Cries of “shame” howled from the public gallery Thursday after the majority of city council refused to reconsider a decision that allows the owner of the Château Laurier to build a controversial addition to the historic hotel.
“That’s democracy. People have the right to express their views about politicians. I’ve developed over the years a thick skin. Not as thick as I suppose it should be,” Mayor Jim Watson said after the meeting.
“This has been an emotional debate. People love the Château Laurier and if I own that building I wouldn’t put that addition on, but unfortunately I don’t own the building. The city doesn’t own the building. It’s owned by private property owners, and at the end of the day they do have right to choose the design and style that they want for their building.”
There was one question on the agenda of the special council meeting: should council reconsider its 14-9 decision on Wednesday to refuse revoking Larco Investment’s heritage permit for the project.
With a vote of 13-10, council refused to reopen the debate and Larco had council-approved design for its modern addition.
There was a circus-like atmosphere at city hall. Frequent city hall rabble-rouser Guy Annable dressed up in a clown wig and tie and watched in the gallery.
A hometown celebrity even showed up, but the design is no joke to comedian Tom Green, who was in Ottawa visiting family and headed to city hall to watch council vote. Green likened the design to “Donald Trump’s wall being built to hide the Château Laurier” from Major’s Hill Park, where he used to skateboard as a youth.
“To put a blemish on that is a travesty and people should get angry and ask our leaders to have more courage and stand up and ask for the developer to come up with a redesign,” Green said in the hallway.
People in the gallery booed council as Watson adjourned the meeting. They yelled “shame” and “no democracy.”
With council’s decision on the heritage permit confirmed, Larco should be on easy street to getting shovels in the ground on the $100-million project.
Larco’s development team is eyeing Sept. 4 to have its minor variance application in front of the committee of adjustment and a National Capital Commission board meeting in November for federal land use approvals unrelated to the design.
The company can’t get a building permit until it receives approval from the committee of adjustment and clears the appeal period.
Excavation and utility servicing work could begin later this year, with the entire construction project taking between three and a half and four years.
Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna released a written statement on social media saying she has heard residents’ concerns about the design and that “there is still time for common sense to prevail,” offering to participate in discussions “to achieve a better outcome.”
The Friends of the Château Laurier, which has been rallying opposition to the design alongside Heritage Ottawa, is considering legal avenues to blocking the design.
“It’s not over yet,” Heritage Ottawa member David Flemming said. “There are options open to challenge this. We’re going to be looking at what those options are and make our decision accordingly.”
In her remarks during Thursday’s meeting, Diane Deans took aim at four of her colleagues who released an open letter to Larco after Wednesday’s council meeting asking the company to withdraw the development application. Councillors Laura Dudas, Glen Gower, Matthew Luloff and Jenna Sudds said Larco shouldn’t assume they endorse the design, even though they voted against revoking the heritage permit.
“The disconnect between actions and words was monumental,” Deans said.
Watson said he doesn’t think council’s unanimous decision in June 2018 was a mistake. At the same time, Watson acknowledged that he could have been involved with Larco earlier in the process to see if the company could steer the design to something more widely accepted.
Here’s how the voting broke down over two days of council meetings.
Council meeting on Wednesday:
Voting in favour of rescinding Larco’s heritage permit: Theresa Kavanagh, Diane Deans, Mathieu Fleury, Rawlson King, Catherine McKenney, Jeff Leiper, Riley Brockington, Shawn Menard, Carol Anne Meehan
Voting against rescinding Larco’s heritage permit: Mayor Jim Watson, Matthew Luloff, Laura Dudas, Jan Harder, Jenna Sudds, Eli El-Chantiry, Glen Gower, Rick Chiarelli, Keith Egli, Tim Tierney, Jean Cloutier, George Darouze, Scott Moffatt, Allan Hubley
Absent: Stephen Blais
Special council meeting on Thursday:
Voting in favour of reconsidering council’s Wednesday decision: Theresa Kavanagh, Rick Chiarelli, Diane Deans, Mathieu Fleury, Rawlson King, Catherine McKenney, Jeff Leiper, Riley Brockington, Shawn Menard, Carol Anne Meehan
Voting against reconsidering council’s Wednesday decision: Mayor Jim Watson, Matthew Luloff, Laura Dudas, Jan Harder, Jenna Sudds, Eli El-Chantiry, Glen Gower, Keith Egli, Tim Tierney, Jean Cloutier, George Darouze, Scott Moffatt, Allan Hubley
Absent: Stephen Blais
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