Old Ottawa South church seeking financial salvation from condo faces concerns

As Southminster United Church turns to a developer to help its finances, Old Ottawa South residents have raised objections about a proposed condominium's height and the obstruction of heritage views of the church itself.

Residents raise concerns about proposed condo's height, obstruction of heritage views of church

This architectural rendering shows the proposed condo and townhouses as seen from Galt Street. Southminster United Church can be seen behind them. (Supplied)

As Southminster United Church turns to a developer to help its finances, Old Ottawa South residents have raised objections about a proposed condominium's height and the obstruction of heritage views of the church itself.

Windmill Developments is behind the proposal, which includes four three-storey townhouses and a 14-unit, six-storey apartment building.

Church administrators made their case for looking for a development deal at an official public consultation held Monday night in the church basement at 15 Aylmer St.

Andrew Brewin, a member of the congregation in charge of the redevelopment, said the church is trying to make sure it can continue to operate as a place of worship and a community hub.

'Ultimately, it is survival'

"Ultimately, it is survival. Can our congregation pull together the resources, both financial and human, to be able to continue for the next 85-plus years?" Brewin asked.

"If we do this proposal, we will be able to do that. Otherwise, if we have to go back to the drawing board, it really is hard to see how we'll be able to draw the kind of energy that's needed to do that kind of work."

Andrew Brewin, who is in charge of the Southminster United Church redevelopment project for the congregation, said at a consultation Monday night that the development would help the church survive. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The church turned to redeveloping the site after attempts to get more money by renting church space came up short.

The church's financial shortfall happened in part because of overdue repairs to a hall that was built in 1955 and created a "drip, drip, drip" from the congregation's budget, Brewin said.

The value of the deal is "in the neighbourhood" of $2 million, he added.

Questions about height, obstructed views

Residents said they felt the church hadn't consulted enough prior to going to the developer, and that the church should have looked for alternatives to keep programs running.

Laura Urrechaga was among the 13 original members of Development Watch Southminster, a group that formed to organize people who were against Windmill's proposal.

"We as a community, want them to survive. But we want the importance of our heritage value to be maintained," Urrechaga said. "We do not want to be turned into Westboro."

Among the key issues is the height of the proposed building — six-storeys or about 19 metres — which is almost double what's allowed for neighbouring residential and commercial buildings, she said.

The church welcomes people into Old Ottawa South as they approach from the Glebe, she added.

Laura Urrechaga started the group Development Watch Southminster with her neighbours to oppose the condo proposal. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

'Does not represent our community'

"The church has visual cultural heritage value as the dominant site on that hill when we come into our community," Urrechaga said. 

"A long, residential condominium that is higher than the church doesn't have that same visual cultural heritage value. It does not represent our community."

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)

Resident Michael Lynch claimed the condo being visible from the Rideau Canal could compromise the waterway's UNESCO World Heritage status.

And some residents said the developer's rendering of the building had optimistic, mid-summer foliage on surrounding trees and didn't accurately represent what the view would be like the rest of the year.

Coun. David Chernushenko said the canal's heritage designation has survived other developments, such as Lansdowne Park. He also said federal politicians had shown no interest in weighing in on the issue.

Ditch the developer, group says

Urrechaga said the developer should agree to take off at least one storey from the proposed condo or the church should find a developer who can — or the church will risk losing the community's trust.

But Rodney Wilts, a partner at Windmill, said the project's current density was the minimum required for it to be viable.

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

Brewin said Windmill has been a good partner for the church and their proposal would allow the sanctuary and community programs to continue during construction uninterrupted, a crucial non-financial benefit.

The proposal still needs to go to the planning committee and city council to approve re-zoning of the church property as a traditional main street, which would allow the residential development.

Chernushenko said he has not taken a position on the development, though he has reservations about its height and the protection of trees around it.