Ottawa

Fight over Château Laurier addition heading to court

Heritage Ottawa is arguing in a court application filed Monday that the city cannot legally put staff in the position to approve the Château Laurier addition.

Council, not city staff, must consent to reviled design, legal challenge claims

Larco Investments has had its architects design five versions of an addition for the Château Laurier. The fifth and final one is several storeys shorter and has more limestone than the first. (Larco Investments)

Heritage Ottawa is arguing in a court application filed Monday that the city did not have the legal authority to put staff in the position to approve the Château Laurier addition.

The application is asking the court to quash the city resolution that made the decision the responsibility of the general manager for planning, and declare instead that city council alone must decide.

Council has the ability to go ahead and grant this permit, but it has to do it itself. It can't try to pin the blame on staff.- Michael Polowin, lawyer for Heritage Ottawa

"The law says that in order for council to delegate this authority to staff and avoid making the decision itself it has to meet certain requirements," said Michael Polowin, one of the lawyers representing Heritage Ottawa.

"[Council] didn't meet those requirements and so council has the ability to go ahead and grant this permit, but it has to do it itself. It can't try to pin the blame on staff."

Planning chief given authority

In July 2018 the previous council voted to approve the conditional heritage permit for the addition on the condition that staff work with the applicant to apply certain changes to material and design, and to give the city's general manager of planning the authority to approve those changes.

Polowin said the proposed addition is proportionally too large in relation to the size of the Château for council to delegate authority to staff without a special resolution. Nor can the authority be delegated when the proposal affects the heritage aspects of a building, he said.

In a statement, the city's solicitor David White confirmed the city received a copy of the application Monday morning. He said the city does not comment on matters before the courts.  

None of the claims made in the application has been proven in court. The city has not yet filed a statement of defence.

Heritage Ottawa and other critics of the proposed Château Laurier addition say it will ruin this view of the historic building from Major's Hill Park. (Jean-Marc Carisse)

Group raised $50K

The hotel is owned by Larco Investments, which has been trying to build an addition for three years, and has already reduced the height of the proposed building from 11 storeys to seven.  

In July, Ottawa city council upheld last year's heritage approval despite a tight vote and vocal opposition to the latest of five designs.

Larco still needs final approval from the city's committee of adjustment, which meets Wednesday, and from the National Capital Commission, on some landscaping and lighting changes where the addition meets Major's Hill Park. 

If the committee of adjustment gives its approval, Polowin said Heritage Ottawa plans to appeal to the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal.

Heritage Ottawa has raised more than $50,000 to support its legal effort. 

"We're overwhelmed by the support," said David Flemming, co-chair of the heritage group's advocacy committee. 

"This is a very important issue, and it's not something that we could do on our own."

with files from the CBC's Amanda Pfeffer

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