Fate of trees on Not­man House prop­erty up in the air

De­vel­oper ex­pressed in­ter­est in land, a pro­tected his­toric site since 1979

Montreal Gazette - - Montreal - RI­LEY SPARKS THE GAZETTE [email protected]­tre­al­gazette.com Twit­ter: spark­sri­ley

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.”

DARIO AYALA/ THE GAZETTE

Res­i­dent Tony An­takly is fight­ing to con­serve green space near Mil­ton St.

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