Photo credits: Jay Turnbull
Finally, after months of delays, the citizens of Vaudreuil-sur-le-Lac will have their chance to elect a new mayor on Oct. 4 and all three candidates are stumping on the promise to preserve a popular green space on the edge of town.
But how they would do that is still up for debate, as part of the property, worth millions of dollars, is owned by a developer who wants to turn it into a neighbourhood.
The village has been without an elected mayor since January, when Claude Pilon stepped down, citing personal reasons.
The byelection was originally set for March, but COVID-19 put that on hold. The election has been delayed four times.
Now, one of the big points of debate in the campaign is the du Boisé sector.
The 20-hectare forest, with towering trees, plenty of wildlife and two wetlands, sits at the edge of the village of roughly 1,300 people west of the island of Montreal. With prices rising on the island, the communities west of it are increasingly a popular spot for young families to buy a home.
like Laurel Picard and her sons Chapman, left, and Parker, right, the forest offers escape and learning opportunities. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)
“We are in this exceptional milieu where we have the lake on one side, the forest on the other and yet we’re really close to both Montreal and Vaudreuil-Dorion,” said Laurel Picard, who has joined a citizens’ group to protect the forest.
She homeschools her two boys and says “it is so special that we are able to escape from that dense development through this forest.”
A forest full of life
Marie-Agnès Huberlant lives near the woods and says people in the village are very attached to it.
“It’s not just a few trees. It’s a mature forest,” said Huberlant, who has lived in the area since 1998.
Huberlant said environmental assessments found the area has high ecological value and should be preserved. The studies found 58 species of birds and 140 species in all.
Huberlant is part of a citizens’ group trying to ensure the land remains a refuge for nature lovers, because there are concerns it could drastically change.
But Vaudreuil-sur-le-Lac doesn’t own the land. More than half of du Boisé belongs to Groupe Farand, a development firm which aims to build homes on the property.
Making sure the area remains a pristine nature park is mayoral candidate Philip Lapalme’s main election plank.
“My goal is to preserve it in its entirety because there was a lot of development in the last few years and we want to keep it its current state and maybe develop some trails in the forests in the next few years,” he said.
“Maybe make it more accessible to citizens.”
Michel Boisvert, a former banker, is also running for mayor. He says there aren’t many in town who want to see du Boisé’s trees chopped down and animals disturbed to make way for new houses.
“That’s our screen against the noise from the [Highway] 40 and it’s our lung. I want to keep it because that’s the only place that is green.”
Mario Tremblay, another candidate, says getting information on the du Boisé file hasn’t been easy, but he said protecting it is also a priority for him and he’ll be able to know more once he has access to the files if elected.
Developer open to selling parts
While the candidates agree it must be protected, how to preserve the land has been the subject of debate.
When Pilon was still in office, he put a moratorium on development so they could study the environmental importance of du Boisé, but it’s not clear how long that pause will last.
Lapalme would like Vaudreuil-sur-le-Lac to buy the property, but there are grumblings from at least some of the village’s residents about how that would affect their taxes.
He admits buying it back would take some outside help, and there have been discussions with the Nature Conservancy of Canada about pitching in.
Boisvert says one of the first things he’ll do if he becomes mayor is to figure out how to protect the area for good, but he needs to study how much money the village would have to fork over to save it.
The du Boisé sector is a forest in Vaudreuil-sur-le-Lac, just west of Montreal, that is owned by developer. Citizens wants it preserved, the developer wants to build homes. (Karl Boulanger/CBC)
No one knows how much it would cost to buy the land, not even the developer. Groupe Farand has owned its part of the woods, about 11 hectares, for years.
“We want to put houses up. We want to develop,” said Janick Moïse, in charge of communications for Groupe Farand. Still, she stressed that owner Sylvain Farand understands residents’ concerns.
“It’s really important for us to be able to discuss with the town to see what they want to do, to see what are the options. And then we — if we have to develop — will develop respectfully and with what the town agreed to do.”
Moïse said the company is open to selling its part of du Boisé to Vaudreuil-sur-le-Lac and said the price would definitely be in the millions.
Moïse said Groupe Farand is eager to meet with the new mayor soon after next month’s election.
“The objective is to work with the new people that will be elected and put different options on the table and see what is the most tasteful,” Moïse said.