A neighbour asked a good question the other day.
If the National Capital Commission can’t influence the design of the Château Laurier addition, can’t better co-ordinate repair work on five interprovincial bridges, can’t lead the overhaul of the Prince of Wales bridge to better integrate Ottawa-Gatineau transit, can’t get LeBreton straight, what is the NCC for?
Bit of an existential zinger, that one.
The new CEO of the Crown corporation, Tobi Nussbaum, said Thursday the NCC couldn’t get involved in the unpopular proposal to expand the 1912 hotel because it was private property and beyond the reach of the National Capital Act, its enabling legislation.
Nussbaum is a Harvard man, so he doesn’t lack for smarts, but that answer was pretty rich.
We shan’t dwell on the old NCC plan to bulldoze blocks of Metcalfe Street in a vainglorious attempt at grandiosity, or the plan to pave some principal streets a red colour in a vainglorious attempt at Crayola-coding for tourists. (Try to find those in the Act.)
Let us look at what the NCC itself has said about the Château, the iconic hotel that is part of our postcard.
Under “policies” of the NCC’s Capital Core Area Sector Plan, is this gem: “Preserve the historic character of the Château Laurier Hotel and the Government Conference Centre building (formerly Ottawa Union Station), key buildings in the Core Area.”
The public are hardly architectural experts, but, when the mayor of Ottawa’s reference to a “shipping container” is the most resonant to describe the addition, we can assume we’ve missed the mark on historic preservation of a grand hotel from the Titanic era.
Nussbaum wants to use the National Capital Act as a shield? Fine. Here’s an excerpt:
“The objects and purposes of the Commission are to prepare plans for and assist in the development, conservation and improvement of the National Capital Region in order that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance.”
I’m no Ivy Leaguer, but that description seems to give the NCC a great deal of latitude, as it should. “Don’t wreck beautiful historic things” seems to be the essential message.
The NCC has lots of committees, one of them called the “Advisory Committee on Planning, Design and Realty.”
One of its jobs? Advising on “design proposals affecting federal lands.” Doesn’t a seven-storey addition to the rear of the Château “affect” the 12 acres in Major’s Hill, the NCC-held park that is the city’s oldest and most historic? Affect it? It touches it.
“This park features some of the best lookouts in Ottawa, offering stunning views of the Ottawa Locks on the Rideau Canal, the Ottawa River and the Parliament Buildings,” the NCC writes. “Take a stroll through the park’s stately trees, over its rolling lawns and winding pathways, and learn about its history through a series of interpretation panels.”
“Stunning views.” Well, people are stunned viewing this plan, no argument there.
Does the addition not “affect” the NCC’s Confederation Boulevard, which takes in a good chunk of Sussex Drive and Mackenzie Avenue, which runs right by the proposed add-on? How could it not?
And yet the NCC wants no part in the design approval process. But try to set up a lemonade stand along the Rideau Canal or pick up pine cones on the parkway and they’re calling the cops.
So this is the point: The NCC sticks its nose into issues in the public realm whenever it feels sufficiently compelled. Today, it needs to summon the courage of its convictions. You either want Ottawa to be a better capital or you don’t. Hello, leadership?
It may well be true the NCC has no legal authority over a design-build proposed by a private landowner. Fine. But can’t the commission approach Larco Investments in a spirit of co-operation to suggest the public good would be served by having another attempt at this?
Shouldn’t Mayor Jim Watson and Nussbaum do this together? Beg Larco if you have to. Bad is bad forever.
Instead, the NCC is fiddle-farting around with how the bigger hotel will integrate its landscaping with Major’s Hill and the canal terraces. “Pedestrian vibrancy and connectivity through and around the hotel,” is on the commission’s job list, along with the “interface” with the new building.
Nussbaum, meanwhile, wouldn’t even say if he liked the design, as though being super-careful was a virtue. (Jean Pigott, somewhere, just died a second death.)
Integrate paths and sidewalks. Is this, good God, all the NCC is there for?
CLICK HERE to read this article in its entirety on the Ottawa Citizen website.
YOUR VOICE MATTERS!
Contact the Mayor and Ottawa City Councillors before July 10, 2019.
Click here for details: https://heritageottawa.org/chateau-laurier-addition