July 27, 2015
Côte St. Luc council last week passed, with one opposing vote, a first draft bylaw allowing for the construction of a second B’nai Brith House residence, to be located on city land close to the Côte St. Luc Shopping Centre.
Last year, council voted 4-2 to sell the land to B’nai Brith Canada. There is another B’nai Brith House at Côte St. Luc Road and Westminster.
As is required, a public consultation will be held on the new rezoning bylaw 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10 at the Côte St. Luc city hall council chamber.
“B’nai Brith Canada and other seniors organizations that own seniors properties in the city were given a chance by the city to come forward with a proposal to make use of that land for affordable housing for seniors,’ said Mayor Anthony Housefather. “B’nai Brith was the only one, in the end, that actually came forward with a proposal. The other potential bidder, Federation CJA, supported the B’nai Brith project, and St. Patrick Square also supported the B’nai Brith project.”
Housefather added that council extensively discussed whether a residence represented the best use of the land, and that most of council decided that “this was a very heavily needed project in the community, so that seniors moving out of their homes in the community could find affordable housing and live in Côte St. Luc. B’nai Brith has said there is a very long waiting list for this project.”
Councillor Dida Berku said that she supports the project, but voted against, reiterating her fear that the location is too close to railway tracks. Housefather said this is a legitimate concern, but that council worked with B’nai Brith and city staff to maximize safety in the residence’s design, including berms and sound barriers. Late last year, Berku and Councillor Steven Erdelyi voted against selling the land to B’nai Brith Canada, but Erdelyi was not at the July council meeting.
Berku added that the location for the residence is convenient, as it would be close to the shopping centre. But she reiterated that new Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Railway Association of Canada guidelines  call for a safe distance setback — from building to property line — of 30 metres.
“The issue of the proximity is one I’m struggling with,” she added. “I just don’t feel the proximity can be ignored in light of what happened at Lac Mégantic, where 47 people were killed. Here, you’re building a six-storey senior residence within 30 metres of the right-of-way of the railways. For me, it’s definitely too close. Until we see the final design, I’m not going to vote in favour of this project or the rezoning. I’m not prepared to take that risk.”
Berku acknowledged that most of Côte St. Luc is built around railway tracks, with many homes in closer proximity.
“But for me, that’s not a reason to repeat the mistakes of the past” with “sensitive” housing, she added.
Councillor Ruth Kovac, who voted in favour of the rezoning, said numerous Côte St. Luc places, including a synagogue, a school and Mount Sinai Hospital, the Côte St. Luc Shopping Centre, and other locations and relocations that Berku voted for, are close to tracks.
“What message are you telling for all the residents of Côte St. Luc, that we should move everything a little bit further away, that we should live in fear?” Kovac said. “This building has been approved by our Planning Advisory Committee, it’s gone through multiple revisions, this is probably going to be the safest building that’s in proximity of a railway. To give seniors a safe place to live, in proximity of a shopping centre where they will have everything they need close to them, is probably the best thing council can do for them.”