Six Chelsea developers are threatening to take the municipality to court for “illegal” and “restrictive” zoning rules akin to “disguised expropriation.”
Chelsea Creek developer Marc Shank and Jean-Pierre Poulin, who is responsible for building Wakefield’s Tim Hortons and Giant Tiger, are two players in the group who sent a letter to Chelsea, demanding a change to the PAE zoning rules that they say encroach on a landowner’s rights.
“It’s an expropriation of the lands by the municipality by not allowing it to be developed,” said Pierre McMartin, who is a lawyer representing the group as well as a landowner near the Larrimac Golf Club.
PAE (its English equivalent means “comprehensive development program”) is akin to no man’s land in zoning terms. Its basic zonage allows for agricultural crops, but does not allow selling the produce.
If property owners want to build anything on that land, they must go through a lengthy municipal process to have it rezoned. It’s a process that requires a stamp of approval from neighbours in contiguous zones.
For example, Poulin, who is planning a 70-plus housing development in Hollow Glen, needs approval from people in adjacent zones. Following public opposition from Hollow Glen residents, the registry has since been delayed until further notice.
While wading through the bureaucracy and dealing with potentially anti-development neighbours,
McMartin said the landowners are still taxed for the PAE land “as if it’s developed land.”
He said the developers want the municipality to drop the PAE zones and allow for residential development on those lands. If the municipality does not make moves to change the rules by Jan. 30, the developers could take Chelsea to the Quebec Superior Court.
Chelsea Mayor Caryl Green said she could not comment on the legality of PAE zones until conferring with the municipal lawyer. She said the municipality can’t simply eliminate the PAE designation within 30 days (they received the developers’ letter Dec. 19), but it would re-evaluate the “blank slate” zones under the new master plan, which is due for review this year.
“The PAE was a tool for zoning when there wasn’t a particular zone for agricultural (use),” she said.
The legal threat is the latest countermove by developers frustrated by anti-development neighbours.
Last year, McMartin installed a fence blocking a popular trail from the Larrimac Golf Club underneath the Hwy 5 culvert. It ran through the 88 acres on which he’s hoping to build a house.
Shank, who’s planning a vineyard and residential housing development bordering Hwy 105 at Farm Point, recently said he would impose 34 homes on the land – which does not need approval – if neighbours didn’t approve his plan.
McMartin said there’s a minority group who are influential enough to oppose any kind of development in Chelsea. That makes it especially difficult for PAE landowners to build.
Sometimes those neighbours are concerned about the impact of development on the environment, like Poulin’s Hollow Glen plan, which would encroach on an ecological corridor linking to Gatineau Park.
“People want to have corridors. Good. But who pays for that?” McMartin said. “These people should take their own money and make us offers.”
But it might not be that easy.
In an unrelated case, the Larrimac Golf Club tried to have 90 acres of its land rezoned from recreo-touristic to residential (it’s not zoned PAE; that’s the difference here). It lost in a referendum vote last year.
Its critics said the project encroached on an ecological corridor in the area and they pushed for a conservation fund to protect the area.
But the Larrimac board members said the costs to conserve the land would not help keep the club financially afloat. Land conservation just won’t bring in the cash like a housing development can.
McMartin said he hopes to avoid suing the municipality over the PAE zones.