Opposing sides in battle over Chateau Laurier addition lawyer up ahead of critical vote

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Château Laurier renovation plan causes a ruckus
ABOVE: Ottawa's Château Laurier hotel renovation plan causes a ruckus – Jul 9, 2019

The architectural fight over the future look of Ottawa’s iconic Chateau Laurier has involved unprecedented resident reaction, threats of litigation and even a plea to the prime minister — and it all comes to a head in city council chambers Wednesday.

Councillors will debate whether to pull the heritage permit they approved last year for a seven-storey addition to the century-old hotel, which would essentially hit the reset button on a process underway since 2016.

At issue? It’s all about appearances. Most who oppose the proposal — and that’s the clear majority of those who have spoken up — feel the addition clashes with the original building.

READ MORE: Château Laurier addition critic cites historical impact of maligned design

A view of the proposed addition to the Chateau Laurier. Larco Investments/Handout

In a letter imploring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to get involved, Ottawa architect Barry Padolsky wrote about the “architectural box, aptly named the ‘radiator’” as having “horrified many Canadians.”

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“The Chateau Laurier is part of what people identify with views of Ottawa,” Padolsky told Global News.

“For those of us that remember the $1 bill, the view of Parliament and the Chateau Laurier was the image that told us this was the national capital.”

READ MORE: Architects unveil new design for Château Laurier addition

But the future of the hotel is not up to the prime minister, nor even the National Capital Commission, which oversees public places in the capital’s core. Because the hotel is privately owned, decision-making rests with the municipal council.

“It requires the city’s review, which makes us very uncomfortable. We’re not used to this type of heritage to be reviewed at the city level,” said Coun. Mathieu Fleury.

Fleury put forward Wednesday’s motion and he expects it to be a close vote, in part because of concerns over potential litigation.

In a letter to city council last week, project planners warned of “costly litigation at taxpayer expense” if the motion passes.

Momentum Planning and Communications represents the building’s owner, Larco Investments. Momentum declined an interview with Global News but responded to questions via email. Principal planner Dennis Jacobs would not go into detail about next steps.

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“We are taking this one day at a time as we have from the outset in December 2016,” he wrote.

Planners maintain they have done everything asked of them by the city throughout the process.

But that’s not the only potential litigation threat. On the other side, advocacy group Friends of the Chateau Laurier announced Monday it has lawyered up.

“Let’s not just be worried because the applicants sent a legal letter,” said Fleury.

“We are as much at risk of litigation with the application Larco group, in this case, as we would be with the community.”

And that community has been very vocal. As of May, the city had 2,431 people on their notification list — that includes those who submitted an opinion as well as those who asked to be informed of the process.

“Usually you get the 30 per cent support and 70 per cent oppose. This time it’s really 90-plus per cent opposed,” said Fleury.

“And when you look at 2,000-plus submissions, the city has never seen that in terms of public engagement.”

In the face of such unprecedented reaction — and opposition — the planners stand by the addition’s value-add for Ottawa.

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A view of the proposed addition to the Chateau Laurier. City of Ottawa

“The proposal will be built to exceedingly high standards for a private building with a per square foot value in excess of $600 which is almost double the average construction value in Ottawa,” Jacobs wrote to Global News.

The plan includes 147 new rooms, including some for long stays, more meeting space and an interior courtyard. Jacobs says those additions will help the hotel be more competitive as well as “add significantly to the public realm.”

Truck parking and loading will be moved away from the front of the building and a new pedestrian link to the canal is planned.

Council’s meeting gets underway Wednesday at 1 p.m.

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