Official CWG submission for the OCPM Chinatown Consultation

RESPONSE TO THE PROPOSED MODIFICATION OF THE PLAN D’URBANISME

CWG supports the proposed changes to the Plan d’urbanisme by the City of Montréal. We hope that it will be part of the steps taken to implement the Chinatown Plan d’action and support Chinatown as a heritage area with planning regulations that facilitate a human-scale urban environment centred around its living communities and urban cultural landscapes. 

We support the heritage designation by the City of Montréal of Chinatown as a historic site with its new boundary from Blvd René-Levesque to the north, Ave. Viger to the south, de Bleury to the west and Saint-Elizabeth to the east.

We support the identification of Chinatown as un secteur de valeur exceptionnelle and adding Chinatown as one of the “territories of archaeological interest” in Plan d’urbanisme. 

We also support the proposal to reduce allowable height and density in Chinatown as an essential step needed to reinforce Chinatown’s heritage status, deter further land speculation, and start setting up a basic framework that can guide development in the area in ways that respect both Chinatown’s tangible and intangible heritage.  

We agree with the approach to have a core area of Chinatown with lower height and density, and the edges with higher limits, as a transition space to its downtown surrounding areas.  However, we do find the core of Chinatown with a height limit of 25-35 metres (around 8-10 stories) and density of 4, too high in terms of scale, in comparison to the existing buildings, especially along rue de la Gauchetière.  

In addition, there are lots of critical unknown factors at play that are not addressed in the proposal and might counter the desired result of Chinatown being a human-scale environment centering around its existing community.  We hope with the adoption of the proposed changes to the Plan d’Urbanisme et de Mobilité, the City of Montréal and the Borough of Ville-Marie will further consider the following issues related to the design and development of Chinatown: 

1. Chinatown Heritage, Characters and Scales 

  • Family associations are an important part of Chinatown social-economic infrastructure because of their history, the community roles they play and the cultural traditions their members continue to practice. The buildings they own also hold important heritage significance because of their shophouse architectural typology and various historic objects inside the buildings that are part of the buildings’ interior heritage. This aspect of Chinatown heritage needs to be better understood and supported as they are not included in the Study by Luce Lafontaine Architects (December 2021).
  • We need to better define Chinatown’s unique architecture style and have tools to ensure architectural integration for new projects proposed. In addition, there are several projects recently built that didn’t respect Chinatown’s heritage and character, and they should not be considered as the “existing context” reference for future projects. 
  • Chinatown’s existing scales are built on smaller lots that tend to have smaller storefronts, resulting in a more human-scale urban environment.   Such scale is an integral part of the Chinatown character. We need to ensure new developments respect and respond to such scale, especially when there is a tendency toward land assembly for bigger projects. 
  • Incremental development with courtyard and alleyways as secondary public spaces is another Chinatown character. We need to ensure retention and improvement of the existing courtyards and alleyways, and to encourage new developments to include such types of elements.

2. A Development and Urban Design Vision Needed 

  • It is encouraging to see the new 2021-2026 Plan d’action with its four themes: (1) quality of life, housing and public spaces; (2) commercial vitality (3) identity, outreach and heritage (4) neighbourhood consultation.   However, it is still not clear who is the team with relevant expertise that is overseeing and accountable for the Plan implementation.  
  • Furthermore, the Plan does not yet have a holistic development or urban design vision for Chinatown that could illustrate how different aspirations for housing, economic, social, cultural and public space development in Chinatown can come together coherently.  
  • A study of existing vacant lots and under-utilized properties is needed as part of the preparation work for a development plan so existing density and development potential can be optimized.  There is also a need to carry out a study of “at-risk buildings” that are deteriorating and facing pressure of demolition, acquisition or consolidation.  Such study is critical in order to better assess gentrification pressure faced by individual buildings and the area as a whole. 
  • There is a need for development economic analysis to better understand how the proposed new zoning can facilitate the form of development desired and whether specific incentive programs will be required to assist renovation of old historic buildings. After all, we are not anti-development; we are advocating for conservation-focused development. 
  • Better modelling and visualization of possible achievable projects under the new zoning will also be helpful for the community to understand the impact of such regulation changes. 

3. Development Projects Review Criteria and Process 

  • Determining whether a proposed development project will contribute to Chinatown’s social, cultural and economic life requires a more holistic set of criteria that is more than height and density. Design and uses are also very important. It is unclear with the current proposal how the community will be informed about the future development projects and which set of the criteria will be used to consider these projects. 
  • The tripartite heritage working group with representatives from the municipal and provincial governments, and community representatives should continue to keep watch of the progress.
  • A subcommittee with Chinatown planning and heritage expertise should join the Comité consultative d’urbanisme de Ville-Marie (CCU) to play an advisory role in project review. Other than the criteria set by the current revised Plan d’implantation et d’intégration architecturale (PIIA), additional Chinatown specific design criteria should also be developed and applied. 
  • City staff needs to inform the community when major development permits are requested so that the community can have an opportunity to respond.  In situations where there are adverse impacts to the neighbouring residents due to a development project, concrete mitigation measures and/or compensation should be facilitated as conditions of the issuance of the permit.   

CONCLUSION 

Chinatown Working Group supports the proposal by the City of Montréal to modify the Plan d’urbanisme and reduce allowable height and density in Chinatown as part of the steps taken to implement the Plan d’action pour le quartier chinois. However, we find the proposed height limit of 25-35 meters (about 8-10 stories) too high in terms of scale for the core of Chinatown, in comparison to the existing buildings, and encourage the City of Montréal and the Borough of Ville-Marie to further consider the three issues outlined above on: 1) Chinatown’s heritage, character and scale; 2) Chinatown’s development and urban design vision; and 3) Development project review criteria and process.  Conservation of the urban and built environment of Chinatown is essential in order to preserve its historical, social and architectural values, and most importantly, it makes it possible for the way of life and the cultural practices to not only survive, but to thrive. 

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