A box-like expansion to the capital’s iconic Château Laurier hotel could still go ahead as planned, after Ottawa’s city council voted against a motion to overturn approval of the design.
Nestled between federal landmarks such as Parliament Hill and the Senate building, the privately owned building’s proposed seven-storey expansion has received widespread criticism from experts and residents alike.
Wednesday’s motion was presented in the hopes of finding a design that better complements the existing structure of the iconic hotel, designated a heritage building under Ontario’s Heritage Act. While it failed by a vote of 14-9, councillors voted to reconsider the matter on Thursday.
Ottawa-based architect Barry Padolsky said the expansion, put forward by the hotel’s owner, Larco Investments, doesn’t fit with Ottawa’s picturesque downtown core.
“It is a long, long seven-storey box – really the length of a football field,” he said.
Mr. Padolsky said the federal government, through the National Capital Commission, has worked for years to create a vision for Ottawa. He pointed to the Supreme Court, federal galleries, and renovations to West Block and Centre Block as examples, adding that those buildings are complemented by the surrounding landscape, including an escarpment that overlooks the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal.
“It’s something that has lovingly and very well been put together as urban-design composition over centuries, and each of the changes to [that design] has always been scrutinized very carefully,” Mr. Padolsky said.
Larco presented five different proposals for the expansion before it was granted a conditional heritage permit last year. The conditions hinged on the expansion being modified to better fit with the castle’s current structure. The current plan will see seven storeys and 147 rooms built with contemporary glass added to the north side of the hotel.
Councillor Catherine McKenney, who previously voted to grant conditional approval for the expansion, voted in favour of Wednesday’s motion to repeal the building permit. She said she does not believe that those conditions have been met.
“I’m not sure we could get a worse design,” she said.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said that it could cost taxpayers upward of $200,000 to fight the expansion in court. He added that it would not be a good use of taxpayer dollars because the city’s legal council has indicated that Ottawa won’t win in the end.
Councillor Laura Dudas said the motion was admirable, but misguided. She said council had little choice but to go ahead with the approval that was already granted, or incur litigation that could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"I detest this current design,” she said.
However, Senator Jim Munson, who has been vocal on Twitter about his dislike of the expansion, said the city can’t be sure that it would lose in court and that it would be worth the money to fight. He said city council’s vote against the motion is an abdication of leadership and a lack of vision.
“We’re going to have to live with this forever,” he said.
Mr. Padolsky said the public outcry has been so strong because the building is beloved by residents, who have attended weddings and events at the hotel, which opened in 1912.
The expansion, he said, is not a matter of Larco wanting to spend less money, but rather that it had a different vision. However, he said that other prominent architects have used modern designs that are admired for the way in which they fit in to their surroundings, such as the addition to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, designed by Toronto’s Diamond Schmitt Architects.
“Modernism isn’t all boxes,” Mr. Padolsky said.
Mr. Padolsky said he expects efforts to find ways for the federal government to exert its influence, if not authority, will continue.