The owner of the Château Laurier has filed what it hopes will be its last attempt at designing an addition to the historic hotel.
City staff on Thursday are expected to release a report on the latest iteration of the addition by Larco Investments, which is trying to win approval for a major expansion of the heritage-protected hotel at 1 Rideau St.
The details of the latest design won’t be made public until then, but Dennis Jacobs, Larco’s Ottawa-based planning consultant, said the architects have listened to the feedback from design experts and the decision-makers at city hall.
The local councillor doesn’t necessarily think so.
In written comments submitted for the staff report, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury says the addition as a standalone building might be welcomed in other neighbourhoods, but it doesn’t fit with the landmark hotel.
While Fleury acknowledges design improvements since the first concept was presented in 2016, he doesn’t think the latest iteration satisfies the council direction to make sure the addition includes architectural cues from the hotel. He wants the planning committee to reject it.
The built-heritage subcommittee will weigh in during a meeting on June 3 but it doesn’t have a vote on the ultimate site-plan approval needed for the project. That responsibility falls to the planning committee on June 13.
Larco first submitted its site-plan application in December 2016, kicking off a lengthy public debate over what the hotel addition should look like. The company’s architects, led by architectsAlliance, started out with a stark contrast to the castle-like hotel , choosing more of a boxy 218-room addition rather than one with an angular roofline. The preliminary design called for a maximum building height of 11-12 storeys.
It quickly became obvious that Larco wasn’t interested in simply replicating the hotel design. Whether the public liked it or not, there would be a more contemporary feel to the hotel’s rear addition featuring lots of glass. It wouldn’t be a mini-Château plunked onto the back of the hotel.
However, the public didn’t like that the addition seemed to overwhelm the hotel.
Larco cut floors from the design, bringing the addition down to seven storeys. The company won over city staff’s approval with a design that landed on the political agenda about a year ago.
On June 27, 2018, city council voted in favour of approving Larco’s application to alter the Château Laurier, as long as the owner worked with city staff to make the addition “more visually compatible” with the existing hotel. Council wanted three specific changes: more Indiana limestone, a breakup of the blocky north facade and geometric patterns similar to the hotel’s structure.
Larco released a new design for a 147-room addition last February and it was clear that the company heeded council’s request for more limestone.
In March, the city’s urban design review panel voiced support for the contemporary approach but called for a stronger architectural relationship between the addition and the existing hotel.
Heritage Ottawa dismissed the design as “the unrepentant and utterly unsuitable box that has been proposed from the very beginning.”
David Flemming, the chair of Heritage Ottawa’s advocacy committee, said the group is scheduled to meet with the hotel’s project team Wednesday morning to go over the latest design.
“We’re hoping for a substantial change in the previous design,” Flemming said. “We’re not holding our breath on that.”
Heritage Ottawa appealed directly to the president of Larco in a letter, asking the company to make the hotel addition more complementary to the heritage building. Flemming said Heritage Ottawa didn’t hear back.
Flemming said Larco has partially responded to council’s request regarding the use of limestone and the breakup of the north facade.
“I wasn’t convinced personally that what they presented in March met the third condition,” Flemming said, criticizing the visual compatibility between the hotel and the addition.
“You still have a box. A rectangular box.”
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