scrapers. Just check out where the highest densities are – plateau, some areas of ndg, cdn – and how many stories most buildings have.

  11. “as a private club with less than 200 members, it is barely accessible to the human population of Montreal.”

    The writer seems not to have her facts straight. For the last 40 years Meadowbrook has been, a “semi-private” club (originally known as Wentworth, and built after the war, it was private for its 1st 20 years) and as such open to the public. No doubt, hundreds of thousands of rounds of golf have been enjoyed there by thousands of Montrealers, myself included.

    Please, let’s not underestimate the impact on the community, of shutting a golf course.
    Before GOLF DORVAL was decimated (36 holes were reduced to 18) by ADM, it hosted more than 60,000 games each year. Now every year, 30,000 to 40,000 games are being played elsewhere. That’s a lot of cars traveling greater distances, burning a lot more gas; charitable fundraisers not happening; golf tournaments moved away, or canned; a community resourse erased; jobs lost; church tournaments cancelled; local business meetings held elsewhere; a recreational facility gone; kids losing out on the opportunity to learn a wonderful sport; cross country skiing; etc.

    One of the reasons that, annually, upwards of 50,000 Montrealers move off island to the suburbs, is the loss of their recreational activities and, as we know, developers have destroyed dozens of beautiful golf courses on the island.

    GP seems to have a wonderful concept, namely “a green housing development”; however, to destroy a green space to do so is, at best, disingenuous.


  12. In response to some of the comments posted, I can only suggest actually seeing a full presentation of the proposed development before dismissing it outright in favor of preserving the golf course.

    First off all, the developer has no intention of destroying the existing trees and the potential for a public nature park… They want to integrate mixed income housing in a way that sets a new standard for harmonizing development with environmental concerns. They have done extensive research and seem willing to spend lot’s of money on decontaminating the river, the land and bring the marsh area to life… Not simply out of a desire for profit, but because it’s the right thing to do.

    Second, the people the developer has hired to attain this goal, are some of the most respected professionals in their field when it comes to climate issues! For God’s Sake, do you really think that these very, very smart experts would work on a project in which they don’t fully believe ? Their reputations and track record are beyond reproach; they are more knowledgeable about climate change than all of us combined…  I think it’s funny that so many people out there think they know better.

    Anyone who argues that we are losing a potential public nature park obviously doesn’t know/understand the full proposal; Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees! Shame on us if this project gets dropped because of this kind of uninformed opposition.  Nobody will win. 

  13. BTW I agree with Neath re treeplanting : Many types of willow and poplar are very fast growing and are now known to actually  remediate contaminated soil … Why  not put energy into expanding the existing green space by creating  corridors of trees for wildlife and humans alike and contributing to the envisioned greenbelt. 

    At the URBA presentation, Patrick Asch of Héritage Laurentien made a hearfelt plea for collaboration rather than confrontation with developers over land issues. I am pretty sure that Suzanne Deschamps and the team at Pacific would be very happy to have community input on how to improve upon the Petite Rivière project. 

  14. ant6n
    “Montreal can sustain 2, 3 times the population without suffering the construction of more brutal sky scrapers. Just check out where the highest densities are – plateau, some areas of ndg, cdn – and how many stories most buildings have.”

    Ah, a wise-guy… ;-)

    Sure, to get the same density on that golf-course with 3 story tall buildings, you would need to have it covered with buldings. That is fine too. Or you could have a mix of taller (6-20 storey. There are no real tall housing buildings in Montreal anyway by today’s world-standards) buildings on a grid.

    The point was that having a forrest in the middle of a city doesn’t make it any greener (in the sustainable sense).

  15. I simply cannot buy the idea of developing only a portion of Meadowbrook. There is a strong history on the island that says where there is smoke there is fire when it comes to projects that erode green spaces. Little by little Meadowbrook will get filled in. Do not expect the city of Montreal to protect anything. The so called eco territories on the island have all shrank because of perimeter development and some are even mostly privately owned. There is no plan, vision, or commitment to preserving either land or buildings on the island.

  16. Forget about a train stop there. Why not extend Cote-St-Luc road and link it up with Aut. 20? This would provide a way to dis-enclave western Cote-St-Luc.

