Sunday, April 09, 2006

Outaouais Housing Plan in Quebec Raises Alarms

The Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources is investigating reports today that a developer has begun a 60-lot housing development near a wetland south of Lac St-Pierre in Val-des-Monts, without provincial approval.

Some Val-des-Monts residents say too much cottage country north of Ottawa is being cleared for permanent houses without municipal or provincial government permits and with no input from residents.

Ministry spokesman Michel Bergeron said officials from the Quebec government will examine the site within the next few days to determine how close the houses would be to fish habitat. He said the ministry became concerned about the housing development after it rejected an application from developers Bernard and Richard Marenger to blow up a beaver dam and drain the wetland.

The developers face a maximum possible $300,000 fine if they damage fish habitat, Mr. Bergeron said. He said they are clearing roads and lot sites, even though they have no municipal permits to develop the 28 hectares of mixed forest, south of Lac St-Pierre off Highway 307, north of Gatineau.

"We have been unable to contact municipal officials about this," Mr. Bergeron said. He said Mayor Marc Carriere, who also is warden of the MRC des Collines and a Quebec public servant, suddenly doesn't want to answer questions about how this could happen," Mr. Bergeron said. "He has simply disappeared."

Workers continued to clear the forest yesterday, even though Mr. Carriere told Chemin Marecage resident Tammy Hogan on Tuesday that he ordered the developer to stop work.

Ms. Hogan said Val-des-Monts did nothing to stop the work during the past month, even though municipal officials knew the property was zoned for housing, but lacked other permits.

Residents don't necessarily object to the development, but they are concerned that the municipality hasn't consulted them about how it will be done. Ms. Hogan said 300 more houses and a golf course are planned near Lac St-Pierre, and some residents are concerned the development will mean heavy traffic near an elementary school on Highway 307.

She said that project, and others near Lac Bonin and Lac McGregor, could go ahead without public input because the municipality is keen to fill the demand from city people for permanent lakeside homes and sees no need to consult residents.

The Citizen was unable to contact the mayor at his office in Val-des-Monts, at the MRC des Collines in Chelsea, or at his provincial government office in Gatineau.

"We have asked for months whether the developer had submitted a proposal and were told each time he had not," Ms. Hogan said.

"We were told they were good guys, but they were cutting trees without a permit," said Ms. Hogan.

"Municipal officials told me nobody in the community knows about the development because they eliminated public consultation seven years ago, when they found people in the municipality were stalling development."

She said municipal workers told her they can't talk to her about the project and all questions must go through the mayor.

"A few people in the Quebec government have explained to me this is the flavour of Val-des-Monts because the mayor roughshods his way through developments."

Ms. Hogan said the municipality's planning document, City Living, shows the municipality wants more housing in its undeveloped sections. The document is "temporarily unavailable" on the municipal website,

Pierre Ricard, director of Quebec's Ministry of Municipal Affairs in the Outaouais, said the province requires municipalities to consult the public when a developer applies for a zoning change, but no public consultation is required for planning details.


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