(Four Stories) Above the Law

Forthcoming Redpath Development Violates Montreal’s Zoning Bylaw

A plan to level Montreal’s historic Redpath Mansion and replace it with a seven-story condo project awaits final approval at the Ville Marie borough council next week.

Opponents of the luxury condo development are saying it violates Montreal’s zoning bylaw and are accusing Mayor Gerald Tremblay of waffling on an earlier campaign promise.

Because the mansion sits at the foot Mont Royal on du Musée Avenue, the city’s zoning bylaw limits any building replacing it to a three story maximum to preserve a view of the mountain. But when Ville Marie borough council voted in favour of the project in November, they gave its developers, Avi and Michael Sochaczevski, permission to soar over the city’s bylaw.

“After the Sochaczevskis bought the mansion, they signed an agreement to maintain it,” said Project Montreal city councilor Alex Norris. “And now they are essentially being rewarded for their neglect of the building.”

The mansion has a unique place in the city’s history, as it was built by one of the most influential families in Montreal history, the Redpaths.

John Redpath came to Montreal in the early 19th century as a penniless Scotsman but soon transformed the city’s landscape. His construction company helped build the Lachine canal in 1829, making Montreal a major shipping hub in North America and placing the city at the heart of Canada’s industrial revolution. Redpath also financed the construction of McGill University and founded Canada’s first sugar refinery, Redpath Sugar.

His family’s mansion, built in 1886, was frequently host to the country’s political and social elites. Today, its fading red brick and slate shingles are one of the few examples of Queen Anne architecture remaining in Montreal. The crumbling mansion’s houseguests now include stray cats, rodents and the occasional squatter.

The Sochaczevski brothers bought the decaying Redpath Mansion in 1986, when they began demolishing it for redevelopment. Later that year, an injunction obtained by Heritage Montreal prevented the Sochaczevskis from completely razing the house. The Sochaczevskis latest plan has also drawn the ire of citizens groups and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

In 2010, the MMFA built an observatory on du Musée Avenue with a view of Mount Royal. The seven-story condo tower would significantly hinder the view from the museum’s observatory.

“When we built the observatory, we respected Montreal’s zoning bylaw,” said MMFA spokesperson Danielle Champagne. “Why can’t [the Sochaczevskis]? It sends the wrong message to other developers.”

In 2001, when Tremblay first ran for mayor, one of his platform points was preserving the architectural heritage of Montreal.

“He specifically mentioned the importance of preserving the Redpath house,” said Norris. “Now I think it’s worth mentioning that the Sochaczevskis are the owners of The Suburban. Their newspaper strongly endorsed the mayor’s candidacy in 2009, telling their readers it was the most important municipal election of their lifetime and to get out and vote for Tremblay.

“Now, one year later, we’re seeing Tremblay grant the Sochaczevskis a derogation from which they stand to benefit.”

Dinu Bumbaru is the executive director of Heritage Montreal, a citizen group that works to preserve Montreal’s cultural and architectural heritage. Bumbaru fears the consequences the development might have for the neighbourhood and Montreal as a whole.

“It sets a dangerous precedent,” said Bumbaru of the mayor’s decision to support the seven-story project. “Montreal’s old architecture is part of what gives the city its unique character. The mayor is putting the burden of proof on citizens and unfairly siding with developers here. This could completely change the character of the neighbourhood.”

Bernard Larin, a spokesperson for the city of Montreal, said he could not comment on the situation, but that it would be addressed at the city’s next council meeting on Feb. 7.