  17. Again you have got it all wrong. We are not asking for “… preserving the golf course..” We are asking for a park and have been so for more than 20 years.
    There is a need for quality living space. There are limits to density on the Island of Montreal.

    The promoter has a wonderful project but it should be put on a former brownfield not on a rare space that can be renaturalized and act as the Western de Maisonneuve Park.

  18. RE: “Forget about a train stop there. Why not extend Cote-St-Luc road and link it up with Aut. 20? This would provide a way to dis-enclave western Cote-St-Luc.”

    Are you prepared to pay the multimillion dollar bill for this?
    There are other road projects awaiting funding like the Cavendish Extension, Notre Dane, etc…
    Aren’t you encouraging more car use?

  19. @Avrom Shtern
    “Again you have got it all wrong. We are not asking for “… preserving the golf course..” We are asking for a park and have been so for more than 20 years.”

    I understand that Les Amis de Meadowbrook want to go above and beyond preserving the golf course to creating an actual park. But the City doesn’t seem to be willing to do anything but preserve the status quo. As you say, this issue has been on the table for more than 20 years without tangible results. Now a developer does want to transform the status quo in order to provide recreation space and natural habitat and yes, housing. It might be less ideal than the park that Les Amis envision, but is it worse than the status quo?

    And I think right-project-wrong-site argument dosen’t hold water. This project was clearly designed within the specific limitations (and strengths!) of this particular site. I can’t see a private developer re-naturalizing nearly half of a brownfield site.

  20. @JODY

    Je dois répliquer en deux points. Premièrement, il est faux de croire que nous (les architectes et urbanistes en pratique privée) que nous n’avons pas l’amélioration du bien collectif à coeur et sommes susceptibles aux pots de vin et facilement corruptibles. Comme tous, nous travaillons très fort à changer et transformer Montréal et les autres villes de cette culture de l’automobile et de l’étalement urbain. Mais un client reste avant tout un client, l’architecture, tout comme les autres domaines de l’aménagement du territoire, reste un service, et non une vérité absolue. Un développement sensé sans être vert peut contribuer à densifier la ville et amélorier l’avenir de Montréal.

    Deuxièmement, changer la mentalité d’un promoteur immobilier est un travail d’éducation ardu et de longue haleine qui avancent à petit pas. Le promoteur cherche à faire un profit, mais peu d’entre eux cherchent à faire un profit de manière socialement responsable. Contrairement à ce que l’on peut croire, beaucoup d’entre autres ont une culture architecturale et urbaine qui s’apparente à celle de Monsieur Madame Tout le monde. Donc, le travail d’éducation que je fais avec mes clients à tous les jours devrait être entrepris par tous les gens sur blogue afin que toute la population évolue en même temps.

    Ici, nous sommes tous des experts de l’aménagement ou fortement intéressés par l’aménagement, il est donc primordial que nous expliquons aux autres comment bien faire et ce qui est mieux que ce qui se fait actuellement.

    S’il y a eu des allusions et allégations de corruption entre promoteurs immobilier et politiciens, je peux vous confirmer qu’aucun fonctionnaire municipal a profité de ces pots de vin. Voir avec scepticisme le développement immobilier, les fonctionnaires et les architectes et urbanistes en pratique privée est exactement ce que j’ai énoncé dans la première phrase de mon premier billet.

  21. At it stands, if there was a major disaster that would force the rapid evacuation of the population in the area of Cote-St-Luc sandwiched between the tracks, there are only two ways to get out, whether it be by car, bicycle, foot: go down Cavendish or go down Westminster. I understand that the Taschereau yards has a contingency that would allow people to go through it at Westminster north, but how many people know about this and how useful would it be since the “disaster” may very well come from the yard itself.

    Any way to provide better access to and from is to be encouraged. Of course the Cavendish link-up to Ville st-Laurent is a must as it is long overdue. Just as Kildare and/or Mackle to Jean-Talon would be an option.

  22. Here’s a link to an Op-Ed piece in the Gazette dated Nov 29th 2010 by respected urban planner Raphaël Fischler:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *