Demers takes heat over delayed fallout from aborted ‘Commodore’ project

City agrees to $13.7 million settlement to resolve jilted developers’ lawsuit

“When the chickens come home to roost” is an old saying, meaning roughly that actions taken by someone in the past come back to haunt them and they have to deal with the consequences.

On the defensive

This might best describe the predicament Mayor Marc Demers faced during the May 5 meeting of city council. He saw himself forced to defend the city’s position on the losing side of a lawsuit that was launched by the developers of the aborted Le Commodore high-rise condo project on Lévesque Blvd. East near the junction of Autoroute 19.

The out-of-court settlement, reached between the City of Laval and Construction Lafleur and Construction Aldo, leaves the city $13,772, 257 poorer, but puts an end to legal proceedings by the two companies. The settlement takes into account the value of two municipal buildings – including the Intercultural Library on Chomedey Blvd. – that the City of Laval has agreed to cede to the claimants as part of the compensation.

Took sides in conflict

This brings to an end a saga that began just before the 2013 election – the one in which Demers first came into office. At that time, people living on streets near the site of the two developers’ proposed Commodore condo project had been actively protesting for years to the previous municipal administration, led by Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, that they were deadset against the project, essentially because the height of the twin towers would ruin their view of the riverfront.

Only Mayor Marc Demers, council president Christiane Yoakim and a few staffers were able to be at Laval city hall for the May 5 council meeting because of COVID-19.

While the Vaillancourt administration, in a typically arrogant stance, after decades in power, adamantly refused to budge and confidently insisted the project would proceed, Demers, facing his first election and perhaps not entirely aware of the potential consequences, took sides with the residents and altruistically pledged that once elected he would cancel Le Commodore.

Past decision brought lawsuit

As most people know, the disgraced former mayor’s Parti PRO des Lavallois was swept clean from office and Demers kept his promise. But this led, in turn, to the lawsuit which dragged on until last week’s announced settlement.

During the public question period at the May council meeting (which took place online because of the COVID-19 lockdown, with only the mayor and a few employees at city hall, with the councillors scattered all over Laval), the first person to broach the issue of the fallout from the settlement was a lady by the name of Mélanie Guimond.

Giving up library building

“How could you sacrifice our beloved multicultural library that we love so much to compensate for your serious error of judgement in the saga of Le Commodore,” she asked in an e-mailed question. Replying, Mayor Demers insisted, “It is absolutely false to say that we will be sacrificing the library as such. It is the building.

The settlement takes into account the value of two municipal buildings – including the Intercultural Library on Chomedey Blvd.

“The library will be changing address, but will be staying in the Chomedey sector,” he added. “And this eventuality was almost unavoidable because the building that houses the library required investments in the coming years of around $5 million to $7 million, or else they would move. And during the time that the work would have had to be done, it would have been necessary to close the library.”

‘A fiasco,’ opposition says

Demers suggested that any new building the new owners may now choose to erect on the site will be worth more than the current Intercultural Library building, and will thus bring in more property tax revenue. He said the city has four years to relocate the library to a setting that will be more modern and appropriate.

When the settlement came up on the council agenda and was opened for comment, official opposition leader Michel Trottier of the Parti Laval called it “a fiasco right along the line, it’s very bad news for the people of Laval.”

Justifying his actions seven years ago, Demers said there were other factors in the city’s decision to cancel the project, including what he claimed was inadequate planning by the builders, as well as the fact the mayor’s Mouvement lavallois party had already stated its intention to safeguard riverside properties for future public development.

Revelakis angered

Action Laval city councillor for Chomedey Aglaia Revelakis said she was disappointed and angered by the agreement. “It’s now the citizens who will have to pay a lot of money for this decision,” she said. “This library is the largest and the only library for the people of Chomedey.

“This is not only the largest library in Laval, but also the only one where anglophone and allophone citizens can find books in their native language,” she continued. “Lots of people from Chomedey go there regularly. Maybe the library is going to be moved, but once again it will be the citizens who will be paying.”

During the same meeting…

Perhaps anticipating that the matter would be raised during the public question period, Laval-Les Îles city councillor Nicholas Borne explained beforehand why a lengthy corridor of trees along the north side of Avenue des Bois in Fabreville recently had to be clearcut, obliterating a foot trail that was popular with many people from the area.

The cut started several months back in preparation for the creation of a prioritized public transit lane that is being created along the semi-rural stretch for buses that will be carrying passengers from the North Shore who normally use the Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line.

The line is closing for the next three years while the new REM line is being built. According to Borne, the mature clearcut trees are going to be replaced by more than 8,500 trees and saplings. Mayor Demers acknowledged that the city was a little guilty of being asleep at the switch, since it knew about the situation and the level of communication could have been better, he said.

Fiber optic network

During another portion of the meeting, there was debate over the administration’s plan to borrow more than $9.5 million for the cost of implementing a fiber optic network to improve communications between municipal employees and departments. Opposition councillors questioned the value of the system, saying fiber optic technology is continually changing and the costs are also in flux.

“I don’t see why this fiber optic project has to be declared a priority project,” said Action Laval councillor for Chomedey Aglaia Revelakis. “Why not wait a month or two, after the COVID-19 pandemic passes, to make a decision?” Revelakis suggested the project as presented “lacked transparency,” while adding that “I cannot in good faith ignore the fundamental rights of the citizens, which is the reason I am voting against.”