• Carmen Marie Fabio

Angell Woods’ conservation status questioned by private landowner

CARMEN MARIE FABIO

The designation of conservation status on Beaconsfield’s Angell Woods, used extensively by area dog-walkers, does not change the fact that the majority of the wooded area is still under private ownership and the owners say they’re not being offered fair market value for purchase.

News that Beaconsfield’s Angell Woods will likely be granted conservation status by the Montreal Agglomeration Committee may be good for local residents and dog-walkers but has been met with disdain by at least one of the private landowners whose company, SEDA Holdings, owns just under 2 million square-feet of the wooded lot.

“This evening, the Schéma d’aménagement land use and development plan will, I’m sure, be approved by the Montreal City Council,” said Beaconsfield Mayor Georges Bourelle at the January 26 council meeting, “and on Thursday, January 29, is expected to get approval from the Montreal Agglomeration. The provincial government is expected to approve the Schéma within 60 days which would make it a done deal.”

Bourelle reminded those in attendance at the January 26 council meeting that the conservation status of the 85-hectare lot does not end the ongoing disputes between the city and the private landowners, SEDA, and Yale Properties who collectively own the largest tracts of the wooded lot.

“It still retains private owners and they’re entitled to sell their land at a fair price. There will be negotiations.” Bourelle said the City of Montreal is a willing buyer provided they are quoted a fair price. “Hopefully the owners will be willing sellers.” In an email to Your Local Journal, SEDA Holdings’ President Diana Shahmoon alleges, “Beaconsfield and Montreal have consistently acted in bad faith towards the Angell Woods’ landowners. Everything they have done is an effort to massively slash its market value, and then “purchase” it.

That includes the interim control bylaw, the (failed) attempts to get Montreal to declare its ecological value, (and) the devious creation of a special law for “private forests” under the new ash tree by-law. The agglomeration will take its next step in seizing Angell Woods by political fiat, illegally claiming for conservation land they have been taxing as developable for over 50 years.”

Bourelle maintains the landowners have been contacted to initiate negotiations saying, “I have concrete evidence that the city of Montreal sent letters, and left messages. I’m not sure that she (Shahmoon) wants to negotiate but I know the city wants to do this as quickly as possible. “

Shahmoon describes Montreal’s October 2013 offer to purchase the lot as being so offensively low that she chose not even to participate in ‘such an effort of bad faith’, and asking rhetorically, “If I offered you $100 two years ago to buy your home, does that mean that we are seriously negotiating?” She said no serious offers have been made since. Further complicating the situation is the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) by-law requiring Beaconsfield property owners to inoculate all ash trees on their respective properties or face monetary fines starting at $750 per ash tree over a designated trunk diameter.

“The by-law will apply for Angell Woods,” said Bourelle, “so the property owners will have to abide by the section that is specifically for large wooded areas. They will have to take care of their property. Bourelle said he understands the lack of financial incentive to take care of property whose owners are prohibited from commercial development but reiterated the land remains under private ownership and it’s the owners’ duty to comply.

“My advice is to sell it (the land). Then they won’t have to worry about it.” Bourelle acknowledged the issue at hand is establishing what both parties feel is a fair price. Bourelle said once the issue of ownership is finalized, Beaconsfield will approach the next step of creating a ‘nature park’ while a small portion at the southern portion of the woods will be slated for low-density residential development, pending outstanding issues of infrastructure and access though the notoriously difficult Woodland intersection. “That will be certainly identified and zoned for residential development,” he said, “but the bulk of the woods will be conserved.”

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