Efforts to rebuild the Royal Thai Embassy’s long-time home in a Westboro neighbourhood have hit a roadblock at Thursday’s planning committee, as the ward’s councillor and residents voiced firm opposition against the redevelopment plan.
City staff had recommended a rezoning proposal for 180 Island Park Drive that would’ve seen the current two-storey home of the Thai embassy demolished and rebuilt to the same height with 16 parking spaces in an underground garage.
Though the structure is surrounded by single-family homes in a residentially zoned neighbourhood, the Thai embassy has occupied the building since 1987 when such uses were permitted as “diplomatic premises.” Zoning bylaws have since been updated to disallow such uses in R1 residential areas, but the embassy received legal non-conforming rights to continue its operations there in 2010 – rights that it would lose should the existing building be torn down and rebuilt.
Offices can be permitted as part of embassies in this zoning area as long as the office-use is an accessory to a residence, which is not the case with the Thai embassy proposal. City staff had recommended the proposal move forward with a rezoning application for “office use, limited to embassy use” given the embassy’s long history in the neighbourhood without serious issue.
But residents and representatives of the community fought back against the rezoning, wary of the long-term effects that could arise from giving the green light to an office building in a residential neighbourhood.
Paul Forster, vice-president of the Island Park Community Association, told planning committee that the rezoning would set a “dangerous precedent” for other communities in Ottawa that could also see office buildings encroach on their neighbourhoods. The “limited to embassy use” clause gave little comfort to others, who worried that if the Thai embassy ever left the building, another developer might see an opportunity to get the restriction removed in favour of a bigger build on the site.
Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, who voiced his opposition to the proposal in the staff report, implored his colleagues to preserve the sanctity of the city’s residential zoning.
“Approving this application would diminish the integrity of that R1 (zoning),” he said.
Committee was ultimately convinced and the rezoning proposal fell, seven votes to two. The Royal Thai Embassy can now opt to remain in, or apply to expand, its current building with its legal non-conforming rights remaining in place.