PROPOSED NEW SHUL DIVIDES LARGELY JEWISH MONTREAL SUBURB

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This architect’s drawing of the proposed synagogue of the Sephardic Kollel Avrechim Foundation has been submitted to the City of Côte St. Luc.

Côte-St-Luc, Que. will open a register on June 15, which will allow eligible residents to have their say on whether to force a referendum on the proposed construction of a new synagogue in their neighbourhood.

The register will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 5801 Cavendish Blvd., second floor, to residents of the two small municipal zones affected and the adjoining area.

A referendum would be the final word on the project. But Mayor Mitchell Brownstein made it clear that if the minimum of 17 people sign, which seems likely given the opposition expressed to the project, the city will not proceed to a referendum, as required by provincial law.

Instead, Brownstein said city council will withdraw its approval of the rezoning that would allow the Sephardic Kollel Avrechim Foundation to build on its lot on Mackle Road, next to the Quartier Cavendish shopping centre.

On May 29, Côte-St-Luc council voted 4-2 to approve the final version of a bylaw amending the zoning of the land from residential to institutional.

By the May 25 deadline, 33 of 56 eligible residents had signed a request that a register be opened, a necessary legal step in the process.

The mayor stressed that if approval is withdrawn, the city will help Kollel Avrechim find another location, to which its leadership has indicated it is open. Brownstein said several alternative sites are being considered.

“The congregation is important and deserves a home,” he said, “and we will continue to work with (it).”

Moreover, Brownstein said a referendum would cost the city at least $30,000 “for no reason.… There’s no chance of winning.”

The issue has been delicate because the Montreal suburb does not want to be seen as banning a synagogue, or any religious institution. The project’s opponents submitted a petition with about 70 signatures to city council.

The city’s population is at least 60 per cent Jewish and all nine council members are Jewish.

The final rezoning bylaw was moved by councillor Sidney Benizri and seconded by Allan Levine. The first draft of the bylaw was adopted in March and a second version earlier in May by a 5-2 vote.

Councillor Ruth Kovac, one of the two dissenters, said she voted against the rezoning bylaw “not because I am against any religious institution. This is strictly a zoning issue.”

She thinks the lot is too small, especially if the congregation expects that it will continue to grow. Kovac, who earlier noted that she is sensitive to this issue as the child of Holocaust survivors, offered to personally help the congregation find a “better location.”

She suggested they might be able to find a location that’s closer to where most of its members live.

Architectural plans submitted by the foundation are for a three-storey building. In addition to Quartier Cavendish, the site, bearing the civic address of 6790-6792 Mackle Rd., is close to the Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue.

Kollel Avrechim, led by Rabbi Yehuda Benoliel, has been operating out of a duplex on Parkhaven Avenue for almost 20 years.

Kovac said she regretted that this matter is being “dragged” out and that it is “unfair” to residents to have them for a third time affirm their disapproval (she counted the petition and the request for a register as the first two instances).

Councillor Glenn Nashen, who represents the district where the zones are located, said he would have voted for the rezoning bylaw, but was unable to attend the meeting.

He blogged that, like Kovac, he believes this issue is purely over zoning and has “nothing to do with religion or support for a synagogue.

“We are a city of many religions, languages and residents of all backgrounds, even if the majority are of the Jewish faith. Some are very religious, others somewhat and yet others traditional or secular. We all live in peace and harmony in respect of one another, which makes Côte St. Luc an incredible place to live and to raise a family. Let’s be sure to keep it this way.”

Opponents of the project have raised concerns about increased traffic, noise and parking problems. They fear a second synagogue next door would lower their property values and mean higher taxes, because religious institutions are exempt from taxation.

Quartier Cavendish has also voiced strong opposition, because it thinks that people using the synagogue, especially during special events, would park on its property.

Rabbi Benoliel has said that the congregation would be respectful of those living nearby, and that their needs were taken into account during the planning of the project. At the urging of Brownstein, the leaders met with neighbours to try to allay their worries.

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CSL council votes 5-2 to allow rezoning process for synagogue

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CSL council votes 5-2 to allow rezoning process for synagogue

Côte St. Luc council voted 5-2 last week at a standing-room only meeting to pass a second reading of a rezoning bylaw that would enable the creation of a new synagogue on Mackle Road near Quartier Cavendish.

Councillors Glenn Nashen, Allan Levine, Mike Cohen, Sidney Benizri and Sam Goldbloom voted in favour, Ruth Kovac and Steven Erdelyi voted against, and Dida Berku abstained due to her involvement as a lawyer in a legal case unrelated to the rezoning but linked to a court case involving Fondation Sepharade Kollel Avrechim’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Yehouda Benoliel.

