An Ottawa heritage advocacy group says it’s not done fighting an unpopular seven-storey addition to the historic Château Laurier hotel and is now trying to fundraise $150,000 as it prepares to mount a legal challenge against the development.
Heritage Ottawa — a non-profit, volunteer-run organization that “advocates for the preservation of Ottawa’s distinctive built heritage and cultural landscapes” — launched an online fundraising campaign late on Monday, appealing to the public to support its battle against what it believes is an “inappropriate addition” to the “iconic” hotel.
The group confirmed on Tuesday morning that it had retained legal counsel and is exploring all its legal options “as the Château Laurier saga unfolds.” A spokesperson said Heritage Ottawa can’t afford to fund any court challenges on its own and that’s why it’s asking the public to finance its legal efforts.
“We’re doing this for the people of Ottawa and we’re doing this for the good of our heritage,” David Flemming, co-chair of Heritage Ottawa’s advocacy committee, said in an interview with Global News.
The century-old Château Laurier, located at 1 Rideau St., is a designated heritage building, privately-owned by Larco Investments Ltd.
The launch of Heritage’s Ottawa’s fundraising campaign comes nearly three weeks after Ottawa city council voted against rescinding the heritage permit it had approved a year earlier for Larco’s proposed addition to the back of the hotel, which faces north onto Major’s Hill Park.
Past and current designs for the boxy addition — which will include 147 new rooms, more meeting space and an interior courtyard — have been widely panned by politicians, heritage experts and the public who claim it’s incompatible with the existing heritage structure.
Council approved the heritage permit for the addition in July 2018 on the condition the hotel owner met several requirements, and councillors agreed to delegate the final call on whether those conditions had been met to city staff.
Weeks after Larco released its most recent designs for the addition this spring, Coun. Mathieu Fleury tabled a motion asking his colleagues to agree that Larco had “failed to fulfill” the conditions that council had set out for the addition and rule the heritage permit as “void and of no effect.” His motion was ultimately defeated by a majority of council earlier this month.
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On Tuesday, Flemming said it’s likely the group will launch some kind of legal action against the city’s approval of the addition’s design but declined to go into any further detail about what that court challenge would look like until the group has officially announced its decision.
Heritage Ottawa also wants to be prepared to challenge an application it says Larco will have to submit to begin construction, Flemming said.
To that end, the non-profit organization said it has retained Michael S. Polowin, a lawyer with Gowling WLG specializing in municipal and real property law, and Marc Denhez of the former Ontario Municipal Board as co-counsel.
As a group, Heritage Ottawa frequently weighs in on proposed alterations to designated heritage or historic buildings in the national capital as committees and councillors debate them at city hall. In the case of the Château Laurier, the group “found fault” with all five designs put forward by Larco, Flemming said.
Flemming said the crescendo of public outcry and debate about the addition’s design that preceded council’s vote hasn’t let up since.
“I’m really quite amazed with it,” he said. “I have been involved in heritage work and heritage advocacy for 50 years now and I have never seen the public respond … or get engaged in such a way — and enraged, I might add.”
Friends of the Château Laurier, another advocacy group that opposes the hotel addition, has thrown its support behind the fundraising campaign and the two groups will work in tandem moving forward — although any potential legal action would be launched by Heritage Ottawa, Flemming said on Tuesday.
The fundraising web page said both groups have heard from “countless Canadians” urging them to “keep fighting” against the addition’s design.
Heritage Ottawa estimates it will need $150,000 to cover legal fees and the costs of hiring help from professional heritage, planning and urban consultants.
“We’re going to be monitoring this very closely as it proceeds and, you know, if it reaches a point where we can’t afford to do it, then we obviously can’t afford to do it,” Flemming said.
As of publication, Heritage Ottawa’s campaign had raised $3,330.
-With a file from Abigail Bimman