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City to Expropriate to Save Notman Garden

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--February 5, 2018.

The city of Montreal is preparing to expropriate the Notman Garden, one of the last remaining gardens of the historic mansions that once lined Sherbrooke St., and preserve it as a park.

Plateau Mont-Royal borough council is expected to pass a resolution at its monthly meeting on Monday to decree the acquisition through expropriation or negotiation of the 10,800 square-foot lot at Clark and Milton Sts. from its owner and thereby end a long-standing battle between the property’s successive owners and local residents over the future of the green space.

larger_not_0.png“It’s absolutely wonderful news and a big relief,” said Tony Antakly, who spent 15 years attending council meetings, writing letters and protesting with neighbours and members of his family to get municipal or provincial authorities to preserve the garden with its canopy of centennial silver maple trees and unusual Kentucky coffeetrees.

Successive owners have had projects to develop the garden lot, which has residential zoning.

Antakly, who has spearheaded the Citizens’ Movement for the Preservation of the Notman Garden, said the city’s move to expropriate comes after much effort to convince the authorities of the site’s historic and ecological value.

The garden is attached to the former mansion of renowned 19th-century photographer William Notman, who in 1876 purchased the house that was built in the 1840s. It was Notman who created the garden. In 1893, his estate sold the entire property to George Drummond, who the following year established the St. Margaret’s Hospice in an addition to the house that was built to overlook the garden.

The site counts 47 species of trees and vegetation.

“In the election campaign (last fall), we promised that we would save the garden,” Plateau Mont-Royal city councillor Alexander Norris, a member of Mayor Valérie Plante’s Projet Montréal party, said. “I’m very happy that we’re able to move so swiftly to keep that promise.”

The property is in Norris’s electoral district.

“It’s a magnificent green space with some of the oldest and rarest trees in the entire Montreal region,” he said.

“And it has great historical value because of its location and because it’s the last remnant of the ornamental gardens that used to grace those old greystone buildings that lined Sherbrooke St. and what would become the Square Mile.”

The Quebec government classified the house, which fronts on Sherbrooke, just west of St-Laurent Blvd., as a heritage building more than 30 years ago.

In 2000, a new owner planned to transform the house into a hotel and remove the added wing and the garden. The project was blocked by the Quebec culture minister at the time, Diane Lemieux. The garden itself isn’t classified as heritage, but its location inside a zone of protection that surrounds the classified Notman house gives the authorities a say over its use.

The current owner of the garden, Vittorio Tiramani, said he only learned of the city and borough’s plans to expropriate his land in the news on Saturday.

“After spending six years of trying to develop the site with proper zoning and $500,00o spent on making plans, it’s — for lack of a better word — disgusting,” he said.

Tiramani owns the garden, and not the Notman house or its addition. A small, disused garage with an apartment above sits on his land. Tiramani’s project calls for a five-storey condo building with 35 to 36 units.

Tiramani said the city has never told him directly it wants his land and has allowed him to continue working on getting the proper authorizations for his condo project. The permit process included discussions on which trees he had to save and what standards he had to meet for the building he planned, he said.

“The whole thing is very underhanded, I find,” Tiramani said, adding he now has to wait for the expropriation order. “They should have said five years ago, ‘Mr. Tiramani, we want a park.’ … They let us spend money for five years.”

The city’s real-estate division estimates the cost of expropriation at $3.3 million, plus taxes. The borough would contribute $500,000 from its surplus toward the acquisition and the city would cover the rest.

The current municipal assessment for calculating property tax is $1.86 million.

A civil service report accompanying the resolution to be passed by the borough on Monday says the site has “exceptional value” in terms of history, landscape and from an environmental and social perspective. Residential construction on the site would destroy most of its heritage elements, it says. Those factors, plus the strong movement of citizens fighting to preserve the garden, justify its preservation, it adds.

The report says the city can’t preserve the land since it’s private property, so it has to acquire it so it can rezone it as a park or nature space. The neighbourhood has little green space, it adds. Quebec municipalities can expropriate all or part of a privately owned property for a public use, such as a park.