The proposed extension of the Château Laurier lurched one more step towards a bad conclusion on June 26, when Planning Committee approved a motion by the Built Heritage Sub-Committee to accept the current design on the condition that it be made ‘more compatible’ with the historic Château. I know this sounds kind of vague, so I consulted my trusty crystal ball to see what’s in store for the iconic hotel at the heart of our Parliamentary Precinct. Here’s what it told me:
Within hours of my writing this, City Council will approve the Planning Committee’s decision. There will be no meaningful debate or discussion of other options. This has been a sticky and controversial file, but conveniently, this is the last time Council will have to vote on it. Even better (for them), the Council and mayor Jim Watson will have managed to wash their hands of the issue without having had to make a decision on the final design, securing their place in history as the Pontius Pilate of heritage.
The story will then go quiet for several months (apart from a few pesky bloggers). At some point in the early winter – hey, that’s after the municipal election, how convenient! – City staff will unveil another design, and will report that the applicant has shown flexibility and listened to criticism.
The design will be another box.
The box will be shown to the public for one night, and this will be called ‘consultation.’
Built Heritage Sub-Committee will comment (the closest thing to an official role they have left in the process), saying that the design has evolved and that, though imperfect, it fulfils the minimum conditions imposed by City Council.
There will be a public outcry, in which those who have not yet been ground to exhaustion by the process and utter futility of dissent will cogently explain why the box is not just imperfect, but lamentable. This view will be endorsed by a broad range of professional and public opinion. These opinions will have no impact.
The design will come before Planning Committee, which will endorse BHSC’s position that the box meets requirements. One or two will point out that, since this has been submitted to them as a Site Plan application rather than a Heritage one, it can’t be rejected on heritage grounds. So you see, their hands are tied.
The box will be built, and for generations will be reviled as the ugliest building in Ottawa (which it won’t be, but it will ruin what had been one of the most beautiful). Thousands of visitors will come to Ottawa full of excitement at the prospect of staying at the fabled Château Laurier, but will be disappointed to find that their suite is actually in the box, which will be known as ‘Watson’s Folly.’
No developer will ever fear resistance from City Council on heritage grounds again.
Go ahead Ottawa, I dare you – in fact I beg you – to prove me wrong.