By Geoff Agombar
Local Journalism Initiative
A recent press release from the city of Sherbrooke announced another surprising turn in the complicated zoning history of the Carré Belvédère development near the 410 at the southern edge of the Ascot district.
As announced yesterday, an administrative error has been detected, so the Jan. 16 referendum has been retracted and the process will restart from square one.
This comes just one week after the city contacted the Municipal Affairs Ministry (Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l’Habitation-MAMH) seeking to delay the referendum until after an auditor general investigation. And, this follows a rare veto a few months ago by former Mayor Steve Lussier blocking a council vote that would have reversed a mysterious zoning change contrary to prior council votes dating back to 2016.
This week’s twist relates to a number of invalidated referendum applications. Basically, in two of the four zones eligible to vote in the January referendum, closer scrutiny of the compiled referendum lists have revealed that a number of included residents have not lived in the zone long enough to qualify to vote.
Legal analysis and discussions with the MAMH have concluded that the only option that preserves the interests of all interested parties is to retract and cancel the current process and start over.
“This is an honest mistake that is totally independent of the letter sent to Minister Laforest last week,” according to city clerk Line Chabot. “We have done everything possible to ensure that the process resumed tomorrow (Tuesday) so as not to hinder the evolution of the project in progress.”
Current mayor Évelyne Beaudin says, “It is unfortunate, but the will of the council remains the same in this file: that the land in question be zoned C1 commercial.”
This has been a complex story spanning multiple years and adminstrations, and the contrasting interests of a large, new development near a highway against the wishes of a dense, underserved community.
The Carré Belvédère development is near the highway 410 exit onto Rue Belvedere South. Reports going back years attest to the frequently contentious relationship between the existing neighbourhoods and the developers. For example, one 2018 article quotes developer Luc Élias saying he is “tired of rogue neighbours who want to make trouble for troubles sake.” The 15-year development was estimated to eventually be worth $300 million and include 1,700 residences. At the time, Élias was frustrated with “fifteen rounds” of zoning discussions with the city to address questions of roads or park placements or yard dimensions or tree buffers on his lots. He felt he was accepting considerable costs and concessions to advance the file, including setting aside 1.8 million square feet to protect a hemlock grove, the equivalent of an additional 300 single-family homes. His lawyers had sent letters to residents forbidding citizens to come on his grounds to take videos, photos or tap maple trees.