At a recent meeting, residents raised concerns about the potential for increased foot and car traffic, noise, late night activity, lowered property values, illegal parking and lost taxes for the city from a religious institution resulting in increased taxes for homeowners, and also brought up the phenomenon of “makeshift” synagogues on residential streets.

Those council members who voted in favour said residents will have their say by choosing whether to call for a register, which could then prompt a referendum. At last week’s meeting, one Mackle Road resident presented a petition, and told council that more than enough people signed to, as part of the bylaw process, potentilly force a referendum.

Councillor Allan Levine gave an impassioned speech in favour of the rezoning. The councillor said while he is grateful that, in Côte St. Luc, no one would vote against him because he is Jewish, others who are Jewish don’t have the same level of comfort — such as students wearing kippahs at Concordia University, and Jews living in France.

Kovac stressed that she was not opposed to the synagogue, but to the proposed location.

“I will not speak about religion or being Jewish — as a child of Holocaust survivors, I couldn’t be more sensitive,” she said.

Kovac explained that several years ago, the council went through an extensive and rigorous exercise of redefining the Cavendish Mall land, much of which is now residential.

“After public consultations, no one opposed the rezoning [to mostly residential from commercial] or the plans submitted,” she explained. “There were no surprises. Today, we are asked to spot zone one lot to accommodate a request for a religious institution.

“The Cavendish Mall… today has voiced their very strong opposition, knowing events taking place at the synagogue would spill onto their property and that parking would become an issue for their customers.

“My vote opposed to the motion is not opposed to the Kollel. I am pro the status quo, not anti-anything else. We should work together to find the appropriate alternate location, and we will work to help you find one, or to find a way to improve your current location.

“What some of the residents have already raised is that this organization has more than one tax-exempt property, they don’t have one, they don’t have two, they don’t have three, they have four or five. Is that really fair to the taxpayer, who this year had significant increases, and for the rest of the community to bear?” We contacted Rabbi Benoliel on this issue, and are waiting for a response.

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In my opinion:

As I said at this public council meeting, this matter has nothing to do with religion or support for a synagogue. We are a city of many religions, languages and residents of all backgrounds, even if the majority are of the Jewish faith. Some are very religious, others somewhat and yet others traditional or secular. We all live in peace and harmony in respect of one another which makes Cote Saint-Luc an incredible place to live and to raise a family. Let’s be sure to keep it this way.

This issue is strictly about the zoning that would be appropriate in this location. The requester, Rabbi Benoliel and the Kollel Avrechim have purchased this property and they have the legal right to request rezoning.

At the same time the residents in the immediate and adjoining area have the legal right, and the final say, on whether or not to permit the rezoning.

The mayor and majority of councillors have agreed to follow provincial law which calls for a three step process whereby residents have their say. This is the only way of having an definitive, official and legal count of those residents who are in favour or against the proposed project. 

The first step is underway and those who live in the affected and adjoining zone who oppose have until May 25 at 4:30PM to advise the city. Details available in this week’s Suburban Newspaper or at www.cotesaintluc.org/publicnotices.

Griffith McConnell rezoning goes to a register, Mayor, Council ask residents to favour new development

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Free Press Aug. 27, 2013. Click to enlarge.

Free Press Aug. 27, 2013. Click to enlarge.

While a register will be open at City Hall on Aug. 29 for residents wishing to oppose a rezoning bylaw to turn the Griffith McConnell land on Parkhaven and Kildare into a residential area I strongly suggest that residents will be far better off with neighbours in townhouses and a condo rather than the current zoning.

In fact, I personally went door to door to speak with those residents facing and backing onto the site back in early July.  The vast majority agreed with the rezoning proposal. Most felt that their property values would increase with townhouses in the $500,000+ range.

I also arranged for a meeting of immediate neighbours and sent them a letter inviting them to city hall to meet with urban development staff as well as the developer. This was in addition to a second official information meeting on this subject at city hall and a public consultation on the matter.

The alternative to rezoning would be to leave the current institutional zoning and to allow the landowner to build an institution that would be far less desirable to the neighbours. With the current institutional zoning the law does not require any consultation with neighbours who would potentially have no say in the future use of the land. Also, the land and the dilapidated buildings could sit vacant for years to come.

The city insisted that the owner take into consideration the concerns of the neighbours with regard to the proposed townhouse/condo rezoning and we are pleased that the developer did indeed hear these concerns and make substantial modifications.