By Jon Willing
The majority of councillors on the planning committee have endorsed what one Ottawa heritage architect called a C-grade design for the Château Laurier addition.
The committee on Friday voted 7-2 in recommending that council on Feb. 24 accept the latest design and issue a heritage permit to the hotel owner, potentially putting to bed a years-long controversy over the expansionproject.
Voting in favour of the design were councillors Laura Dudas, Glen Gower, Jan Harder, Allan Hubley, Catherine Kitts, Scott Moffatt and Tim Tierney. The two councillors in opposition were Riley Brockington and Jeff Leiper.
Brockington observed the lack of “a huge warm public embrace” of the latest design, which was the result of negotiations between hotel owner Larco Investments and advocacy group Heritage Ottawa.
If there’s still significant public opposition, it didn’t show at the committee meeting. Only one person not directly involved in the design process or negotiations signed up to make a presentation.
Robin Collins said most people see an unacceptable conflict between the modern design for the addition and the historic railway hotel. He asked for a “pandemic pause” to find other design options.
“A pause will stop this train from rushing through in this current climate,” Collins said.
No one on the planning committee supported another delay, and through nearly three hours of meetings on the topic Friday morning, the discussion and votes were relatively swift.
Earlier in the morning, the built-heritage subcommittee voted 3-3 on the design. Coun. Rawlson King, the subcommittee chair, joined Brockington and Coun. Catherine McKenney in voting against it. Coun. Scott Moffatt joined citizen members Amanda Conforti and Barry Padolsky in supporting the design.
Padolsky, a heritage architect and subcommittee member, offered a tepid review.
Where the previous design would receive a grade of F, the current design “is not an A+, an A or even a B,” Padolsky said.
“It’s probably in the C-, C+ ranking, which means it’s a pass, but just barely.”
Peter Clewes, the lead architect for the addition, said his latest design is “a consensus of opinion on the part of a lot of people” and that the concept is better because of the feedback process.
“In our world, there’s a lot of stakeholders and this is where we are today,” Clewes said.
Larco has been trying to get an approved design for an addition since 2016.
A planning appeal by Larco and Heritage Ottawa ultimately led to the design that council will consider. The two sides negotiated a concept and arrived at a settlement last year.
Compared to the previous design, the current proposal has more Indiana limestone and other similarities to the palette of the historic hotel. It tones down the visual impact from Major’s Hill Park in an attempt to calm people who were worried about the vista to the hotel.
City heritage staff said the design meets federal standards and guidelines for heritage additions. The guidelines call for additions to be “visually compatible with, subordinate to, and distinguishable from the historic place,” leaving it up to people to assess if a design meets the criteria.
The city was still waiting for Parks Canada’s comments on Larco’s revised cultural heritage impact statement when it comes to the visual impact on the Rideau Canal, though city staff didn’t think the federal agency’s remarks would affect their analysis.
Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who represents the area of the hotel, opposes the latest concept.
Mayor Jim Watson has indicated he believes the new concept meets council’s design conditions.
In a separate vote, the planning committee also approved the hotel expansion site plan. Brockington was the only no vote. The site plan doesn’t rise to council for approval.
The National Capital Commission needs to approve Larco’s proposal when it comes to the impact of the hotel addition to surrounding federal lands.