#14: Véronique Alepin talks about urban planning and commercial and industrial real estate development



What is the role of a professional in urban planning? Urban planning, landscape architecture, biology, surveying, geomatics... What academic choices and professional paths can we take to evolve and flourish in this field? From strategic planning to the development of real estate development projects, whether residential, commercial or industrial, through market and feasibility studies... Véronique Alepin, Associate Vice President of the firm BC2 comes to share her passion and her knowledge with the Chia's audience.

This episode aired July 13, 2022 and is rebroadcasting on YouTube, here is its transcript:

-Hello to all. I'm Chia, happy broker and your host of “Franc-parler avec Chia”, a program on real estate investment and commercial real estate. Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Véronique Alepin, partner and urban planner of BC2.

Thank you Veronique for being with us.

-Thanks for the invitation.

-Yes. So, do you enjoy sharing your personal and professional background with us?

-Absolutely. I'm happy to share my journey, if it can inspire others.

-Yes.

-I would be very happy to communicate with them afterwards.

-OK perfect. So in fact, what brought you to urban planning?

-In fact, what led me to urban planning was that I had no idea where to go to university, and then I enrolled in environmental geography, and following these three years of baccalaureate, several of my university friends enrolled in the master's degree in urban planning, because it was a course that was related, and then I said “why not? I'm going to go try that”. So, I made the leap to urban planning, at the master's degree and then it allowed me to learn a little more about this area.

-OK.

-And the other opportunity that I had in the case of my background is that my father had a friend who owned or was the owner of the largest urban planning consulting firm in Quebec, it was Daniel Harbor and associates.

-OK.

-Then he told me “go meet him, he will give you a job” so I went to meet him, he gave me a job.

-(laughs) Fantastic!

-And quickly, I fell into it. Probably the best team in that office, which was an urban planning regulatory team, and that allowed me to learn the ropes of the trade. And from the first moments, with people who really already had a job, who supervised me, who also allowed me to learn quickly and make my place.

-Yes.

- So, it was the lucky star that I had as soon as I entered the labor market in the background.

-OK, agreed. But in fact, precisely, before entering the job market, in fact, in the academic path, what are the options for someone who wants to become an urban planner one day, and what studies are available?

-Given that I am not an urban planner by training.

-There are different options.

- So basically, there is the possibility of doing the baccalaureate in urban planning. And after that, people can decide to go to a master's degree or to work in municipalities, or to go and work in private practice.

-OK.

- Me, I have a slightly different background because I did a baccalaureate in geography, there are several notions that touch on or overlap in the fields. Naturally, the difference is that urban planning is rather everything that confers on the law on development and urban planning, on the regulations that result from it. But of course, I think that regardless of the career or employment choices, the trade is really learned on the job.

-Yes.

-Even though I didn't have the basic training, I still had the chance to acquire this training in the workplace.

-Yes.

-And I think that's perhaps where people who go into these fields should be aware that it's really the labor market that will allow you to better understand and see what you want. do later. Do you work within a municipality?

-Yes.

-In town planning, planning departments? Or do you want to work a bit like me today, in a field that is more private, in consultation, with the possibility of touching on a lot of projects, because people come to us with real estate projects or projects, even regulation at times.

-Oh yes okay. That's why I invited you, because it's really an area that I know very little about, although I work with urban planners for development and redevelopment projects to support my developer clients. But that's it, I didn't know that there is also this range of studies that can all lead to this profession. And then after that, there is the public, there is the private, or can we choose to acquire their skills and knowledge.

- Absolutely, absolutely. It's not fair to say “we can just go and work in the municipalities”. I think there are plenty of other organizations, there are community organizations, NPOs.

-OK.

- There are also private companies, in consultation, there are architects' offices which also need town planners at times. There are engineering offices that have urban planners. So the doors are still open at different levels, at different scales. It depends on what you are looking for in terms of expertise, experience in the field, but I think that all the doors can lead us to do urban planning in some way.

-OK.

-I think that…

-It's interesting.

-It is not closed as a domain.

-OK it's cool. And so it's… because I'm really very happy because I feel like I have the best person in front of me to really demystify the industry and this very, very specific sector. And also, I would like us to be able to talk about the next generation, because when we talk about regulations, when we talk about urban planning and all that, of course, the rules and laws are constantly changing. And you, in my daily life, you have to cooperate with urban planners, also municipalities. So there's so much constant change, there's a lot of evolution because the needs of real estate developers, as well as their consumers, are also changing. How, today, in your role as partner and vice-president of a great urban planning company, how do you shape the next generation? How do you ensure good continuity in training, in recruiting talent?

- We must keep abreast of what is happening in the environment. I think you have to be aware of new trends, aware of what municipalities are doing. I think it's to have an eye on this watch, which we can call a regulatory watch, and therefore to be aware of what's coming, what's going on, and therefore to participate as actively in groups that have a common interest. I'm thinking of the IDU. I think of other groups in which people will have the same interests. We have a lot of urban planners working around us, who are members of the order of urban planners, for example. And the order obliges by the rules to carry out continuing education, therefore to encourage young people, the generation that is growing up with us, to participate in training, to be informed, to also keep themselves informed of what is being done elsewhere, and I am speaking elsewhere than in Quebec, because I think that we also have to learn from what is happening elsewhere.

-Absolutely.

- Good practices, regardless of the areas, must be looked at to try to see how we can bring them here or integrate them into our projects.

-Perfect.

