Another pitched development battle is brewing in Westboro over a new proposal by Ashcroft Homes to partially demolish a 19th-century convent designated as a heritage building to make way for commercial uses.
Ashcroft's "adaptive re-use" of Les Soeurs de la Visitation Convent will be encapsulated in glass and combine both heritage and modern elements, according to information posted on the website of Kitchissippi ward Councillor Jeff Leiper.
Ashcroft is proposing to modernize the stone building to attract commercial and office tenants.
The developer — along with City of Ottawa staff in both the planning and Heritage departments — will present more details in a public open house next month.
Expect a fight, says councillor
Leiper has warned Ashcroft to expect a fight from residents and from council.
"This is almost certain to generate a significant amount of community backlash. It will be difficult for me to support any modification to that building," Leiper said.
The city made it clear to Ashcroft in 2010 that preserving the convent was one of the conditions it had to commit to when it was given permission to purchase the property, he said.
Kitchissippi residents will also demand Ashcroft keep its initial promise to use the 147 year-old building for community space, he said. When it was awarded the development rights to the two-hectare site, Ashcroft pitched council a vision to use the former monastery to hold neighborhood gatherings and art installations. Stores and office space were not part of the deal, Leiper said.
"There is a need for community facilities in the neighborhood," Leiper said. "Ashcroft has a real challenge to convince the public to support the addition of more commercial space."
The Kitchissippi councillor said there is already bad blood in the ward stemming from Ashcroft's previous deviation from council-approved plans.
Ashcroft's controversial redevelopment for the convent property was the subject of a three-day planning committee in 2010, where dozens of residents spoke against the plan. Ashcroft paid $12 million dollars for the property on Richmond Road at Island Park Drive.
Ashcroft's development on the convent lands is recognized around the city as the type of "main street development we don't want," Leiper said.
Ashcroft has not filed a formal land use application for the convent, according to city staff.
Glimpses of the structure built in the mid-1800s can be seen through the archways of an adjacent Ashcroft-developed glass condominium on Richmond Rd and Island Park Drive.
The stone building has sat empty for more than seven years. It is currently fenced off with its windows boarded up, and wooden support beams propping up some of its walls. Despite its state of disrepair, Marthe Ledoux, 77, said Ashcroft must keep its promise to the community to restore the building."This place is sacred, like a church," Ledoux said. She has lived in Westboro for nearly two decades and resides across the street in another Ashcroft development on Richmond Road and said from the window of her modern condo, she sees half a dozen unrented retail storefronts surrounding the convent. She has doubts Ashcroft will be able to attract commercial interest in the site.
"Why would commercial space come here (to the convent) when they don't come on the main street?" she asked.
Site needs sponsor, developer says
Ashcroft Homes president David Choo was unwilling to be interviewed, but in a brief email exchange he told the CBC restoring a large heritage site like the convent requires a "sponsor."
"If heritage assets are to be preserved and that is what we are trying to do — then how can we achieve (this) given the enormous cost of such an undertaking…. The convent needs several millions to even begin to adapt and the question is who pays?"
Choo did not answer questions about how much his company has spent to preserve the building since purchasing it in 2010.
The public hearing for Ashcroft's long-awaited proposal for the convent will take place Jan. 10 at Van Lang Field House at 6 p.m.
50 Years | 50 Stories: Monastery of the Visitation (Westboro Convent) / Heritage Ottawa, Posted December 3, 2017
Heritage Ottawa will continue to advocate for preservation of this heritage-designated structure.