Today, Ottawa city council voted on a motion to revoke the heritage designation for the Chateau Laurier’s extension. I share the intent behind the motion, the planned rear addition by the owners of the Chateau Laurier is atrocious. It is the 5th design, each one a marginal improvement, yet completely tone-deaf to the concerns raised by councillors, residents, and anyone who appreciates the beauty of the existing landmark.
With all that said, I did not vote to
support this motion. While I despise the design, it would result in a legal
battle paid for by taxpayers and could ultimately even lead to one of the
previous dreadful designs being built.
The hotel owners notified the city in a letter that they would immediately pursue legal action, either by taking the city to Superior Court or to the Province’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. The city’s own lawyers have determined that in both instances the hotel’s owner would be successful, and the city is all but guaranteed to lose in court.
During those proceedings, the owner, Larco has indicated it will argue that the city acted in “bad faith”. They would then have the option to ask to revert to any of the previous design versions, all of which were worse than the current version. As a reminder, the initial version was 12-storeys and towered over the existing heritage building. Both the city’s lawyer and the General Manager of Planning have indicated that this would be an option available to Larco.
The cost of a legal battle would be borne by the taxpayer. The city’s lawyer has told us to expect fees between $150,000 and $200,000, and the city likely having to pay the legal fees for the hotel owners. At a time when budgets are tight, both for the city and taxpayers, this is money that would be taken away from other city priorities and services.
The previous City Council approved the Heritage Permit with three conditions on July 3, 2018. Council gave city staff the authority to determine whether the owner and their architect had met those three conditions.
While I have no interest in finger-pointing, the authors of the original motion that set out the conditions, should not have authorized this blank cheque on design, allowing the private owner to unambiguously meet council’s vague requirements in a way that was not supported by residents.
The motion that was before council today, while admirable in intent, was misguided and misled the public as to the level of authority council has at this point in the process. In an attempt to have meaningful input over the future addition, act in good faith, and have a constructive dialogue with the private owner of the Chateau Laurier, I have joined with my colleagues: Councillors Gower, Sudds, and Luloff in sending Larco an open letter expressing our strong desire and hope that they will revise the design and heed the very real concerns of Ottawa residents.
Let me make clear again: I hate the design; I think it is ghastly and insults one of Ottawa’s most iconic landmarks. However, while I appreciate the desire for a “principled stand”, I cannot in good conscience vote in favour of a motion that I know will cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars and produce the same or worse results.