Fate of trees on Notman House property up in the air
Developer expressed interest in land, a protected historic site since 1979
For the past century and a half at the corner of Sherbrooke and Clark Sts., as a busy city grew and packed dirt gave way to cobblestones and then cracked pavement, a stand of trees has slowly been stretching further and further upward.
Now neighbours say they’re worried that a possible condo development might threaten the huge trees, and they are circulating a petition to ask the borough to protect them.
“The danger is imminent,” said Tony Antakly, a Université de Montréal professor who lives across the street.
Work crews were on the property marking trees with red paint last Tuesday and Wednesday, he said, and he worries that the trees could be taken down soon.
But when asked if he had plans to cut down the trees, the property owner laughed.
“That’s my answer,” said Dario Pietrantonio, a lawyer who has owned the property for the past 10 years.
“I’m hoping that whoever was planning to cut down a tree on my property would tell me about it,” he added. “I haven’t heard anything of the sort.”
A developer did approach him recently with a proposal for a “small condo development,” he said, but those plans have since been put on hold.
He said he didn’t know why the developer had chosen to back off from the project, or whether it was permanent.
“Last I heard, which was maybe a week or so ago, I was told that there is no project in the works now,” Pietrantonio told The Gazette on Saturday. “They had looked into some different options but they’ve put everything on hold right now.”
Before the project was halted, he said, the potential developer had been on the property checking on the trees, which spread over most of the lot.
“I know the developer was looking at the state of the trees and the condition they were in … I think he was just taking an inventory. Nobody spoke to me about cutting down trees,” Pietrantonio said.
Pietrantonio noted that the original plan had called for the removal of some of those trees, but emphasized that those plans had been suspended.
“I would not even entertain a project where all the trees would come down, because I’m sure there’s going to be issues. One or two out of all of them may come down, it’s possible,” he said.
Antakly said he isn’t convinced, pointing to the recent unsanctioned demolition of 50 trees in a Rosemont lot by an overeager developer.
Without obtaining any permits from the Rosemont–LaPetite-Patrie borough, real estate company Olymbec completely deforested a property on Beaubien and St-Urbain Sts. in May.
In 1999, workers cut down over 20 trees on a property in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce to make way for condos — again without applying to the borough for the necessary permits.
The property owner, Gescor, was fined $1,800.
In response, city council significantly increased the fines: For a first offence, individuals could be charged up to $1,000, and corporations a maximum of $2,000, per tree removed.
But Antakly said he doesn’t believe the fines are enough of a deterrent.
“Let’s say the owner comes one night and decides to cut the trees, what are the consequences for him? $5,000?” he said. That’s a small fine on a potentially lucrative condo project, Antakly added.
A development company in Laval applied in April 2012 for a permit to demolish a twostorey coach house on the property, but that request has not yet been approved.
Because the trees are located on the same property as the Notman House, a Mont- real landmark built in 1845 and designated a protected historic site in 1979, any plans to tear them down must be reviewed by the provincial minister of culture.
The five largest trees — three silver maples and two Kentucky coffee-trees — were probably planted over 150 years ago, explained Martin Lechowicz, a professor of forest ecology at McGill.
“These are far and away the largest silver maple trees I’ve seen,” he said, adding that trees of that species can live for up to 300 years.
“The thing that’s curious about (the Kentucky coffeetrees) is that they’re very rare in our region,” he said.
“They’ve got a bit of a strange heritage twist,” he added.
The trees are not native to Quebec, but many were planted in the city throughout the old Golden Square Mile district that runs along the base of Mount Royal.
“They must have been in vogue during the early-20th century,” Lechowicz said.
The trees are in good shape, he said, and will likely outlast most living Montrealers.
“They’ll be fine. Those trees will be good for another 100 years.”
The trees’ grandeur and unusual placement, metres from the concrete and exhaust at Sherbrooke St. and St-Laurent Blvd., would make the lot an excellent urban green space, Antakly and Lechowicz agreed.
“To me it’s natural to keep it as a pocket park,” Lechowicz said.
“But, obviously, it’s in private hands and there are bigger issues,”
Antakly and other residents are petitioning the borough to pitch in to buy the property.
“If they want to make it a park, they should buy it,” Pietrantonio said.
“I’ve had propositions that we should turn it into a communal garden, and people can plant tomatoes and stuff. They’re all wonderful ideas but not particular lucrative for somebody who bought the land.”
Resident Tony Antakly is fighting to conserve green space near Milton St.