Councillors’ effort to block Château Laurier addition fails – but will be reconsidered Thursday

Chateau
The Château Laurier's proposed addition.

Though a call to revoke council approval for the Château Laurier’s controversial addition was initially defeated Wednesday, a move to reconsider the motion on Thursday will see the debate stretch into a second day.

Moments after city council rejected a push to revoke the city’s approval of the Château Laurier’s controversial expansion on Wednesday afternoon, councillors moved immediately to revisit the decision and stretch the debate into a second day.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury’s motion to revoke a heritage permit conditionally granted to Chateau owner Larco Investments was defeated 14-9 following hours of debate during Wednesday’s council meeting. Fleury argued the latest designs for the seven-storey, 147-suite addition to the historic hotel did not meet the guidelines set by council when the permit was initially approved in June 2018.

His motion, which city solicitor Rick O’Connor told councillors in a memo last week would likely put the city in a court battle with Larco if passed, was a last-ditch effort to stop the publicly maligned addition to the privately owned property from moving forward.

Immediately after the motion was voted down, Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans introduced a call to have Fleury’s motion reconsidered. The move required approval from a third of councillors present and passed with 10 votes in favour. Mayor Jim Watson then immediately introduced a motion of his own to push debate on the matter to a special session of council on Thursday afternoon. Watson got his votes, extending the debate on the hotly debated issue another day.

Councillors divided

The meeting got off to a rocky start after Fleury read his motion aloud but was cut off by Watson, who argued he’d used up his allotted five minutes of time to speak and ask questions to staff. The mayor’s ruling was challenged and defeated by members of council, allowing Fleury to continue and for discussions to begin in earnest.

Substantial debate surrounding the Chateau file did not centre around the quality of the design – even those arguing against Fleury’s motion expressed their distaste for the plans, which have been described as box-like by critics – but rather whether the motion itself was productive in changing Larco’s proposal. 

College Coun. Rick Chiarelli noted city council does not usually voice its opinion on design, joking that he wouldn’t want to require Watson’s approval for any addition on his own home.

Some, such as councillors Laura Dudas and Matthew Luloff, argued that revoking the permit now would only delay the addition’s construction. Based on legal advice in O’Connor’s memo, councillors argued that the City of Ottawa was likely to lose an ensuring court battle, costing the city thousands of dollars and changing nothing about the final result.

River Coun. Riley Brockington said the estimated $250,000 in legal costs cited in O’Connor’s memo were paltry compared to the consequences of giving the go-ahead to a publicly disliked design.

“It’s reasonable to expect that the people of Ottawa are willing to chip in a quarter (each) for potential legal bills,” he said.

Capital Coun. Shawn Menard urged his colleagues to adopt the motion, not because it would guarantee a change from the current proposed design, but because it would at minimum open up further opportunities to fight in court for additional revisions.

“It gives the public, who has been asking for this, a fighting chance,” he said.

Others, such as councillors Deans and Catherine McKenney, said they regretted passing council’s motion last year that saw authority delegated to city staff for final approval of the design. Both said that money spent on a potential legal fight would be worth the cost to fix what McKenney called “the wrong decision.”

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper appealed to fellow councillors’ responsibilities to represent their constituents, rather than leave the final call on the file up to the opinions of city staff.

“Ensure that it is council who makes the final call on this and that it’s not left solely to staff. Step up and accept your obligations. We don’t need to approve this and I hope you won’t,” he said.

Chiarelli said the public attention focused on various government bodies – be it city council, the National Capital Commission or even the Ontario or federal governments – was misplaced. He suggested the final design is in the hands of Larco and Larco alone, and initiatives such as a boycott of the hotel itself might be more effective than attempting to solve the problem at the municipal level.

Watson, in his closing remarks on the debate, said he had called Larco’s owners to discuss whether the company would be open to further iterations on the design. The response, according to Watson, was no – based on the multi-year process Larco has gone through with the city, the hotel owner believes its current design fulfills the requirements set out for an addition to the heritage structure.