- The trends of the hour, it is necessary to follow them. And then yes, it's a constant challenge to stay connected with what's to come, then the changes that are made, because these changes have direct effects, whether positive or negative, on the projects of real estate development.

-OK. So, among all these challenges, can you tell us what a typical day is, even if sometimes atypical activities can happen?

-A typical day, it can be a few clients who call to say “it is absolutely necessary that you can check this land for me because I want to acquire it, I have 24 hours to decide, what I can do it, get me out of the zoning, the urban plan, could I make a ten-storey building with a commercial ground floor?” So naturally, it's already one of the challenges we like in our daily lives.

-Yes, I feel a little guilty because I'm calling you for that too, sorry!

- But it's part of our daily lives. People come to us to have this expertise, to be guided, and until very recently, this morning, I did the same thing with someone who told me "I'm looking at this terrain, it's possible to acquire it?”. So I say “I watched it be careful, it can take a long time to get the permits, and make sure you put a zoning condition in your offer to purchase.” So, we gravitate in that world.

-Yes.

-It's a world that is still going extremely fast, because land is becoming scarce, business opportunities too. But everyone, the players are going to be looking at the same lands, the same properties. So it's the race of “who will get it, who will put the fewest conditions”. But of course, it's a world that also needs to be reassured, but also there are strategies to put in place quickly. It's not fair to say "I buy the land, then I start tomorrow morning." there is a strategy to achieve our ends. Then, in the end, to receive what is called our building permit.

-Exactly.

-Ok, the construction site leaves.

-Okay, exactly. Exactly, speaking of this famous building permit, trying to get it, where is the line that basically separates the specific role held by an urban planner, and the specific role of an architect?

-We work together.

-OK.

-And then I think that's how projects should work. The architect will design the building.

-Yes.

- But the building in its environment, of course, is very important. You have to look at the potential, show it, of all the sites that are worked on in architecture. But naturally, our own contribution is to guide the architect really well on regulatory interpretation.

-OK

-How can we transpose the regulations into a project, so that it is a winning project: a win for the client, but also a win for the city. We are asked to make the best projects for the environments in which we are going to fit. So I think it's teamwork. But the architect will really have a role more of design and realization, by the fact that he will develop the programming of the building. He will develop the plans, the meticulous details to precisely be able to say to the customers “your project is feasible, we are starting work.”

-Yes.

-I think it's a team effort. For us, that's how we work on our projects with architects who precisely help us to think differently.

- I love that. You answered very clearly. So we see that it's really two jointly important roles.

- Yes, yes, absolutely.

-I also really like the team spirit in the success of a development project. Then in fact, there, at the moment, are you working on several… I imagine that you are working on several redevelopment projects, because land acquisition, sometimes, there are already existing buildings. So you really have a daily chore to check…

-Yes.

-What is the permitted height and permitted zoning. Most of the projects that we see are requalification projects that have the qualification.

-There is probably one or more buildings that need to be demolished to make way for a project that is perhaps better thought out and up to date, and probably also with an assignment that is different from what we currently have on field. It is not uncommon to see purely commercial projects, with old malls or old commercial streets that are requalified or redeveloped to add a commercial, residential, office, at the limit, or institutional mix component. We are still blessed to say that now the projects are multifunctional, so we will look for this mix there, create living environments that are really different from the existing one. So, vacant lots, there are still some. We will still have people who will bring us land where no development has taken place. Naturally, often land is going to come with challenges: environmental challenges, wetlands, technical constraints, Hydro-Quebec easements, pipeline services. So that's challenges to see what the potentials, the constraints of the sites are, precisely to make the best projects and that the customers can carry them out. The goal is for people to be able to really see their project come out of the ground as soon as possible. It's always that.

-Yes, with both hands in it. I think it allows us to learn quite quickly.

- I will apply for my candidacy.

-With pleasure !

-Thank you very much Veronique for today.

-Thanks.

- So I invite you to contact Madame Alepin for your urban planning needs. Thanks a lot. See you next time.

-I see you as a girl of challenges and projects. So, in what kind of project, which excites you the most?

-I worked for a long time, at the beginning of my career and still today in everything related to business. It's something I find easy. It's in there that I started, so it remains impregnated in what I like to do the most. Business has changed a lot in the past few years. We have projects that are much more complex and where the commercial must be integrated into the mixed projects that we were talking about a few seconds ago. So, I would say that I also had to adapt at a certain point, given the change in the market, we think more about projects, even commercial ones, in the same way. Projects are a bit more complex in terms of development and approvals. Rare are the projects that are done very quickly, because there is planning to be done. There are often negotiations to be made and authorizations from other authorities to be obtained. So all of that means you have to be patient. But to come back to your initial question, because my specialty is basically commercial, and I do everything now, because we do a lot of industrial projects, do institutional projects as well, it's very varied. I think we go where the customers take us, where the needs are.

-Its good. You also have many, many internal resources.

-Absolutely.

- Which is really great. And so, as we end our interview, do you have any tips and advice for those interested in diving in your environment?

- Yes, it is a beautiful area. This is an area that is very, very active. It's an area that brings us a lot of knowledge because we learn from each of the clients, or the developers we work with, because everyone has their own way of working. So I think the advice would be “go ahead and try private practice”, it's really, really empowering. It's full of challenges, and it also allows us to participate in large-scale projects that are quite important for the development of cities. I think I encourage you to try it, if possible.

Yes, it is by doing that we know

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