Group wants to buy Sandy Beach
By Nick Zacharias
PHOTO COURTESY MARK GRAY
Concerned about the impact of a 214-unit housing development in the forest surrounding Hudson’s Sandy Beach, area residents have formed the Sandy Beach Wetland Protection Group with the goal of obtaining funds to purchase the land and stop the development. This image obtained by the group shows where planned townhouses and multi-storey buildings would be built.
A group of concerned citizens from Hudson and the surrounding area have come together to form the Sandy Beach Wetland Protection Group with the goal of finding government and private financing to purchase the forested wetlands currently controlled by Nicanco Holdings, and protect the area from development once and for all. Under current plans, 214 housing units are to be built on the land in a combination of townhouses and multi-storeyed buildings – permanently changing the natural landscape and drawing new tax revenue, but also drawing a spike in population and an estimated 300 new vehicles that will have to navigate the intersection of Beach Road and Main Road across from Saint Thomas elementary school.
Narrative that it can’t be stopped
Said Mark Gray, one of the leaders of the group, “I felt like a lot of people were listening to this narrative that it’s a fait accompli, that there’s no stopping this train. But I said to myself, ‘That’s nonsense.’” Since the Hudson town council has repeatedly said they cannot simply pass by-laws that would interfere with construction and risk lawsuits, this group has decided to try to find a way to purchase the land in order to protect it. The group has a core of about 10 members who have been meeting weekly, is supported by MARE (Mouvement d’Action Régional en Environnement), and has launched a Facebook group that is currently at over 300 members and growing.
Said Gray, “Councillor Jim Duff once said, ‘Show me the money,’ so we said, ‘Okay, let’s try.’”
Town doesn’t want to apply
“That land has been identified as a Tier 1 Sensitive Ecological Area in the town’s own Eco2Urb report,” says Gray, “so there’s good reason to protect it.” He notes that while the development was granted a certificate of authorization many years ago, things have evolved since then and new studies have emerged showing the ecological importance of the area.
“There is a $150,000,000 budget in the CMM (Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal) under the Blue-Green Corridor program for protecting sensitive lands. This is clearly sensitive land.” Gray says the funding can only be applied for by the town, and if a successful case is made, two thirds of the cost of acquiring the land could be shared equally between the CMM and the Province of Quebec. The remaining third falls to the town, but can be supplemented or replaced with funding from private environmental conservation groups (like Ducks Unlimited and Nature Conservancy of Canada) as well as fundraising and private donations.
Applying for funding will help them see how much money is actually available to make an offer on the land, but the application has to come from the municipality, and not private citizens, in order for the CMM to begin the process of land valuation. “It isn’t a commitment to spend any money, we just need the town to file the application,” said Gray, “but so far they don’t want to. We say, ‘What’s the harm in trying?’”
In response to a citizen request that the town make an application for funding, District 4 Councillor Barbara Robinson sent an email saying, “Council has stated that we are not opposed to a private negotiation between a citizens’ group and Nicanco holdings. At present, a purchase is not the orientation of council and therefore we will not (be) adopting resolutions that would give the impression that our intent is to purchase the land. It is not. ... Should you still be interested in purchasing Sandy beach, we send your group well wishes in its negotiations with Nicanco Holdings.”
Much of the land protected as a flood zone
The letter from council says that it has negotiated and the town will own or control 72 per cent of the land at Sandy Beach. It estimates a cost of $10,000,000 to Hudson taxpayers for acquiring the remaining area, and underscores the difficulty of getting the share from the CMM when the fund for Blue-Green Corridors is shared between 82 municipalities.
Says Gray, “A lot of the land was protected when the province re-drew the ZIS (Special Intervention Zone) line following the two recent floods. But we’re talking about protecting the entire area.” He said the group’s focus is on purchasing the land to prevent a major influx of new housing and new traffic from disrupting the sensitive ecosystem. “The $10 million is a worst-case scenario; there are many, many options out there for finding the money. There are tax breaks, there’s a ton of funding from private conservation groups, there are private donations, there’s the option of the town generating revenue by renting kayaks or charging for parking. You just have to be willing to try to find a way.”
Willing to try
“This mayor and council were widely perceived as running pro-environment at the last election, but now the Sandy Beach development is still a go. All we’re asking them to do is make the application so we can see what our options are,” says Gray. The group has met with the mayor and with two council members, and their feeling is that if enough citizens make it clear that protecting Sandy Beach is worth the effort, they may be able to convince council to make the application and see what funding can be had. “We’re not looking for a fight. We’re a positive group and we’re just looking for a solution. We’ll have a table set up next week at the Que de Bonnes Choses/IGA plaza to help people see exactly what’s at stake, and how we can help.”
This is an election year, and the group wants as many people as possible to send messages to their local councillor (or to the mayor for District 3 which is currently vacant) asking that Hudson apply for the CMM funding. Says Gray, “We want to send a clear message that it’s worth the effort to save Sandy Beach before it’s changed forever.”