Chateau Laurier Update: My comments

First, I would like to say thank you to all of you for attending the information session as well as submitting comments and concerns about the latest submission for the addition of the Chateau Laurier.

Below I am sharing my comments, which will be part of the staff report, available on Feb. 26.

In addition to these comments, I feel it is important to share with all of you my concerns.

Once again, we are back to questioning the necessity to change this iconic building, the Chateau Laurier, which sits nestled within the Parliamentary Precinct. When you think of downtown Ottawa, it is hard not to picture this building in your mind. And although many can argue the face of this building will not change, the addition alters our perspective and impacts the sight of our historic row of Capital City buildings along Confederation Boulevard.

First and foremost, I think it is important to note, City Council approved (I dissented) the previous plans – which the community and residents across the City clearly were not happy with. The result we are faced with now, is only a result of LARCO reaching a settlement agreement with Heritage Ottawa, who appealed City Council’s approval of the Heritage Permit, at the Local Planning Approval Tribunal (LPAT)

To be honest, the plans we see today might be described by some as better or a compromise, but they are still not appropriate for this historic building. And I remain fixed on the opinion that the Chateau Laurier deserves better.

I can not speak to an outcome that has yet to happen, but I can honestly say, the outcome at committee and Council may very well echo what we have already seen – an approval for the Heritage Permit. If approved LARCO has expressed an intent to move quickly with building the addition.

And while many of us, myself included, may not be happy with the outcome, I do want to once again thank residents of this City for expressing their concerns, not backing down and to continue to push back, in an attempt for the best result.

As I mention in the comments below, the Château Laurier is Ottawa’s most iconic building within the Parliamentary Precinct, and should not change. I see no advantages to altering this beautiful building and there is purpose in respecting a building that has stood the test of time.

Councillor Mathieu Fleury comments: 

Here we are presented with the latest submission of a proposed addition to the Château Laurier. As we all know, this submission was only obtained through an agreement between Heritage Ottawa and Larco to end an LPAT dispute.

It is important to me to first thank Heritage Ottawa for its continued and relentless dedication to ensuring Ottawa’s heritage is protected, recognized and not forgotten.  As well, I wish to acknowledge the outpouring of comments and concerns from Lowertown residents, residents of Ottawa and across the country for caring about the future of our capital city’s heritage side on the Château Laurier proposed addition. What could only be described as a distasteful addition has been improved by these individuals’ efforts, and specifically by the dedication and push from Heritage Ottawa.

I also appreciate Larco accepted that its previous application was not appropriate. However, this was only thanks to the community engagement efforts, a loss at the Committee of Adjustment for a minor variance request and the pending legal fight that we see ourselves here today. I appreciate Larco reaching out and coming to the table with Heritage Ottawa, willing to discuss with heritage experts what could be appropriate finally. I truly wish it didn’t take an LPAT dispute to get to this version, and this dispute is the sole reason that the achieved resolution is before us, and this proposed design is being presented.

The review process has posed a challenge for the City Council.  Every time that City Council makes a decision, there are implications for a private property owner’s rights and requirements.  City Council is used to that. However, here, the Château Laurier’s significance to the landscape of our capital city – regardless of private ownership – has shown the limitations of our typical reviews.

It is important to me to point out that I do not blame City staff who have followed legal authority and process limitations to its word.  More so, I see the Planning Act, Heritage Act, and the Municipal authority process struggle to review such an important iconic asset. 

As a capital city, this application has been a wake-up for the need to ensure our capital aspirations have the appropriate level of \”Capital\” review processes for such important landscapes.

When it comes to heritage buildings – whether they are locally, provincially or federally designated – there are guidelines set out to follow. These are just that. Guidelines. To be considered, followed, or adhered to. It is up to the proponent to decipher. It is up to staff to make recommendations, but the City cannot force an owner to build in a specific style. Like many others, I wish these guidelines had more teeth and allowed our dedicated heritage staff to do more.

And personally, I, like many residents, would prefer that the Château Laurier’s addition maintain its current iconic built form. Unfortunately, it is a private asset, and private property owners have the rights and tools to allow property modifications and additions.

Specifically, on the plans presented, the modern addition has been modified to include the two ten- and eleven-storey pavilions, an increase in height from the former proposal, with a two-storey connector in between. The use of limestone and repeated window patterns and glass are positive changes in the formally proposed materials. 

The building at grade level offers a world class experience – this, to me, is its best feature. The connections and improvements, including the opening onto Major’s Hill Park, is a welcome addition to the improved plans. I would like to ensure that with this feature there is proper and simplistic integration between the Park and the Château Laurier’s new addition.  Currently, as proposed, it allows the Château to benefit from the Park, but let’s make sure this is a two-way street, and park users and hotel clients can share this beautiful space and area so that the site can remain active and engaged year-long.

The new changes have increased the height from the 2019 version. I remain concerned about the height bringing dominance to the addition. Also, heritage designated buildings, such as the Château Laurier, should adhere to Parks Canada’s Standards and Guidelines. As these guidelines state, \”A building may play a role as a character-defining element in a cultural landscape, in addition to having its heritage value.  Additions to recent cultural landscapes should be undertaken with the utmost respect and care and complement the heritage value of the historic place.\”

When designing a newly built feature, the guidelines define that it should be compatible with, subordinate to and distinguishable from the historic place. I strongly feel the heritage building should be the focus, and the addition should remain in its shadow to maintain its architectural dominance.

As the Château Laurier is Ottawa’s most iconic building within the Parliamentary Precinct, one can argue that not every site should change – and from both local and capital perspectives, there are no advantages to changing this beautiful building. There is purpose in respecting the older building, the materials, the character, and the heritage building design that has stood the test of time.

The architecture of this building is an architectural style replicated by many other railway hotels across this country. From the copper roofing, cornices, turrets, marble floors, these features point to the link from one end of Canada to the other. It also points to spectacular moments in our history, when from one end to the other, tourists could travel our railway system and stay in a Chateaux-style hotel.

Heritage Ottawa has brought us to a better outcome. However, I would argue the modern addition still does not meet the expectations of the heritage-rich Parliamentary Precinct that this building is nestled within.

Looking across Canada, there are few of these hotels which have modern additions. From the Royal York in Toronto to the Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C., they have maintained their prominence and distinction without adding to the building in a negative way.

Simply put, I will not be happy with a modern addition and cannot support what would break away from historical tradition.

To learn more about the latest application please visit this link:

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