Ottawa’s planning committee approved the site plan for the Château Laurier’s proposed addition Thursday following hours of debate over procedure and the finer points of heritage design, leaving some councillors and members of the public disappointed in the end result.
The various designs of a seven-storey, 147-suite addition to the rear of the iconic downtown hotel have come under fire ever since the first architectural presentations were presented in 2016. Château owner Larco Investments has been sent back to the drawing board four times since then, though public feedback on social media and in committee delegations has remained mixed at best.
Planning committee’s 8-3 vote Thursday to approve the extension’s site plan could potentially mark the end of the longstanding debate as Larco can now get a building permit to begin construction on the addition.
Thursday’s meeting was dominated by discussions of design and proper procedure as councillors and city staff looked to make sense of what could be approved or debated in planning committee’s forum.
Thanks in part to the Château’s heritage designation, the development process has been more muddled than usual. City council gave conditional approval to Larco’s application for a heritage permit last summer but left aspects such as the site plan to the authority of planning committee and final approval of design details to city manager Stephen Willis.
College Coun. Rick Chiarelli argued that planning committee was not authorized to debate or reject the extension’s proposed designs at Thursday’s meeting – site plan control, which considers factors such as pedestrian access, parking layout and drainage issues, was the only matter on the table for discussion.
In order to push Larco and its architects for another redesign, city staff said council would have to withdraw the heritage permit – a move that could land the city in a costly legal battle with the applicant. Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury attempted to bring a motion to council on Wednesday to discuss revoking that permit, but he did not receive enough votes from fellow councillors to get the matter put on the agenda.
Chiarelli said that the die had already been cast on the Château file – the designs of which he’s not a fan of either, he noted – and that backtracking now by denying the site plan application would be unfair and contravene the city’s development approval process.
“We’re well past the eleventh hour,” he said.
Dennis Jacobs, who represented Larco at the committee meeting, said the applicant’s team was well aware of the public backlash but asserted that the “postcard views” from the front of the structure will remain unchanged and the new courtyard will add an engaging public space to the area.
He also defended the extension itself as necessary for the hotel to continue competing in Ottawa’s hospitality market. The addition of long-term stays, which can be booked years in advance, are necessary for the iconic hotel’s continued survival, he argued.
It’s clear from the numerous delegations of heritage advocates and architects present at Thursday’s meeting that members of the public still have qualms with the fifth iteration of the Château extension’s design. Carleton University professor of architectural history Peter Coffman used a poetic allegory to express his dissatisfaction with the proposal.
“The Château is fire. The addition is water. The two are locked in a struggle to cancel each other out. Ottawans have intuitively understood this, thus the wave of resistance that you’ve encountered from your constituents,” he told councillors at the meeting. Ottawa architect Barry Padolsky echoed Coffman’s critiques, calling the addition “totally incompatible” with the existing structure.
“Larco Investments should be sent back to the drawing board to prepare a respectful design for the proposed addition,” he said.
There might be one final chance to get a change in the approved design. Fleury, whose ward includes the Château, said he would again attempt to bring a motion to council in the coming weeks to debate withdrawing the extension’s heritage approval.