Dear APAW members:
As you have no doubt heard by now, on January 29, 2015, the Agglomeration Council, chaired by Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montreal, passed a regional zoning plan which has the majority of Angell Woods set aside as a conservation area.
This bold and decisive gesture required political courage and Mayor Coderre and his team deserve our thanks and appreciation. So too do Mayor Georges Bourelle and his Beaconsfield Council, who as elected officials together decided upon a path for the Angell Woods file and worked actively and enthusiastically to implement this plan on behalf of their citizens. Getting this measure through the multiple layers of bureaucracy was no easy feat. Congratulations are truly in order. Make sure you thank our local officials when you see them. A special thanks also to the elected officials from previous years, who likewise had bravely pushed this cause along.
At the same time, this zoning change is also due to the long-standing efforts and political pressure applied by YOU, our 1000+ members. You had a vision for the best community use of this treasured forest and YOU were relentless in gradually and respectfully impressing that vision on fellow citizens and elected officials throughout the years.
The context for this change is that the legal structure governing municipal and regional bodies clearly provides that at least every five years, they are entitled, as elected entities, to reassess and sometimes change the permitted use of lands within their territory. Of course, where extensive infrastructure and development investments have been made, a municipality is unlikely to “turn the clock back” and rezone a built area as “green”. However, where the lands have never been developed, it is perfectly permissible for a regional municipal government to change the rules for the future use, or protection, of those lands.
Let’s not forget that this formal process was driven by citizens and community groups right from the beginning. In the fall of 2011, hundreds of briefs were submitted by individuals and environmental groups as part of the public consultation on the supra-regional PMAD (Plan métropolitain d’aménagement et développement). APAW presented a brief, as did many other members of the Green Coalition, calling on the municipal governments to take actions to protect and conserve our last urban green spaces. The result was that the PMAD, as approved by the provincial government, prescribed that Angell Woods was a forest of regional importance, which needed to be protected. The plan just passed by the Agglomeration Council was required by law to “conform” to the terms of the PMAD, just like Beaconsfield will be required by law to amend its bylaws to “conform” to the new agglomeration plan.
There are some important steps left. The Province needs to approve the new agglomeration plan. Beaconsfield needs to adopt new zoning for Angell Woods that complies with the agglomeration plan. Ideally, the remaining private lands now zoned for conservation will be purchased and set aside as a nature reserve, like the Angell Woods nature reserve already managed by APAW. The funds to do so have long been set aside for the moment when agreement is reached. In the meantime, thanks to legal proceedings brought by the concerned landowners, which proceedings led to a court determination that their lands were essentially “undevelopable”, they are not paying municipal taxes on their lands.
There will be noise and bickering, and maybe some attempts to derail the final steps. But your APAW executive will be there for you, quietly but vigilantly working towards our collective goal of preserving the Woods.
In the meantime though, some subdued celebration is in order. Cheers!