Chelsea, Quebec presents visioning report

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by Mark Burgess on May 27, 2010

After more than a year of consultations – both grand and intimate – Chelsea, Quebec has a vision. About 50 residents as well as several council members were in attendance May 18 as Vision Centre-village committee leaders George Claydon and Manuela Teixeira presented a 50-page report.

The document, which “presents the common themes where a broad consensus was reached and identifies areas that require further study,” maps out seven zones in the centre village area and comments on the character, use, transport and environment of each.

The report calls for maintaining a small, walkable, rural village character for both Old Chelsea and Chelsea villages, which are to be public spaces defined by their rural heritage and natural beauty.

“Chelsea residents are not looking for radical changes to this small, rural village character,” the report states.

Old Chelsea is recognized as the gateway to the Gatineau Park and a tourism hub, whereas “the primary focus of commercial development would be on meeting the needs of residents” in Chelsea village.

Both tracts should have “an identifiable centre and outer boundaries” in order to encourage walking and discourage sprawl, with “medium level commercial density.” Residential and commercial development would be dense enough to permit walking, ruling out large estate lots and big box stores.

Mixed-use development, with apartments not exceeding three storeys above shops or restaurants, was encouraged for both villages. The villages were also recognized as sites for lower-income housing for singles, young families and seniors, including rental units and smaller homes.

The most contentious area was the corridor along Old Chelsea Road, across from the municipal offices, the future site of the Chelsea Creek development.

“This was a complicated zone,” Claydon said. “At the charrette (the design exercise where the vision was mapped out), there wasn’t clear consensus on the commercial development in that area.”

While “many” saw an opportunity for a third village centre and “some” thought commercial development would make the strip more walkable, the report states, “a majority view” was to avoid the commercialization of the entire strip between highways.

Concerning traffic, the report discusses the overuse of certain routes by commuters and calls for traffic circles or traffic lights at key intersections. There was a broad consensus for better cycling, skiing and pedestrian access throughout the centre village area, including sidewalks in both villages and the length of Old Chelsea Road. A tree-lined boulevard was proposed for the latter, with cycling paths separated from vehicle lanes.

Crowd reaction warm (text break)

The response to the presentation was mostly warm, with many residents thanking the committee for their year of volunteer commitment. Old Chelsea resident Robert Chaffers applauded the committee’s transparency as “an achievement in democracy” and commended them for using local talent.

“This community is full of exceptional people and (the committee) drew on it as much as they possibly could,” he said.

Former council candidate Doug Griffin said the report represented the first “thorough, serious understanding of what people want.” He went on to quote a passage about preserving the villages’ rural character and asked Mayor Caryl Green, who sat quietly during the presentation, to endorse it.

Teixeira said the report had just been presented to council and wasn’t ready for endorsement, which Green later reiterated for the Low Lown.

“If we haven’t studied it, it wouldn’t be right to answer the question,” Green said. “I feel you can’t isolate one sentence out of a 50-page report. We’d like to take the whole report, reflect on it and respond to it in its entirety.”

Resident Kurt Burgstaller likened the visioning process to “children visiting a Toys ‘R’ Us store with the mandate to buy whatever they want” only to be told it’s not affordable. Claydon acknowledged that some of the recommendations carry “serious cost implications,” but that it wasn’t a mandate to “spend our brains out.”