Westboro convent proposal gets planning committee's OK

Ottawa's Planning Committee approved a scaled-back design for an addition to the former Soeurs de la Visitation convent  (City of Ottawa)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

CBC NEWS, By Joanne Chianello

Worried about leaving a former convent in Westboro empty too long, city councillors on Ottawa's planning committee approved a plan Monday to attach a nine-storey apartment building to the Soeurs de la Visitation while restoring the 19th-century building.

"For the first time, we have a legitimate development proposal on the table that allows the developer to move forward with something that preserves the convent," said Coun. Jeff Leiper, who represents the area where the heritage building is located.

To make way for the apartment building at 114 Richmond Rd., the developer, Ashcroft, wants to demolish the heritage building's two-storey west wing, as well as its single-storey southern section, first constructed in 1880. Various additions followed in the early 20th century.

The developer plans to connect the new apartment building to the west side of the former convent using a multi-storey glass link, and restore what would remain of the convent, which includes its chapel.

In June, the Built Heritage Sub-Committee rejected Ashcroft's proposal and urged the developer to reduce the scale of its design, which the committee believed overshadowed the historic building.

Ashcroft responded by reducing the height of the glass corridor, and redesigned the building with setbacks at the fourth, sixth and eighth storeys in an attempt to accentuate the former convent.

The changes satisfied the planning committee, which voted unanimously in favour of the heritage application to alter the old building.

Ashcroft will have to return to the planning committee for rezoning approval before it constructs its nine-storey building, and to gain approval for new uses for the former convent, which could include a restaurant or bed and breakfast.

City planners are looking at what measures the city can take, including demanding a security deposit from the developer

Deterioration a concern

Leiper said he recognizes that many in the community aren't going to be happy about the partial demolition of the historic building.

But the partial collapse of Magee House in Hintonburg last month​ served as a cautionary tale about what can happen to heritage buildings that are not kept in proper states of repair. While the city does have the power to make owners fix their  old properties, it has not always done so successfully.

City officials cannot force property owners to redevelop their heritage buildings, which can lead to eyesores, such as Somerset House in Centretown.

​"I am concerned that if we reject this legitimate proposal that the developer has made that the building will continue to deteriorate and that we will see another Magee House on our hands," Leiper said.

It's a view shared by Heritage Ottawa. Spokesperson Linda Hoad said the group does not approve of the demolition of any of the building, but is encouraged by the promise to restore the remaining part of the building.


Related Reading:

Heritage Committee Rejects Developer's Latest Bid to Repurpose Westboro Convent Site / Global News, Aug. 2, 2018

Read Heritage Ottawa's submission to the Built Heritage Sub-Committee regarding the application to alter the former Sisters of the Visitation convent building on Richmond Road.

UPDATE: Council approved the partial demolition of the former convent on August 29, 2018.