Château Laurier architects unwilling to make 'significant' alterations to latest design

Latest design for the Château Laurier addition as seen from Mackenzie Avenue, looking south. (Provided by Larco Investments.)

Monday, June 3, 2019

Built heritage subcommittee pans hotel addition, but has little power

CBC NEWS, By Joanne Chianello

The owners of the Château Laurier have no intention of making substantial changes to the latest version of a controversial addition to the historic hotel, despite an outcry from residents, heritage experts and politicians alike.

The city's built heritage subcommittee gave hotel owner Larco Investments the go-ahead to make changes to the landmark heritage building last June, and discussed the latest design on Monday.

Coun. Riley Brockington asked the hotel owner's representatives if they were prepared "to make significant changes" to the current design.

The short answer: No.

The design team told the subcommittee the blueprint has changed significantly since it was first unveiled nearly three years ago — the addition is shorter and has about half the original floor space, for example — and insisted they had met all of council's most recent demands.

Making further substantial changes, said planning consultant Dennis Jacobs, "is not something we're interested in."

Coun. Rick Chiarelli, also a member of the subcommittee, told the hotel architects that everywhere he went last weekend, people made a point of telling him how much they dislike the addition.

So far, 2,400 people have officially filed comments with the city, demonstrating the deep public interest in the project.

"I don't think they understand the depth to which the dislike is out there," Chiarelli said of the hotel owners.

Jacobs disagreed.

"I can say without hesitation that I am well aware of the public on this application.… I hear the same things," he said. "This is not a court of public opinion — this is a municipal government decision."

Jacobs noted he also meets people who tell him they like the addition design.

Conditional decision made last year

In fact, the decision was largely made last June, when the same subcommittee approved the application to alter the heritage hotel, as did the city's planning committee and city council .

However, councillors demanded three changes to improve the design:

  •  Increase the use of Indiana limestone and reduce the glass to limit contrast with the original hotel.
  •  Break up the uniformity of some of the angles, especially facing Major's Hill Park.
  •  Use window patterns and other geometric details that better "relate to" the existing Château Laurier.

At its vote last summer, council gave city planning staff the authority to say whether those requirements had been met. Last month, staff said they had.

The planning committee will vote on the latest design on June 13. If it rejects the application, it could be appealed to a provincial planning body that historically sides with the applicant in cases like this.

Symbolic motion

The subcommittee was only to receive the staff report on the latest hotel design, but spent about four hours on Monday discussing it anyway.

Many members, including heritage experts, disagreed that the conditions set by council had been met.

The subcommittee eventually passed a motion recommending the planning committee reject the plan, even though the city's own lawyers advised that was likely out of order for an item the subcommittee wasn't even voting on.

Only Coun. Glen Gower, who chairs the subcommittee, voted against the motion.

While he doesn't appear to support the latest design, he noted the previous council had given the project the green light, and said it should have been clear to those councillors what they were approving.

"I think it was very clear in front of council, that they were approving a ... box structure. So I really struggle with councillors who said, 'We thought it would be a lot better than this,'" said Gower, who was elected for the first time last October.