The old Westboro convent is still at the centre of a development controversy, with the owner on Thursday failing to win approval from the city’s heritage panel for a repair-and-redevelopment scheme.
Ashcroft Homes’ proposal to tear down part of the convent, fix up the rest and connect into a new nine-storey residential complex has heritage advocates decrying the loss of history and the community association skeptical that commercial tenants will be viable in a boxed-in location at 114 Richmond Rd.
The developer wants to remove the west wing of the heritage building and plug the remaining structure into a proposed nine-storey, L-shaped residential building.
In a 4-2 vote, the built-heritage subcommittee recommended rejecting the plan after members expressed concerns about the lopsided relationship between the convent and the proposed nine-storey building. The four opposing members were Barry Padolsky, Carolyn Quinn, Sandy Smallwood and Coun. Catherine McKenney. Councillors Tobi Nussbaum and Marianne Wilkinson supported Ashcroft’s plan.
It hasn’t been easy for Ashcroft to find a solution for the convent. The company’s architectural consultant, Rod Lahey, who has worked on the scheme for eight years, called it an “interesting journey.”
“I would like to see this put to bed as much as anybody around here,” Lahey told the subcommittee.
Lahey said the proposed nine-storey building would have a reduced density compared to previous plans, but opponents still worry about the size.
Linda Hoad, representing Heritage Ottawa, said the convent would be “overwhelmed” by an attached nine-storey building. [Read Heritage Ottawa's written submission to the Built Heritage Sub-Committee here.]
In addition to residential units, the developer has been considering commercial uses inside the heritage building, such as restaurants or a bed and breakfast.
Lorne Cutler, president of the Hampton Iona Community Group, questioned how successful a restaurant or café would be if the heritage building is largely out of the public’s eye. The neighbourhood still wonders about the developer’s commitment to including a “community use” inside the heritage building, he said.
The property was previously owned by the cloistered order, Les Soeurs de la Visitation. The stone structure dates back to the 1860s and the wings were added in 1913.
The city moved quickly to give the building heritage protection when the property went on the market in 2009. Ashcroft scooped it up, but it meant keeping the convent. Council approved the property’s rezoning in 2010. Ashcroft has so far built nine-storey condo buildings with commercial ground floors along Richmond Road, cutting off views to the heritage building from the main street. More development is planned for the south portion of the site.
It has been among Ottawa’s hottest planning files in the last decade. One could argue the development is one of the central reasons why the ward is on its third councillor in three terms since the start of the planning process.
“The community anger is still there,” said Coun. Jeff Leiper, who now represents the ward. “This development probably should never have been approved in its current form.”
Leiper urged the subcommittee to vote against Ashcroft’s plan, hoping to buy more time to come up with an alternative before the planning committee considers the file on Aug. 28