Ottawa City Council Approves Final Design for embattled Château Laurier Addition

Rendering of the final design of proposed addition, approved by Ottawa City Council on Feb. 24, 2021

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Global News, by Craig Lord

The long saga finally seems to be over: Ottawa city council has approved the sixth design iteration of the Château Laurier’s proposed addition, the result of a compromise between the historic hotel’s owners and local heritage experts.

City council approved the heritage application for the addition at its Wednesday meeting, clearing owner Larco Investments Ltd. to obtain a building permit for the two-tower, 159-unit extension to the rear of the Château Laurier.

The sixth and final design plan for the addition came after roughly four years of public debate surrounding the project. Earlier iterations were disparaged for looking too blocky or modern, or for potentially blocking views of the hotel’s iconic roof cutting into the Ottawa skyline.

The latest designs were given the stamp of approval from Heritage Ottawa, a volunteer group that had been among the most vocal critics of the addition’s earlier iterations.

The revisions include additional use of the Indiana limestone prevalent in the Château’s original structure. It’s also framed to better preserve views and access to the hotel from nearby Major’s Hill Park.

But those around the virtual council table did not give the stamp of approval unanimously.

The application was approved with a split vote of 14-10.

While most council members and city staff agreed the addition met the criteria for heritage approval, a number of councillors did not feel the final design measures up to the Chateau’s legacy.

Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans said the proposed design was “better,” but not “best.”

Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, who said she wanted to see a bolder departure in design from the original structure, said the proposal “lacks courage.”

But others, including Mayor Jim Watson, felt the final result was the result of years of compromise between the owners, residents and stakeholders in the city.

He pointed out to critics around the table that architectural and heritage experts tend to agree on the principle that additions to heritage structures should be distinct, not replicas, of the original property.

“Designing buildings is not our role,” Watson said, deferring to city staff and Heritage Ottawa’s judgment that the final proposal passes muster.

Watson himself had been one of the vocal critics of the addition’s original design, tweeting that the architects behind the proposal should to go “back to the drawing board” at the time.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury signalled his plan to bring forward a motion to the next city council meeting asking Watson to write a letter to the federal minister in charge of national historic sites to request more oversight and clarity on approvals for projects like this from the upper levels of government.