For a quarter century, the 57 hectares of wide-open verdant terrain inhabited by the Meadowbrook Golf Course have been eyed by eager developers. Residential projects of anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 units have been proposed for the property straddling Côte-St-Luc and Lachine.
For just as long, a dedicated group of conservationists known as Les Amis de Meadowbrook and their supporters have battled to preserve one of the area’s few remaining large green spaces. Ultimately, they would like to see the course transformed into a public park.
The conservationists appear to have scored another victory. In the land use and development plan for the island of Montreal, which spells out the development vision for the city and its adjoining municipalities, and is expected to be adopted Wednesday by the city’s executive committee, administrators have changed their initial designation of the Meadowbrook site from “residential” on the Lachine side to “large green space or recreational.” Côte-St-Luc changed its zoning on its side to recreational in 2000.
The Montreal urban agglomeration land use and development plan in turn influences the city of Montreal’s urban plan and that of its 19 boroughs, including Lachine.
The Meadowbrook file generated the largest number of briefs presented in the fall to the committee taking recommendations on the land use plan, said committee member Éric Alan Caldwell. His Projet Montréal municipal party made the same recommendation, and the committee voted unanimously that the Meadowbrook site be zoned green.
Once the zoning has switched to green, a developer would have to convince city councillors to change it back to residential in order to start a project, a process that would be “difficult,” Caldwell said.
Groupe Pacific purchased the property in 2006 for $3 million and has been lobbying to build on the Lachine site. As late as February 2013 it submitted a request to build as many as 1,500 housing units. Montreal city council rejected the bid, saying it was not interested in covering the costs for a new road, bridge and water and sewage pipes into the development. Media reports have pegged those costs at $160 million.
Groupe Pacific launched a $44-million lawsuit against the city last February, claiming damages for not being allowed to begin construction. Côte-St-Luc was hit with a $20-million lawsuit in 2000 by the previous owners of the land, Marathon Realty, the real-estate arm of Canadian Pacific, after it changed its zoning for the site. The case is still before courts.
Groupe Pacific did not respond to requests for interviews Tuesday.
Caldwell said he could not comment on the legality of a municipality switching zoning designations after a developer has bought a property zoned residential because the cases are still before the courts.
“What I can say is it’s legitimate for a municipality to want to define how it will be developed, and one of the necessities of urban life is to have enough green space. … If we create development plans, it’s to create a template that reflects the entirety of our needs. And the vision of the future is a motion that a municipality has the right to propose.”
There is nothing in the new zoning that would force Meadowbrook to become a public park, Caldwell said. It can remain a golf course.