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Montreal ‘shoebox’ homes highlight challenges of urban heritage preservation – Montreal

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A Montreal borough’s quest to preserve its humble “shoebox” homes is highlighting the challenges that come with trying to balance heritage preservation with homeowners’ rights in a growing city.

Officials in Rosemont have decided to temporarily push back the schedule for passing a bylaw designed to preserve its 561 single-storey, flat-roofed homes after homeowners raised concerns about the process.

The homes were mostly built early in the 20th century, as tens of thousands of workers were arriving from the countryside to work in quarries and factories.

Unable to afford large homes, they bought plots and built modest, flat-roofed cottages along the streetcar line, leaving enough room for a small vegetable garden.

Today, those neighbourhoods have been integrated into the larger city, where the remaining shoeboxes are often tucked in between larger homes, serving as a throwback to an earlier age.

“They tell the story of the arrival of tens of thousands of people from the countryside who wanted to be homeowners but didn’t have a great deal of money,” said city councillor Christine Gosselin.


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Concern over the fate of the quaint homes began rising in recent years when they became a target for developers who would knock them down to build bigger, more profitable housing, Gosselin said.

Before new rules were brought in five years ago, she said they weren’t even in the same category as other houses, which allowed owners to obtain demolition permits in a single day for a few hundred dollars.

The new proposed bylaw presented this fall would make demolitions nearly impossible in most cases.

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Renovations and enlargement projects would have to respect the look and materials of the original facade, including a rule that second storeys be set back at least a metre behind the original face.

Gosselin said the rules are designed to strike a balance between allowing necessary renovations and preserving a unique form of housing.

“What we wanted to do is to make sure that the current wave of development in Rosemont didn’t erase completely the memory of this first phase,” she said.

“With sensitive urban planning laws we can accommodate growth and development and preserve the heritage.”

The effort to protect shoeboxes is part of a recent focus on preserving the city’s modest residential history as well as its grand mansions and public buildings.

But that comes with its own set of challenges, and some of the shoebox homeowners have been expressing concern about the city’s plan.

“We’re talking about houses that are around 100 years old, built with modest materials and not within norms that would necessarily be acceptable today,” said Wilfried Cordeau, who founded a Facebook group to inform shoebox owners about the new rules.

Cordeau said most of the owners agree that the homes’ heritage needs to be protected from developers, but he takes issue with the borough’s list of shoebox homes and its claim that 88 per cent of them should have a protected status.


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Carlos Costa, who owns a shoebox he inherited from his mother, said his own home was designated “of historical interest” despite having mold and structural issues that make it borderline unsafe to live in.

He had hoped to leverage the equity in his property to demolish it and build a triplex to house his own family and two others.

Now, facing a lower property value and new regulations that will make renovations prohibitively expensive, he said he’ll have to sell for whatever he can get and leave the neighbourhood.

“In a way they’ll be contributing to gentrification, and I know that’s not what they want,” he said, referring to the process by which older residents are pushed out of developing neighbourhoods.

To prevent that process, both Costa and Cordeau said the administration should offer subsidies and technical support to help owners meet their new obligations, as well as refocus the rules to apply to a smaller number of homes with unique architectural features.

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Gosselin said the administration has gotten the message that it’s time to go back to the drawing board, and officials will take a couple of extra months to review its classification and take owners’ concerns into account rather than passing the bylaw in December.

She said a city-wide committee is also studying the prospect of financial incentives for owners who want to preserve their homes’ heritage, but it’s not likely to be in place by the time the bylaw is presented early next year.

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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