Ashcroft Homes presented its plans for the redevelopment of a 19th century convent to a room packed with skeptical Westboro residents Wednesday night.

The proposal includes demolishing the interior of the former convent on Richmond Road, as well as portions of the south and west wall, and building a modern glass structure matching its four-storey height that would also enclose courtyard. 

"It was single-purpose designed as a convent and very austere,and very small rooms. The floor plans are very difficult not only for leasing the space, but also for community uses," said Don Schultz, an urban planner for Ashcroft Homes.

The developer bought the former Les Soeurs de la Visitation building at 114 Richmond Road almost eight years ago along with a two-hectare plot of land for $12 million.  

Schultz said not only has working around the convent's original design been challenging, but the company also found issues it wasn't expecting.

"Anyone who buys an old house finds out about a lot of the demons in the basement and in the walls and that is what
Ashcroft has been learning," he said.

When asked if there was a structural reason to demolish the walls that would be torn down in the plan, architect Rod Lahey said it was "the reverse" and that more structural work will be needed to restore the walls that will be left standing.

Lahey, whose firm has been working on project since the land was purchased, said the floor plan expansion was "an economic decision."

After an extended development fight where both sides went to the Ontario Municipal Board, the stone convent has been mostly untouched while a nine-storey condo was built on the edge of the land near Island Park Drive.

Combines business and community

When Ottawa city council gave Ashcroft Homes approval to develop the former Westboro convent lands, it was with the understanding that the developer would restore the convent so the community could use it.

The developer says it is keeping up its end of the bargain.

Don Schultz Ashcroft Homes Jan. 10, 2018

Don Schultz of Ashcroft Homes presents the design for the redevelopment of a convent in Westboro. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"There may be some offices or combination of businesses that would find this a unique and attractive space to have an office, but that has to be combined with community uses as well," Schultz said.

The presenters mentioned a restaurant or a business incubator could occupy the space, but admitted the building's low visibility from the street would limit the possible tenants.

Lack of partners 'troublesome'

Some residents felt those examples didn't fit their definition of "community use." 

Coun. Jeff Leiper, who hosted the meeting, said restaurants and pubs aren't going to cut it.

"I am thinking of non-profits who could benefit from free space, or using it as a community meeting space, or as recreational space," said Leiper.

Duff Mitchell, who lives across from the Ashcroft condos at the corner of Island Park Drive and Richmond Road, said he expected the convent would be preserved as a condition of the developer getting additional height and density for the project.

Lorne Cutler (centre) Jan 10, 2018

Lorne Cutler (centre), president of the Hampton Iona Community Association, asks a question during Ashcroft's presentation on the redevelopment of a former Westboro convent. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"After about eight years hearing they want to alter the convent structure and this is essential for moving forward, I find a bit troublesome — especially since they haven't identified any partners for this project," he said.

He said the idea of bringing commercial tenants to the site doesn't make sense given the persistent vacancies on the ground floor of the Richmond Road development.  

'Same old, same old'

Lorne Cutler, president of the Hampton Iona Community Group, said he would've preferred if Ashcroft had details on a partner or financial contribution to community space rather than vague plans for its use.

"This is still the same old, same old, after seven or eight years," Cutler said.

Leiper said there is no good will in the community to even contemplate allowing Ashcroft to move forward with the plan.  

"If it's costing them more than they expected, in the eyes of the community that is too bad," said Leiper. 

"Commitments were made. They need to stick to their promises."  

The proposal for partial demolition is expected to go to the city's built heritage committee March 8. 

Leiper said the plan will also require rezoning and consideration by the planning committee. 

Les Soeurs de la Visitation Convent in Westboro

Ashcroft Homes purchased the convent lands in 2010 for redevelopment. (CBC News.)