Minor variance or major monstrosity? Château wall request sparks outcry

The owner of the Château ​​​​​Laurier sought approval Wednesday from the city's committee of adjustment for its retaining wall, as a room full of high-profile critics were determined to fight the hotel's controversial addition.

Committee of adjustment to issue a decision on Sept. 27

The design for the contested Château Laurier addition needs permission from the city's committee of adjustment to go ahead — making it one of the more high-profile decisions the five-person panel has ever had to make. (architectsAlliance)

Ottawa's committee of adjustment had likely never seen so many big names before.

On Wednesday, critics of the Château ​​​​​Laurier's proposed addition showed up to argue against the hotel owners' request for a retaining wall along Major's Hill Park.

The item came last, after a series of more typical, lower-profile applications, like requests to build an addition over a home's garage.

"This is of a different magnitude altogether," former MP Don Boudria told the five-member panel. "This is not a minor variance at all."

David Collenette, another former cabinet minister, told the committee their decision could abet the "erection of a monstrosity that will cast a pall on a G7 city."

Needs permission for wall

Larco Investments, which owns the 107-year-old hotel, already has council's half-hearted blessing on the bigger approvals needed to build a 147-room addition.

Planning committee approved the detailed engineering drawings and landscaping in June. Full council approved the heritage permit and design in June 2018, and chose not to rescind that permit at a heated debate in July.

But the design requires building a retaining wall right on the property line with Major's Hill Park and cantilevering a section of the new addition within three metres of that line, which isn't normally allowed.

That's why Larco needs a decision from the committee of adjustment, which it will deliver in writing on Sept. 27.

Pathway plans

Larco Investments sent planner Dennis Jacobs as its representative, along with a lawyer, to make the case that the committee of adjustment had a simple decision on its hands.

Jacobs argued the retaining wall was needed for a public pathway. As for the cantilevered portion, it couldn't be changed without restarting the entire design process at council, he said.

This application is fatally flawed. It's time to turn it down,- Marc Denhez, lawyer for Heritage Ottawa

City planners told the committee, made up of five residents appointed by council, they had no problem with what Larco was requesting.

The committee of adjustment's chair, John Blatherwick, noted his panel needed to consider the intent of council.

But critics urged the committee to right the wrongs, as they see them, on the hotel's journey through city hall's planning processes.

'Fatally flawed'

"This application is fatally flawed, and doesn't deserve your support. It's time to turn it down," said Marc Denhez, one of the lawyers hired by Heritage Ottawa to challenge the Château ​​​​​Laurier additon.

Denhez co-filed an application in Superior Court this week, arguing city council made a mistake in delegating the power to approve the final design to the city's chief planner.

Lawyer Marc Denhez tried to argue at the City of Ottawa's committee of adjustment on Sept. 18, 2019, that it shouldn't even hear the Chateau Laurier's request while city council's decision is being challenged in court. The committee heard it anyway. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Architectural historian Peter Coffman said Wednesday he's concerned the committee of adjustment won't deal with the big picture, either.

He's made multiple passionate presentations to decision-makers in recent months.

"We seem to have had one episode after another of people responding to intense public engagement and concern by throwing up their hands and saying 'I'm sorry I can't deal with those concerns. It's not in my jurisdiction. It's not in my job description,'" Coffman told CBC News.

A National Capital Commission committee still has to approve landscaping and the way in which the hotel's addition integrates with Major's Hill Park. 

Larco's representatives declined to speak to CBC News after Wednesday's meeting.


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