OTTAWA — A controversial addition to the historic Chateau Laurier was approved Wednesday, but Ottawa's city council will meet again Thursday to vote on it one more time.
In a 14-9 split, councillors voted down a motion that would have voided a permit to build the addition to the century-old heritage building.
The years-long debate concerns a seven-storey, 147-room addition that would be built on the north side of the castle-like hotel next to Parliament Hill. The proposal quickly became a major point of contention in the capital, as critics said it would be an eyesore and clash with the style of the existing hotel.
Mathieu Fleury, the councillor sponsoring the motion to oppose the development, noted during Wednesday's meeting that even many of the councillors who were voting in favour of the project had said they personally dislike it. And the response from citizens, he said, is obvious.
"We have a responsibility to the public, and the public has been very clear," Fleury said.
The addition is designed by Toronto-based architectsAlliance, known for condominiums that have included towers in Toronto's Distillery District. Heritage architecture principles say that a new addition to an old structure shouldn't try to copy the existing building; the multiple designs the Chateau Laurier's owners have submitted have all been distinctly modern, as a choice to live up to that with an addition that's clearly of its own time.
The Chateau Laurier itself was a throwback to a much earlier French style when it was built. It's different from the Gothic Parliament Buildings and the Beaux-Arts former train station across the street, which temporarily holds the Senate.
Critics have compared the design of the Chateau's addition to a radiator and a shipping container.
Council previously voted in June 2018 that the development could proceed as long as certain changes were made to the design — and left the determination of whether the revisions were good enough to city planners and heritage experts. The opponents of the development argued the design did not meet the requirements set last year, though city staff say it has.
Watson also recently spoke to Amin Lalji, the head of the company that owns the Chateau Laurier, to see if they could meet to discuss a design that would be more acceptable to Ottawa residents, but the owner would not budge on further changes.
"We both agreed it would be a waste of time to sit down when he wasn't going to move," Watson told reporters Wednesday.
Watson said he understood the public outcry on the issue — and he was not fond of the design himself — but that there are rules to follow. One, he said, was that a city council can't dictate esthetics to a private company.
"While the popular thing for me to do would be to play to the crowd and say whatever the loudest person shouts at me, that's not leadership," Watson said.
Immediately after the vote, an opposing city councillor requested the it be reconsidered, and Watson scheduled a new vote for Thursday afternoon.
Antagonists of the development had hoped to buy time to convince their colleagues to change their minds, according to Diane Deans, the councillor who requested reconsideration.
But Watson's motion means the vote will be held right away, rather than the next regular meeting in late August.
As it stands, both Deans and the mayor believe council is likely to vote the same way tomorrow, and the project will get a green light to go forward.
The likely decision Thursday will hold off legal action from Larco Investments, the company that owns Chateau Laurier. Larco had threatened to take the city to court if councillors reversed their decision from 2018.
But it may spark legal action from those who oppose the renovation. Friends of the Chateau Laurier, a community advocacy group, retained a lawyer ahead of council's vote, though it has not said it will go to court to stop the project from going ahead.
The Friends group includes several architecture professors, former federal Liberal minister David Collenette and retired business advocate Thomas d'Aquino. It's backed by the city's main heritage group.
"We all know that this will end up in court, there's no question," said Watson.