Outremont Council Discusses New Zoning Proposal

Restrictive Bylaws Spark Heated Debate at Outremont Community Centre

  • Photo Brandon Johnston

The only public discussion of new zoning bylaws that will restrict the building of places of worship, took place at the Centre Communautaire Intergénérationnel on Tuesday night.

With the speakers list capped at 60 people, it was a rowdy scene from the beginning, the large hall packed with concerned citizens from within and outside of the Outremont Hasidic community.

In attendance were the councillors of Outremont, including Marie Potvin, Celine Forget, Jacqueline Gremaud, and Mindy Pollack, and the meeting was led by Outremont Mayor Marie Cinq-Mars.

The Mayor repeatedly told the hall that the discussion was a place “for comments only,” and only answered “technical” questions about the bylaw change. The speakers almost all spoke against the new proposal, which will ban the opening of further synagogues on Bernard and Laurier Avenues, instead relocating them to a small corner of northern Van Horne street.

Many of those who spoke at the consultation, including Outremont residents Abraham Hecht, an Orthodox Jew, and Elizabeth Ball, a non-orthodox member of the Outremont community, asked the same questions: What was the problem that led to these proposed bylaw changes?

“I just don’t see the problem,” Ball said, addressing Cinq-Mars. “What problem do synagogues pose for the businesses of Outremont?”

“I think that’s a comment,” the Mayor responded, moving on to the next speaker.

For Hasidic community-member Meyer Feig, the problem is clear.

“They’re targeting our community,” he told The Link following his address. “They’re trying to push us into a corner, to ghettoize us.”

So far, the council has provided no studies on the impacts of synagogues on the economic well-being of Outremont or elsewhere, or any studies on the possible future impact of new zoning regulations. The council did not offer a reason for this lack of research.

“When you don’t have answers, you refuse to take questions,” Feig said. “They haven’t done their homework on this file, they’ve rushed it through in a special council.”

Though the topic was ignored at this session, at the initial emergency council when the bill was proposed on Nov. 16, Councillor Jacqueline Gremaud directly answered that, “No, there [was] no problem [with synagogues in Outremont].” At last night’s meeting, when Outremont resident Philip Tomlinson asked for her to clarify this, Gremaud gave no comment.

As of now, the only issue Meyer Feig can see, is one of fear.

“We’re being pushed by people with an agenda against our community. They don’t like us, they don’t want to see us. They want to make us as uncomfortable as possible. These are the same 10 people that show up at every council, and their only issue is our community.”

However, some Outremont residents see the new laws as simply a reaction to economics. Resident Daniel Major has begun a petition supporting the change, saying he believes that places of worship don’t belong on commercial streets.

The city council will vote on the issue next Monday. However, a referendum is possible in the event of enough residents signing an opposing registry.

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