Condos planned for former Children's site won't make downtown family friendly, critics say

Critics took advantage of public consultations on Monday night to poke holes in the redevelopment plan for the former site of the Montreal Children's Hospital.

The $400 million project is being subjected to two days of scrutiny organized by the city's public consultation body, the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM).

Community groups and concerned citizens took turns expressing misgivings with developer Devimco's proposal, which would radically alter the urban landscape at the corner of René-Lévesque Boulevard and Atwater Street.

Not on a 'human scale'

While the current plans for the site include 160 social housing units, Habiter Ville-Marie —  a coalition of downtown community groups — said the units should be geared towards families instead of seniors.

Éric Michaud, a Habiter Ville-Marie spokesperson, told the meeting the coalition was also concerned about the density of the development, which he recommended be reduced "to permit a project that will be more on a human scale."

These concerns were echoed by City Hall Opposition, Projet Montréal, which questioned how Devimco's proposal would make the downtown core more accessible to families. 

"It is totally unrealistic to believe that a family wishing to settle in Montreal will consider a 700 square-foot apartment or condominium," Projet's leader, Valérie Plante, said in a statement.

"The Children's redevelopment project must include large units of at least 1,000 square feet." 

Others expressed concern that the proposed towers, which are slated to reach between 60 and 120 metres high, would dwarf the newly renovated Cabot Square. 

"We feel putting such a high tower at Atwater is going to crush the square that we just invested so much money in," said Dinu Bumbaru of Heritage Montreal.

Bumbaru also called on the developer to preserve the shuttered hospital's D Wing, which he described as a "wonderful art deco building."

Developer defends project but open to changes

Devimco's urban planner, Brian Fahey, said building higher is necessary to reduce the footprint of the towers and to allow for more green space, which will be open to the public.

He also indicated that Devimco would be open to including a school in the plans for the site, the absence of which was criticized by Projet Montréal. 

"We've been opening discussions with the (Commission Scolaire de Montréal) in order to see if there's the feasibility to have a school," Fahey said. 

So far the city has given its blessing to the design, which includes 1,400 residential units, a community centre, a park and a new municipal library.

There will also be a commercial component, with offices, stores and a 250-room hotel.

Demolition could begin this summer

Montreal executive committee member Richard Bergeron praised Devimco's proposal when it was unveiled last year, saying it addressed the city's need for high-density, mixed-use development.

The public hearings continue Tuesday at the OCPM's offices on Metcalfe Street.

The organization will then prepare a report for the city's executive committee, which must approve a zoning change for the development to go ahead.

Devimco says they hope to begin work as early as June 2017.

- The OCPM has made a 3D visualization of the project available on its website.