Church's condo plan could mar canal views, neighbours fear

Ottawa city councillors have asked a landmark church in Old Ottawa South to lower the height of a proposed condo development over fears it could ruin the view from the Rideau Canal.

Southminster United Church proposing 6-storey condo, townhouses

An architectural rendering of the proposed redevelopment of Southminster United Church includes a mid-rise condominium development. (Supplied)

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  • Council passed this item on Dec. 13, 2017, but approved minor changes to the design.

Ottawa city councillors have asked a landmark church in Old Ottawa South to lower the height of a proposed condo development over fears it could ruin the view from the Rideau Canal.

Southminster United Church, which sits at the foot of the Bank Street Bridge alongside the canal, wants to demolish an ageing addition and replace it with a six-storey condo building and four three-storey townhouses, a redevelopment it says isnecessary to ensure the congregation's financial survival.

But some members of the community say the height of the condo building will tarnish the view from the Rideau Canal because it will be visible over the treeline.

There are no city rules around the treeline along the canal and the height of buildings. City staff actually recommended committee approve the project.

On Tuesday, however, the city's planning committee asked the developer behind the project, Windmill Developments, to partner with city staff to see if there's a way to shave 3.2 metres off the height of the building before councillors vote on the project. 

The funds from the development are desperately needed, members of the congregation told the committee. They said the church has fallen on hard times and can't keep up with costs. The development is meant to ease the financial burdens the church has been struggling with for the last several years. 

The Southminster United Church gable next to the proposed condo in a rendering provided by Windmill Developments. The view is from the Rideau Canal looking southwest over the Bank Street Bridge. (Supplied)

While some members of the community agree that the church is a vital part of the community they don't want to lose, eight people asked committee to reject the congregation's proposal unless the top storey of the condo building is removed. 

"Ontario has only one UNESCO world heritage site, the Rideau Canal," said Laura Urrechaga, who spoke to committee on behalf of the group leading the opposition to the project.

Federal government weighs in

Though the church lands are outside the federal government's jurisdiction area, the National Capital Commission (NCC) and Parks Canada both registered concerns about the view from the canal.

According to a city report, NCC staff argue that keeping the building below the height of the tree canopy along the canal is important, as the green landscape is a "character-defining element" of that section of the landmark.

Coun. Tobi Nussbaum, chair of the built heritage sub-committee, said it's unusual for the federal government to weigh in on a proposal like this one. 

Future of the church in the balance

But the developer behind the project warned it will be difficult to make changes. 

"It's not a viable option to say 'keep all the things we love and lob off that top story,'" said Rodney Wilts, who spoke to committee on behalf of Windmill Developments.

The company has two weeks to see if it can lower the height of the proposal before council makes its final vote. If the design can't be changed, councillors will vote on the original proposal.

A rendering showing the proposed condo and townhouses as seen from Galt Street. Southminster United Church can be seen behind. (Supplied)

Andrew Brewin, who is leading the church's development efforts, said he hopes the developer can come up with a solution that satisfies everyone, including the neighbours.

He said if council votes down the proposal, it could mean the end of the Southminster United Church.  

"It's really hard to believe that the congregation has the energy to try again at this level of complexity," Brewin said.

Council will vote on the project on Dec. 13.