Citizens have been crowding recent Dorval City Hall meetings to voice concerns over the rapid loss of green spaces, and it has come to a head with the McConnell Woods. On July 17, residents filled the small Council chamber to capacity, and though previous meetings have been civil to this point, there was an undercurrent of urgency, worry and frustration.
As soon as the question period was opened, Mayor Edgar Rouleau received the “Save Dorval’s Woods and Shore” petition with over 700 signatures gathered under 2 weeks. Having been the driving force behind the petition, resident Chantal Ducharme read it and then took the council to task over the growing trend of urban sprawl and the potential sale of the McConnell Woods land to developers.
The property lies along Lakeshore Drive and is almost 50,000 square metres. One after the other, citizens voiced support for a project to preserve the natural habitat.
The applause was often loud as they spoke about creating a legacy for future generations and how a local park could attract families, host events along the waterfront and become a hub for recreational activities.
The discussion delved deeper into ecological reasons to keep the woods. “Dorval is becoming an ‘Urban Heat Island’ due to the airport`s increasing activity,” resident Paul Wilkinson stated, referring to the phenomena where an urban area is significantly warmer than its surrounding areas due to human activities. “Dorval suffers even more because only 2.5% of the area is green space!”
Another resident spoke at length about the dangers of riverfront construction, citing the floods earlier this year and how the McConnell property is not immune to an overflowing river.
The woods are a natural defense against floods and erosion, as well as being able to reduce ambient heat.
Decisions need to be made quickly as developers are ready to buy this land for sale. Valued at approximately 11 M$, citizens believe there are ways for the city to save the area.
Public-private partnerships, a deal with the McConnell family, adding it to the 2015 Dorval master urban plan or calling upon the municipal, provincial and federal governments for assistance were all mentioned.
A few nagging questions remain on the minds of some Councillors. The McConnell property is not in a high density residential zone, is quite far from businesses, is rather secluded, and the woods would need to be developed as a public space regardless of residential lots.
That said, the Council do support the idea of preserving the green space in some capacity.
Mayor Rouleau assured the public that answers will be forthcoming and that the sellers would be contacted shortly to see where they stand. He also congratulated the organizer of the petition and expressed admiration for the public interest.
The pressure on the Council continues to grow. Developers are on the doorstep and want to start building on the residentially-zoned area. The balance between common good and growth is a delicate one.