Activists work to save downtown Montreal green space from destruction

Click to play video: 'Can Montreal green space be saved from development?'
Can Montreal green space be saved from development?
WATCH: Domtar Garden, an urban oasis in downtown Montreal, has been sold to a developer who is planning to build a 35-storey mixed-use tower. As Global's Dan Spector reports, a group of residents is mobilizing in the hopes of saving the garden – Apr 3, 2018

A petition is circulating to save one of the only green spaces left in downtown Montreal from bulldozers. The Domtar Garden near the Quartier des Spectacles is full of mature trees, bushes and shrubs.

“It’s a great place to relax, take a few minutes,” said local resident Perry Kartsonas.

If all goes according to plan, the trees may be budding there for the last time.

“It’s going to be demolished and turned into a new condo tower and hotel. We have a million towers downtown, we don’t need one more,” said Sofia Escobar, who lives across the street.

In 2002 Domtar transformed the land from a parking lot into a green space. The park won awards for its design and Domtar was hailed for its work bringing green to the city. Now they’ve sold the land to real estate developer Canvar. The company plans to replace it with a 36-storey building.

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READ MORE: City to expropriate and preserve Notman Garden

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“It’s a real pity,” said Tatiana Storza, who works in the area.

“I don’t like to see only buildings,” said Kartsonas. “I like to see parks downtown, too.”

“This is the only garden downtown,” said Escobar. “My children play there, but it’s more than that. This is the only space we have. The city keeps promising more green spaces, but this is it. They’re all being turned into towers.”

She and a group of residents from the area are turning their anger into action. They started a petition demanding construction be halted. It has nearly 1,500 signatures.

The activists also wrote an open letter to the head of Canvar, asking him not to build the building. Escobar also wants the city to do something to stop them, but a spokesman for the Valerie Plante administration said there isn’t much they can do seeing as the land is private property.

READ MORE: City of Prince Albert resolves tax assessment dispute with Domtar

Escobar and her group also want the province to recognize the former parking lot as a heritage site. That would require a formal request be made to the Ministry of Culture so the ministry could study the idea. A spokesperson for the ministry told Global News no request has been made.

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“If nobody’s done it, I’m going to do it right now,” said Escobar.

Even if the heritage request is submitted, it may take longer for the government to make a decision than it takes Canvar to break ground.

The residents say they hope the company hears their pleas and reconsiders. If not, they have other ideas.

“I’m actually thinking of hiring an environmental lawyer,” said Escobar.

Canvar’s Marc Varadi said in an email statement, “We understand that they are disappointed by the news,” and that “our project, which will be announced in the coming months, will be respectful of the nearby environment, and of course, as per all of our development projects, it will be built to bring value to the community and to Montrealers and tourists alike.”

The developer also offered to “participate financially” if the park is relocated to another area.

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