Montreal to change height restrictions for new buildings

MONTREAL – The city is planning to loosen the height and density restrictions for new buildings in several parts of downtown and Old Montreal, saying it hopes to stimulate construction on empty lots and areas it says could do with more intense development.

But while some groups say the changes being proposed will better protect the views on Mount Royal from one part of downtown north of Sherbrooke St. W., they may obstruct other iconic views and create development pressure on some historic low-rise neighbourhoods elsewhere.

Most of the changes call for raising the current height and density limits. However, one notable change in the other direction would lower the height limit from 25 metres to 16 metres at the foot of Mount Royal in the Golden Square Mile neighbourhood between Pine Ave. and Sherbrooke east of Guy St. and around the Collège de Montréal on Sherbrooke near Atwater Ave.

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The borough says the change is meant to preserve existing views onto Mount Royal from the historic Square Mile, which still boasts some of the mansions of Montreal’s 19th century elite, and other sites at the base of the mountain.

Meanwhile, the Ville Marie borough says other, mostly higher height and density limits it’s proposing for more than 30 zones east, west and south of the mountain will allow developers to build up to 13,500 housing units and 750,000 square metres of office space in addition to the units and office space the borough has already approved for construction.

Some of the measures foretell plans to cover over the Ville Marie Expressway and allow construction on top up to 80 metres, or about 20 storeys.

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But while the intentions are laudable, the measures are contradictory, preservationists told the city’s Office de consultation publique de Montréal at public hearings on the proposal last week.

For instance, while the new 16-metre height limit in the Golden Square Mile would apply on the north side of Sherbrooke, another change would raise the height limit on the south side of Sherbrooke around the Museum of Fine Arts and Holt Renfrew from 25 metres to 65 metres.

“We’re surely affected by the south side as well, of course,” said Manon Vennat, a member of the Golden Square Mile Association, a non-profit group that was formed by residents and organizations in the neighbourhood who convinced the borough council this year to drop plans to raise the height restriction for a project to replace the partly demolished Redpath mansion on du Musée Ave., just above Sherbrooke.

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Other proposals are raising hackles for groups such as Heritage Montreal. These include:

• Raise the height limit on both sides of St. Laurent Blvd. to 80 metres from 44 metres and 60 metres between Old Montreal and Chinatown;

–Raise the height limit from 25 metres to 80 metres between Dorchester Square, at René Lévesque Blvd. W. and Peel St., and Drummond St.;

• Raise the height limit from 25 metres to 120 metres behind either side of Mackay St. at René Lévesque.;

• Raise the height limit from 60 metres to 80 metres around the future rebuilt Bonaventure Expressway, which the city plans to level and where heritage groups have objected to plans to allow blocks of towers that they say will obstruct the view of the river;

• Raise the height limit from 25 metres to 35 metres on Bishop and Crescent Sts., between Ste. Catherine and René Lévesque.

The borough expects to have its final proposals approved by city council in February.

The borough’s plan is geared to preserving two specific views of the mountain, from the new Place des Festivals in front of Place des Arts and from the terrace at Montreal city hall in Old Montreal, but it ignores 16 other views of the mountain that the city has declared are worth preserving, the group Les Amis de la Montagne contends.

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The group also wonders why the borough chose the terrasse of city hall, where the public is barred from access, as a vantage point.

In its brief to the OCPM last week, Heritage Montreal said it’s thrilled with the lower height limit proposed for the north side of Sherbrooke, but called several of the height increases “unjustified” and in contradiction with efforts to preserve the low-rise character of older areas of downtown, such as Bishop-Crescent.

For instance, the group objects to increasing the height limit from 44 metres to 65 metres behind the 19th century Mount Stephen Club on Drummond.

And it says the plan to increase the height limit from 25 metres to 80 metres between Dorchester Square and Drummond contradicts current efforts to turn Dorchester Square into a heritage zone.

Heritage Montreal said in its brief it’s “concerned about the highly technical nature” of the changes because they seem innocuous to the average citizen.

Yet by making a slew of changes to the urban plan for large sections of downtown and Old Montreal, the group says the city will give blanket new development rights to builders who won’t have to submit individual projects for public consultation as long as they meet the more generous building restrictions.

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