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Council votes to keep working on design for Château Laurier expansion

Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

The drama at city hall over the Château Laurier’s proposed addition is likely to go silent until the next term of council.

Council on Wednesday voted to have city staff work with the hotel owner, Larco Investments, on another concept that uses more limestone and features more Château-like qualities. Staff can sign off on the final design but they must bring a site plan for political approval, council decided.

By the time that site plan, which will include such things as where exactly the addition will sit, comes to council, likely in 2019, senior city staff will have approved the final design.

But even then, council could still conceivably reject the design, if councillors believe it doesn’t meet heritage standards and guidelines.

After the council meeting, Mayor Jim Watson defended the decision to hold off on a final approval or rejection of Larco’s latest design.

“If we were going to try to shirk our responsibilities as politicians, we would have said, ‘Send it back and come back around Oct. 23,’” Watson said, referring to the date after the Oct. 22 municipal election.

However, it’s likely council won’t address the Château Laurier plans again until after the next council takes office on Dec. 1.

It will take at least six months for the hotel, after it has a city-approved design, to complete a site plan.

It’s unorthodox for council to conditionally grant a permit to alter a heritage property, especially when it comes to the look of a new building.

Watson said he wouldn’t have voted in favour of the latest rendition, although he described the latest version as “substantially better” than previous concepts. He likes the advice from the built-heritage subcommittee to send Larco and city staff back to the drawing board.

“You’re never going to get some people to agree to any alteration on a heritage building, I get that. But even in the downtown core we have examples of new and old blending very nicely together,” Watson said, pointing to the blend of city hall’s historic wing and the more contemporary main building, and the recent glassy renovation of the National Arts Centre.

Watson predicted that when the addition is finally built at the Château Laurier, people will grow to like it.

Earlier this month, council was poised to either approve Larco’s latest design or flat out reject it.

Coun. Tobi Nussbaum and Barry Padolsky, the chair and vice-chair of the built-heritage subcommittee, respectively, crafted a motion that survived the subcommittee, planning committee and council. There were unanimous votes at each meeting supporting their recommendation to conditionally approve the heritage permit, subject to design modifications.

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