Gatineau council meeting highlights
New library building, dangerous dogs, bridge checkpoints, urban sprawl at council
Despite putting more than a dozen files on hold because of COVID-19, Gatineau Municipal council decided that two Aylmer projects would proceed to help the city’s hurting economy. The decision was made during council’s monthly meeting, held via teleconference, on April 21. All council representatives participated, including Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, who opened proceedings with a word of welcome.
Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin stated that the region had dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic quite positively so far, despite how hard the circumstances had been. “We have, per resident, a lot fewer cases and a lot fewer deaths than other places,” he said. “We have to keep it like that because it’s a deadly sickness that can only be defeated if, collectively, we’re very disciplined.”
Pedneaud-Jobin added that the city had worked closely with local organizations, including the Centre integré de santé et des services sociaux (CISSSO) to minimize the pandemic’s impact on the population. He added that the city was taking numerous economic measures to help citizens shoulder the financial burden caused by the pandemic.
For the councillors’ comments period, Deschênes councillor Mike Duggan stated that one of main themes of the meeting was management of the city’s population growth. He added that the city must regulate urban sprawling to protect nature in agricultural and rural areas and to control municipal service fees.
Despite discontentment from many residents, Duggan said that the city had a lot of pressure to densify its urban area. “It’s a difficult balance and we’re getting together once a month to present our decisions to the public and to try to explain our reasoning,” Duggan said. “Until now, I think we’re doing quite well. But … we still have a lot of work to do.”
Proceedings continued with the public question period, where council received nearly 20 enquiries on subjects ranging from environmental protection, to COVID-19 protective measures and the usage of two properties in Aylmer.
Residents in uproar on handling of bridge checkpoints
One resident asked about the Service de Police de la Ville de Gatineau’s (SPVG) implemented measures to prevent Ontario drivers from entering the province, noting that he’s seen countless Ontario-plated vehicles in the city throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The mayor responded that police had only been allowing drivers to enter the province for essential reasons and that the province on their license plate did not matter. “What we want is that people make movements that are necessary,” Pedneaud-Jobin said. He noted that SPVG officers turned back more than 7,000 vehicles – nine per cent of drivers – to where they came from, the previous weekend.
Aware that interregional closures have been difficult for many, the mayor explained that monitoring interregional borders was the most optimal thing for many officers to be doing at the moment. He added that police checkpoints would remain for as long as they were needed.
Several residents expressed concerns about a couple of properties located south of boulevard Lucerne - one east of chemin Fraser and the other just west of Deschênes - where residential development was expected. Worried about the environmental effects of construction in both those areas, one resident asked whether or not citizens would be able to participate in discussions about projects on those properties.
Another asked whether the project had been approved by the Ministry of environment and climate change since the properties include wet areas and portions in flood zones. Pedneaud-Jobin responded that the city was looking at all environmental issue on those properties to protect what needs to be protected. Duggan added that the property east of Fraser was up for sale with the goal of raising money to subsidize a land purchase for a project to build a multi-ice sports complex in the Plateau. He added that the northern part of the property was likely where construction would take place, noting that the area near the Ottawa River was protected by the Special Intervention Zone (ZIS) and that other portions were protected because they included wet areas.
Duggan went on to say that construction on the properties had not yet started, due to numerous ecological particularities. He explained that the land belonged to the city and that it was currently on call for a tenderer for a residential and commercial project that would respect zoning restrictions for building in wet areas and flood zones.
Duggan added that the land near Deschênes was currently owned by construction company Dev Carrera who was planning a project that could include a six-storey housing complex. He emphasized that replacing greenspace with infrastructure was a worrisome issue for residents.
But Duggan clarified that the city needed to make sacrifices in its urban core to maintain natural wealth in its rural and agricultural areas. Pedneaud-Jobin echoed similar sentiments as Duggan’s, stating that the city was taking the matter very seriously because the land held significant value. He added that the city would evaluate all risks associated with development on both properties, noting that the city had considerable time before being forced to make a decision about it.
Another question from a member of the Parc Champlain residents association was about the city’s proposed process for its public consultation on urban planning during the COVID-19 pandemic, with concerns that an online platform would not give residents a fair opportunity to give their thoughts about big projects. Duggan responded that the virtual consultation process must be given a chance.
Plateau councillor Maude Marquis-Bissonnette added that she understood the residents’ concern and that the city was working to make the online process as complete and satisfying as possible. “The objective is to answer all the questions, to address all comments and there’s very much a will on our end to do it transparently and do it as well as possible in the current circumstances,” she said. Noting that public consultations in person might not be a possibility for many months, Marquis-Bissonnette said that it was the best solution to make sure projects kept moving forward. “It’s not simple for everyone,” she said. “But I think we need to continue moving forward because we have things to do.”
Dangerous dogs bylaw proceeding
Among other things, council adopted a presentation notice to modify the municipal law regarding the keeping, control and care of animals in the city, relating to potentially dangerous canines. Council also passed a number of bylaws, including to create a local heritage council and another regarding the division of the city into 19 districts. A $16 million loan authorization for the STO to subsidize a partial completion of its tramway project in the western portion of the city was also adopted. Plus, with COVID-19 making it impossible to hold in-person public consultations for the foreseeable future, council put more than a dozen files on hold until further notice. But council decided that four projects - including a request to expand the British Hotel – were exceptional and would go on as planned.
During the caucus preparatory earlier that day, Aylmer district councillor Audrey Bureau contested that the expansion of the British – which is expected to include an 80-plus unit housing complex – would be very beneficial for the sector’s economic bounceback when the pandemic settles. She explained that the city was also facing a serious housing shortage and that the project was a great way to address that issue.
Council also announced that councillors had collectively contributed $21,500 to Centraide Outaouais to help them during the COVID-19 pandemic.