The Hampstead Council is still planning to destroy the look of Old Hampstead

Back in April, the council passed the first draft of a by-law to increase the FSI from .52 to .80 for Old Hampstead. I read about the proposal in the Suburban and sent an e-mail to hundreds of you urging you to attend the May 2 consultation meeting. I explained that contrary to Mayor Levi’s assertion that the change would have no effect on the outside of homes, it would, in fact, lead to much larger homes. You listened and attended the May 2 meeting which lasted 3.5 hours. Mayor Levi promised to hire a consultant to make recommendations and he promised to be very transparent going forward.

Well, he did hire a consulting firm, spending who knows how much of your tax dollars, rather than just asking Hampstead’s Planning and Architectural Committee (PAC) for guidance. As for transparency, the council waited till this past Friday to put a note on the Hampstead web site about the consultation meeting on By-law 1001-10. The meeting will be at 7 pm on Monday Dec. 5 in the Community Centre. If you care about our town, please attend. The consultants’ will be there and so will I. Your presence will send a message to council that you care about this issue. The council waited until many snowbirds had left, provided barely a week’s notice, and did not explain what was going to be discussed nor did they publicize the consultants’ report.

Well, I am sharing the report here

It was only released Friday and I bet none of you reading this knew. So much for transparency.

What the report says

The consultants looked at 6 representative locations in Old Hampstead and, in every case, found that the new .80 FSI would lead to much larger homes due to a large addition or a demolition and a totally new home. No longer can Mayor Levi or anyone on council claim differently. The consultants say the look from the street will not change much due to the front and side setback restrictions. They say the additions will be in the rear. That is true of some additions but not ones where a second floor is added or the façade is modernized. In many cases, with the possibility of a much larger house (thanks to the dramatically increased FSI) demolitions, which the consultants admit are possible, would be very likely and result in houses that look very different from what is there today.

Further, the consultants chose to ignore the older homes from 1940 and earlier. They said that Quebec is expected to protect those homes from demolitions. Maybe, or maybe not, and certainly not in the next few years. Meantime, the new higher FSI, will encourage buyers to buy up these charming homes to replace them with much larger new ones. They will want to do it before any become protected by Quebec’s possible new laws.

This is why the look of Old Hampstead will change dramatically. We will lose the cache that makes us a Garden City.

Further, the consultants admit that additions or new homes will have a major impact on the views and sunlight of side and rear neighbors. I know personally how that affected me when both side neighbors build rear extensions and the neighbor in the rear did so as well. However, they were all limited in the size of the extensions by the .52 FSI. With the new FSI of .80 the effect would have been much, much worse. In addition, the extensions or demolitions will lead to the destruction of numerous mature trees. This will further destroy the look of our town

The consultants acknowledge the problems but offer suggestions for mitigating the damage such as not allowing any derogations from the setbacks and other restrictions. As Mayor for the past 16 years, I know that will not happen!

Why do something that requires mitigation measures which will only slightly reduce but not eliminate the problem? The solution is simple. Don’t increase the FSI!

In fact, I wonder why the council wants a larger FSI. They claimed originally that it was to allow a greater use of space inside the building’s envelope such as by permitting an extra bedroom and/or bathroom in the attic. But that was when the council was saying that the larger FSI would not affect the outside of a house at all. Since the council did not want to listen to the PAC members nor to me but only to the outside consultants, they must now finally listen and accept that all of us are saying the same thing. A larger FSI will lead to larger homes and a dramatically larger FSI of .80 will lead to dramatically larger monster houses.

It should also be noted that the council quietly passed a different by-law 1004-3 Appendix A Section 1, point 9 (with no consultation or publicity) in April. This amendment allows residents to build whatever they wish in their attics without affecting the calculation of the FSI. In other words, the council’s reason for a larger FSI was false and a red herring. What their real reason was is known only to the members of council.

As I have said previously, if we lose the charm of Old Hampstead, all our property values will decrease. A higher FSI for Old Hampstead guarantees the destruction of our charming garden city. Please call or e-mail your councillors. If you can, attend the meeting Monday night at 7 pm.

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Dr. Bill Steinberg

Dr. Steinberg has a BSc from McGill University, a PhD in Psychology from Northwestern University, and was a professor at Concordia University. He was Mayor of the Town of Hampstead for 16 years and led the demerger battle. He was was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal and is currently President of the Cochlear Implant Recipients Association.

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