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Saint-Laurent passes new bylaws, toughens sustainability standards

Montreal's largest borough amends laws for greener spaces and buildings

De l'Église Street in Saint-Laurent. (Courtesy Arrondissement de Saint-Laurent)

A series of bylaw revisions covering buildings, transportation and urban agriculture in the Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent are aimed at building a sustainable municipality and honing a competitive advantage for its businesses.

Saint-Laurent is the largest of Montreal’s 19 boroughs with over 100,000 residents. It has become a champion of sustainability under mayor Alan DeSousa, who has held office for 22 years and is the chair of the Green Municipal Fund (GMF), a Federation of Canadian Municipalities fund that supports municipalities with the low-carbon transition.

He is also the 2022 recipient of the Canada Green Building Council’s Green Building Champion Award.

Over the past 20 years, the borough has been taking action in environmental and sustainable development, covering climate action, climate resilience and adaptation, and biodiversity that draws in even the private sector.

“The companies that are in our community also make sure they are part of the solution and can get competitive edges. The requirements are changing and companies also have to be competitive and (they) don’t want to wait for regulations to come down the pipeline – we want to start doing things now.”

The new bylaws, approved in June, are in accordance with Saint-Laurent's sustainable development plans. The borough has set out to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 and foster biodiversity.

Parking laws and transportation

The new laws build on the “successes of our past to be able to make sure that the measures contained in the bills will contribute to the objectives we’ve set out in our climate change plan and biodiversity plan,” DeSousa said.

Transportation accounts for approximately 40 per cent of Saint-Laurent’s emissions, DeSousa said. Its parking bylaw was updated for the first time since 2015, with amendments requiring:

  • covering parking lots with 15-or-more spaces rather than 20-or-more slots;
  • the amount of shade required increased from 40 per cent to 50 per cent; and
  • businesses and services will be able to choose to green parking lots, rather than setting up parking facilities with the minimum number of spaces required.

Companies with 50-or-more parking spaces must submit a commuting management plan – the previous standard was 100 spaces. The intent is to encourage businesses to look to public transit rather than encouraging driving.

A minimum percentage of charging stations in all new projects and parking lot redevelopments has been established to support electric or hybrid vehicles.

To reduce dependency on cars (and their emissions), DeSousa said a new electric light rail transit system will be “the biggest gamechanger for us.”

Housing and green space laws

An amendment covering buildings and green spaces adds a new framework so major new building and expansion projects (multifamily, commercial, service and industrial buildings) meet the standards for environmental development standards. Smaller-scale developments (single-family, duplexes, triplexes) also must meet stiffer environmental regulations.

“We want to use materials that would favour the reuse of materials,” Sousa said, noting the laws that are designed to reduce the carbon impact of buildings. “We want to make sure demolition materials are repurposed. We would like to make sure that the buildings are harmonized with our transportation policies.”

Saint-Laurent aims to encourage biodiversity with adjustments to the framework and an updated list of invasive species, on top of discouraging exclusive use of turf on landscaping. More tree cover is also supported with new standards for cutting down, planting and protecting trees.

DeSousa said he believes Saint-Laurent has the largest community of LEED-certified industrial, residential, commercial and institutional buildings in Quebec. One notable building is the Bibliothèque du Boisé, the only library in Canada to be certified LEED Platinum.

Urban agriculture

“We had pioneered two different types of urban agriculture in our non-residential sectors,” DeSousa said.

Saint-Laurent hosts the largest greenhouse in Canada, owned by Lufa Farms. It transformed a former Sears warehouse into an indoor and outdoor farming space totalling 323,000 square feet.

On a smaller scale, a local IGA grocery sells fresh produce right from a 25,000-square-foot roof garden. “The greenhouse gas emissions for walking down the stairs is zero,” he said about its low environmental impact.

The bylaw for urban agriculture offers the possibility for businesses to open farms inside hundreds of industrial and commercial buildings to grow edible mushrooms, insects and fish.

The amended laws allow for greenhouses in the backyards of residential properties and vegetable gardens in all yards.

DeSousa said with concerns about food costs due to inflation, urban agriculture is a chance to not only reduce emissions, but for residents to grow their own healthy produce to lower food bills and eat healthier.

Supporting businesses and setting and example for other cities

Saint-Laurent hosts the offices of companies like L’Oréal, Haleon and IKEA. DeSousa said they are some of its best partners in sustainability, and often pitch ideas to the borough.

The companies share values with Saint-Laurent, and some are already working to reduce their energy and climate footprints. L’Oréal has a carbon neutrality goal while CAE has an employee bike club to encourage cycling to work. One company installed solar panels on its roof, which was approved by Saint-Laurent’s council.

These developments reflect Saint-Laurent’s recognition of the renewables transition, DeSousa said, which builds its brand as a green community. This attracts business and investment from companies that share those values.

Though DeSousa says Saint-Laurent has achieved much, he is hoping to do more.

“We try to always set the bar high, build a community consensus and move forward and every time we move forward, we raise the bar higher and higher. My objective is to effectuate change whether it’s change that’s supported by the community, and set an example for others.”

He acknowledges every city has its own challenges, which is why he encourages other cities to learn from the borough, emulate its policies and contact Saint-Laurent to share ideas.

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