Chelsea, Quebec council adopts draft bylaw that changes terms of infrastructure construction

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by Mark Burgess on September 30, 2010

Only two words were added to Draft Bylaw No. 770-10 from its predecessor, but the implications of the amended infrastructure legislation could have broad implications for Chelsea, Quebec.

Council has quietly adopted a draft bylaw that changes the terms of municipal infrastructure construction for developers and the municipality – a broadening that could put taxpayers on the hook for sewer and water systems without their consent.

The “Bylaw concerning agreements relative to municipal work” – whose first draft was adopted with very little discussion, and immediately following the notice of motion at the Sept. 15 council meeting – expands on the previous law that made beneficiaries of new roads built by developers contribute to their construction and maintenance costs.

The new version applies the same principle to public utilities such as sewer and water systems.

Council proposed a $14-million sewer and water plan for Chelsea’s Centre Village sector that met with more than mild disapproval during public meetings in April.

The new bylaw would allow the municipality and developers to sign an agreement for water and sewer development that would determine its beneficiaries and force them to contribute to the costs.

If the works are considered to be beneficial to those outside the development, “the agreement shall contain a schedule identifying the properties of the beneficiaries, which properties make the beneficiaries subject to the payment of a quota share of the cost of the works, and shall identify the criteria whereby they are to be identified” the bylaw reads.

Also, “benefit is received not only when the person actually uses the asset or service, but also when the asset or service benefits them or is likely to benefit the property of which they are the owner.”

Chelsea Director-general Paul St. Louis said those deemed beneficiaries would pay their share when they hook up, but that there is a 20-year limit. If no payment has been made within 20 years, the municipality pays the share to the developer and then collects from the outstanding beneficiaries.

St. Louis said those considered beneficiaries would be consulted beforehand.

“We wouldn’t want to shove it down their throat,” he said. “We would sit everybody around the table and say, ‘Do you want to come in or not, but you have to make that decision now,’” since the infrastructure would be built based on estimated use.

Still, those not wanting to participate could be forced to pay their share.

“We would prefer that they agree to it, but we are empowered in order to do so,” St. Louis said of naming beneficiaries without their consent.

The beneficiaries’ share is calculated “on the basis of the number of square metres of their property as a proportion of the total number of square metres of all properties benefiting from the works,” including the developer’s property, the bylaw reads.

St. Louis said technical data on consumption would also be used to calculate the share. For undeveloped land, he said the agreement would look at the number of units the developer intends to build. The municipality would take over the infrastructure after it’s built.

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Developer reacts

The bylaw, which is helpful to developers as it allows them to share the cost of expensive infrastructure with those who aren’t part of their own developments, is even raising eyebrows among some within the trade.

“As a developer, I understand the demand for shared cost and shared infrastructure,” said Sean McAdam, who plans to build the Common Ground development at Old Chelsea Road and Hwy A5. “But there’s a very big distinction to be made between road infrastructure, which has very localized cost implications, and the creation of infrastructure where the developer can deem anyone in the municipality as a beneficiary.”

His Common Ground partner, Carrie Wallace, agrees the bylaw could have serious implications for Chelsea.

“In theory, it could allow water to come to Chelsea without any public debate,” she said.

For example, if McAdam and Wallace developed a water and sewer system for Common Ground that drew water from the Gatineau River and emptied its effluent in the same place, it could claim all the properties east of the A5 as beneficiaries since the pipes would extend the length of Old Chelsea Road. As beneficiaries, those property owners could be forced to pay their quota.

Chelsea Creek Estates developer Marc Shank said he had not examined the bylaw thoroughly enough to comment.

Because agreements with developers only have to be signed by the mayor and Director-general, the bylaw could be applied without municipal council’s involvement.

The bylaw must go through a public consultation before being adopted. St. Louis said no date for the consultation has been fixed but that he hoped to have one to announce at the Oct. 4 council meeting.