Opposition pushes Montreal to include more Technoparc lands in nature park

The city stalled on its promise to acquire all sensitive Technoparc land for a new nature park and let land prices rise, the opposition charges.

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The mayor of the St-Laurent borough is pushing Montreal’s administration to expand the boundaries of its planned nature park north of Trudeau airport to include two key privately owned tracts of land.

Alan DeSousa is a member of the official opposition Ensemble Montréal party and a longtime promoter of the Montreal Technoparc as an economic motor for his borough. The Technoparc, which includes undeveloped land owned by the city of Montreal and private land developers, is at the heart of a battle to conserve a 215-hectare wetland ecosystem.

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DeSousa accuses the Projet Montréal administration of stalling on a plan to acquire privately owned lands in a part of the Technoparc called the Eco-campus Hubert Reeves. The Montreal-based tech company Hypertec owns about 11 hectares of land in the Eco-campus, while another company called FPInnovations owns another 3.3 hectares.

At Monday’s city council meeting, DeSousa introduced two amendments to the administration’s motion broadening the boundaries of the planned Des Sources Nature Park. One amendment would have seen the city give itself first right of refusal on any sale of the FPInnovations land. The other would have seen the park boundaries take in both the FPInnovations land and the Hypertec land. Both amendments were defeated, with all Projet Montréal councillors voting against.

Map showing the location of a planned development by Hypertec in an unprotected space at the eastern end of the St-Laurent Technoparc

Hypertec purchased its land in April for just over $27 million. After a public outcry over the company’s plan to build its headquarters in the heart of a sensitive ecosystem, Hypertec said it is willing to build elsewhere if the city of Montreal will purchase the land for “about $30 million.” A company spokesperson told the Montreal Gazette last week Hypertec would not be making a profit on the sale.

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DeSousa blames Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante’s administration for stalling on its promise to acquire as much of the privately owned undeveloped land in the Technoparc as possible. That inaction, he says, may result in the city either paying more than it otherwise would have for the Eco-campus lands, or seeing them developed.

“The city did not execute their plan and that’s why, in the absence of the city giving a clear indication publicly of what it wanted, Hypertec went and secured the lands. We are in the circumstances we are in currently because of that.”

DeSousa said he flagged Hypertec’s intention to make an offer on the land in March to executive committee members Caroline Bourgeois (responsible for large parks) and Luc Rabouin (economic development). The company purchased the land in question from another developer in April.

During the October 2021 election campaign, Plante said her party, if re-elected, would do “everything we can to save every single piece of land that is important” in the Technoparc area.

In January 2022, Montreal director general Serge Lamontagne issued a mandate to city services to begin to make the Plante administration’s promise a reality.

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That mandate, a copy of which was obtained by the Montreal Gazette, informs city bureaucrats that the administration “wants to take steps to protect the natural spaces in (the Technoparc) sector by increasing the area of the Des Sources Nature Park.” Lamontagne notes that the sector is “composed of a rich biodiversity. Wetlands, bird species and the monarch (butterfly) fields make it a unique natural space.”

The steps Lamontagne outlined included “developing a strategy for acquiring the private lands situated in and near the Eco-campus Hubert Reeves.” The mandate outlines specific steps that were to be taken, including changing the boundary of the nature park to include the Eco-campus lands and making land swaps with the private owners to protect the area from development. Those steps were to be taken on a tight timeline, in the first four months of 2022.

In a written response to a request from the Montreal Gazette, Bourgeois said: “Our promise is clear: Protect the biodiversity at the south (part) of the Technoparc by expanding the Des Sources Nature Park. We are taking an important step during this municipal council meeting with the adoption of a completely new boundary protecting the nature park, which multiplies its area by five.”

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In response to the Gazette’s question about why the new boundaries do not include the land owned by Hypertec, Bourgeois said the land “was duly purchased in April of 2023. We are in active discussions with them. Note that the mandate of the director general is still in place; the work is continuing to ensure the protection of the natural areas in the sector.”

Katherine Collin, a member of TechnoparcOiseaux, a conservation group supporting the protection of the Technoparc lands and adjacent federally owned areas, said she welcomes DeSousa’s efforts to push for lands in the Eco-campus to be protected.

“It’s very encouraging to see unanimous support for the protection of the Technoparc wetlands and adjacent federal lands. What borough mayor DeSousa’s proposed resolutions confirm is that the desire to protect the Technoparc really seems to transcend politics and is in the collective interest of everyone. We know that preserving our natural green spaces, particularly in our urban environments, is something that benefits everybody.”

Collin said that desire has been echoed in the fact that 25 municipalities in the Greater Montreal region have passed resolutions unanimously calling for the protection of the Technoparc wetlands and adjacent lands so far this year.

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