The green expanse behind Concordia University’s Loyola Campus may look like just a field of grass— but it’s a space that’s become the center of a hot debate between residents and city officials in Notre-Dame-de-Grace.

To Irwin Rapoport, who lives nearby, the field represents more than what immediately meets the eye.

“It’s more than just a field, it’s a green space. It’s an ecosystem,” Rapoport explained.

And plans are in motion to transform the field into the site of a new building for Concordia’s science faculty— part of a multimillion dollar investment for science research at the university.

However, the borough of NDG has only granted Concordia permission to build on the field, and not on the parking lot that is adjacent to it.

The parking lot had been spotlighted by Rapoport as an alternate location to build on once residents caught wind of the plans to extend onto the field.

Rapoport and other residents tried to force the borough to hold a referendum and overturn the development plans.

“We are very pro-science and research, and we are pro having a campus in the neighbourhood that benefits all—we just want it to be green,” he said.

In a statement, Concordia spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr said the project, which has received government funding, is "an extension of the existing Richard J. Renaud science building. It must be built in close proximity to the science building."

Barr said the proximity is necessary, as it allows researchers from a wide array of disciplines such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry, engineering, and others, to work together on projects and to share equipment. 

"Concordia needs state-of-the-art research spaces and specialized equipment for its growing number of graduate students since Concordia has significantly expanded its research work in recent years."   

A new law, adopted in June, was meant to give more power to cities in Quebec. However, Bill 122 also stipulates that projects in the education sector cannot be subject to a referendum.

CDN-NDG mayor Russell Copeman said that this point was clarified at the last borough council meeting, and that opponents of the development project may not have all the facts at hand.

“The City of Montreal is not above the law [and] neither is this borough,” Copeman said. “The footprint of the building will take up 15 per cent of the greenspace that’s represented by the field.”

Copeman also explained that no trees will be cut down at any time during the construction process.

In her statement, Barr said that while 15 per cent of the green space currently on the site will be lost, "the grass field has little significant ecological value at the moment."

She added that plans are in place to add more trees and plants, such that the future amount of greenery will exceed the borough's recommendations within four years. 

This isn’t the first time that NDG residents have reached out to their local representatives over a controversial development project.

Back in February, residents were pushing for another referendum over a proposed 10-story commercial and residential development—and the proposal was eventually withdrawn.

But this doesn’t quell the mounting concerns about what Bill 122 will mean for local democracy.

“We need to have the right of referendum because citizens, in the end, are right about their neighbourhood,” Rapoport explained.

Barr said the school had invited neighbours in the area surrounding the field were to attend public information sessions in the summer, and “continue to work closely with them by answering questions and explaining the project.”

Construction on the extension is scheduled to begin in 2018.