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City of Montreal urged to relax some plans for Blue Bonnets redevelopment

A graphic rendering of the site of the former Blue Bonnets racetrack in Montreal's west end. Office de consultation publique de Montréal

Montreal’s public consultations office (OCPM) has released its report on the long-planned redevelopment of the area where the former Blue Bonnets racetrack once stood, in the northwestern corner of the borough of Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce.

The Plante administration has set out to make the site — referred to as the “Quartier Namur-Hippodrome” — into an urban village of the future: it proposes 6,000 homes — 1,200 of them social housing units — to span a “green neighbourhood” that would be primarily navigated on foot or by bicycle. But the 121-page report pours cold water on some of those plans.

Read more: Public consultations begin on future of the old Hippodrome racetrack

In all, over 2,800 participated in in-person and online consultations on the redevelopment, the report says.

The report notes that many participants in the consultation process signaled “enthusiasm” for the city’s plans, especially its eco-friendly vision, but there were also some concerns raised about both its realism and accessibility. Its report makes a total of 41 recommendations for the city to improve the project before work begins.

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The report highlights the planned neighbourhood’s location at the crossroads of two major expressways — Highway 15 runs through the area’s eastern borderlands, with Highway 40 a short distance away — an industrial railyard, and two heavily car-dependent suburbs: the independent cities of Côte Saint-Luc and Hampstead.

Read more: Residents, community groups call for inclusive Blue Bonnets project

The OCPM reports that participants who resided in those nearby demerged municipalities expressed diverging views on the city’s vision for a car-free neighbourhood compared to those who lived in the City of Montreal proper. Concerns were also reportedly raised that a completely car-free space could keep some people from moving in, especially those with mobility issues.

In one of its major recommendations, the OCPM recommends the city relax its plans to completely ban cars from the neighbourhood, and instead restrict their access to its streets. It also recommends the city integrate expansion to the public transportation network into the redevelopment project, such as a tramway to connect the area to the metro system.

In another major recommendation, the report suggest the city expand the number of social housing units planned for the area to 2,000 from 1,200.

Read more: Activists in Côte-des-Neiges push borough to commit to more social housing in Blue Bonnets project

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In a statement sent to Global News, borough mayor Sue Montgomery said she welcomed the OCPM report.

“We must learn from the mistakes of the Triangle and Griffintown”, she said, referencing two past city-led development projects — one of them, the Triangle, directly opposite Décarie Boulevard from where the Blue Bonnets site is located. Critics have derided the redevelopments in both of those areas, claiming they are now car-centric, gentrified seas of condomiums disconnected from surrounding neighbourhoods.

Montgomery, who has been an independent since being ejected from Projet Montréal earlier this year, said that it was important the borough and local residents be “at the heart of the planning process” for the new development. She said that the office for the project “must” be located in Côte-des-Neiges.

The Blue Bonnets racetrack closed in 2009 and was demolished between 2017 and 2019. Its vast undeveloped space, a short distance from the orange line’s Namur station, is considered prime real estate for the ever-expanding city.

Notably, the report makes little note of how the way neighbourhood life has changed so dramatically over the course of the year: in-person public meetings concerning the project concluded the week of Feb. 19. As the report notes, that was “a few weeks before the implementation of the extraordinary measures made necessary by the global epidemic of coronavirus that we are experiencing.”

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