Martin C. Barry
Contemplating the advances and changes made by his administration in the past two years to encourage real estate development in Laval, Mayor Marc Demers compares the city to an ice-clogged river in the springtime.
“Ice jams accumulate,” he said in an address at the Château Royal on Nov. 24 for the opening of a day-long real estate forum at which hundreds of developers and consultants were the guests. “In the case of the city, instead of ice let’s just say it was problems,” he added.
In Demers’ opinion, the biggest problem contributing to the jam was that “Laval lacked political leadership for many years.” While former mayor Gilles Vaillancourt and a host of accomplices now face long, drawn-out criminal trials on charges of corruption, the new mayor’s task is to rebuild a bond of confidence between the city and property developers.
“We need your help,” he told the developers. “The City of Laval will be built collectively by the people who are present in this room. Your success is our success. We are absolutely certain of this.”
The city is obviously aware of some of the key issues that developers are complaining about regarding their interaction with the municipality. The forum’s organizers placed cards on each of the tables where the developers were seated, calling to their attention such problems as “long delays in construction permits being issued.”
Streamling the system
That alone is one of the most frequently-heard complaints in almost any municipality – not just Laval. But it could easily be worse now in Laval, given various precautions and safeguards municipal administrators have had to put into place in the wake of the corruption scandal.
In his speech, Demers said the forum was being held largely to unveil to the developers the end result of a year of work and consultation by a city council committee mandated to find solutions to problems like the one just mentioned. “But this is just a first step,” he added.
“It’s not the end, not the conclusion, and we have to be in continuous movement to improve ourselves, to remain adept and to be a municipality that works with people who are building the city … Our goal, as I said, is that everyone in the room here can say at some point or another that things have become faster and more efficient to do business with the City of Laval. Because in business time is money.”
New procedures coming
In an interview with the Laval News, Demers said: “We’re going to have new procedures, new rules for the issuing of different permits, and this should allow us to react faster. When people want to have a permit to build something, we should be able to deliver that permit in a much faster time – in half the time it used to take.”
Demers said the city is also working to make the rules simpler than they were before. “Before when you wanted to build something, you had to get one permit at engineering, another permit at environment, another at urban planning.
“But now we will gather all of them in one permit,” he continued. “And if you have a big project, there will be somebody at the city who will take your case in charge and help you with all the procedures. Our main goal is to make it much easier and much faster to deal with the City of Laval than it was before.”
According to Laval executive-committee vice-president David De Cotis, the City of Laval now feels confident enough to offer developers a pledge that on average within 30 days of applying for a permit “there will be an official answer from the city,” he said. The policy came into effect on Dec. 1.
At the same time, though, De Cotis acknowledged that the city has a backlog of permit applications which in some cases stretch back as long as five years. “We’re promising that within the next six months the backlog will be reduced to 50 per cent and we’re hired additional employees for this purpose,” he said. “This is very promising and part of Mayor Demers’ vision for Laval to grow into one of the most prominent cities within Quebec.”
Perhaps because it’s still too early to see much improvement, one Montreal area real estate development consultant who attended the forum was sceptical of the city’s efforts. “It’s painful and tortuous, or at least it has been for the past few years,” said Robert Libman who has witnessed the issue from two angles. A former mayor of the City of Côte St. Luc, Libman also sat on the City of Montreal’s executive-committee with responsibility for urban planning, before Côte St. Luc demerged from Montreal a decade ago.
Former mayor now consultant
Libman, who now works in Montreal as an architectural and real estate development consultant, said he was “very hopeful and optimistic that this new process will start to streamline and improve the efficiency of project approval” in Laval.
All the same, according to Libman, his client is still waiting for approval for a 500-unit condo project on Souvenir Blvd. at the corner of Ampère in Pont-Viau after four years, as the city tries to decide whether to extend Souvenir Blvd.
During the forum, an example of the sort of development the city hopes will become more commonplace in Laval was unveiled. The project is the result of a partnership of financiers and developers that includes Claridge Investments, Montoni Development and the Quebec Federation of Labour’s Solidarity Fund.
‘Espace Montmorency’ project
Set to rise next to the 10,000-seat Place Bell in Laval des Rapides, Espace Montmorency, costing an estimated $420 million, will have 10 buildings as high as 20 storeys, with shops, offices, a hotel and entertainment facilities. It will be constructed on a 277,000-square-foot property near the Montmorency Métro to which it will also be connected.
“Espace Montmorency fits right in with our vision of a modern project that creates a genuine living environment and that has the potential for tremendous spinoffs,” said Pierre Boivin, president and CEO of Claridge. On the Montoni web site, the company says Espace Montmorency will be 20 minutes from downtown Montreal and “will help create a new downtown in Laval.”