Over the last few weeks many people have asked me why I voted in favor of the first reading of the rezoning of land on Mackle Road to house a new synagogue and community centre under the auspices of the Fondation Sepharade Kollel Avrechim.
What the proposed building would look like.
First off, please pay attention to the words “first reading.” For many years the Fondation Sepharade Kollel Avrechim has been operating out of a duplex on Parkhaven Avenue. I equate their beginnings to Beth Chabad CSL, which operated from the old Eaton’s at the Cavendish Mall and in the CSL Shopping Centre until they constructed a beautiful facility on Kildare Road and Marc Chagall. The Fondation Sepharade Kollel Avrechim deserves something better than a duplex.
Initially they bought land on Mackle Road right next to the CLSC René Cassin for what was to be a very modest-sized building. Neighbours opposed the project, signed a register and council stopped any potential development. We did identify land across from Maimonides Hospital, which was not near any homes and honestly we expected them to come back to us with the same sized structure. Instead, what materialized was something more than triple the size.
When I spoke to their leaders just a few years ago I asked them if they would give up their Parkhaven duplex once the new building opened and the response was affirmative. Now we learn that they intend to keep it. Parkhaven is not my district so that really is for the local councillor to work on.
Why did I vote in favor of the first reading? I felt it was important for this project to go to public consultation and due to the pandemic and the coverage of this dossier in The Suburban I knew we would have a strong presence online. Some 200 people ended up tuning in and voicing their comments. The response continued on local Facebook pages.
Had we voted this project down, then there would have been no opportunity to hear what the public had to say. I truly hope that the commentary we heard at the public consultation resonated with the congregation. Please make note. I support them. They do excellent work in the community and we are lucky to have them in our midst. To their credit they have approached some local synagogues whom many believe have room in their buildings to cohabitate, but they had no luck. Can the city play a role in mediating? That would certainly be a lot simpler than constructing a building from scratch.
City Council will convene for our next vote on April 12. In my opinion the Fondation Sepharade Kollel Avrechim should adhere to many of the valid concerns raised at the consultation regarding parking and drop off. Their proposal needs to be revised to take these points into consideration.
I must add that I am troubled by the combative nature of some of our residents who have tried to make this an anti-synagogue issue. Côte Saint-Luc has one of the largest Jewish communities per capita in the world next to Israel and New York. We must all learn to live together as friends and partners.
I am glad we got such a strong response. The consultation, I believe, can create a “win win” situation for everyone involved. Indeed it is clear that the proposal presently before us by Fondation Sepharade Kollel Avrechim is not feasible nor safe. The ball is in their court to come back to us, either before April 12 or if the vote does not pass. But to all citizen of Côte Saint-Luc, if all of the factors due line up in a revised plan then we all need to keep an open mind.
On the eve of Passover, let us all be one strong community. Melodie Cohn, who was my opponent in the last election and has since become a friend and an important voice in District 2, has created a hashtag of #CSLStrong and she adds how we should all celebrate the fact we have so many rich cultures in our community,