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Cathedral Hill project OK’d by heritage committee

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Proposal now goes to city planning

By Meghan Hurley, Ottawa Citizen

A proposal to build a 21-storey condominium tower, a row of townhouses and a 12-storey office building around the Christ Church Cathedral will move ahead to the city’s planning committee after it was approved by the Ottawa Built Heritage Advisory Committee on Thursday night.

The committee voted in favour of the proposal going to the City of Ottawa planning committee May 9 and then to council on May 11 for approval.

The Anglican cathedral plans to develop the land surrounding the 138-year-old building to generate income for its ministries.

The design aims to transform a patchwork of parking lots and historic structures into a coherent urban block that integrates contemporary buildings with the cathedral.

The diocese and cathedral have a deal with Windmill Development Group of Ottawa for a 220,000-square foot development on 35,000 square feet of leased land.

The site is bounded by Bronson Street to the west, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church to the east, Sparks Street to the south and Queen Street to the north.

The backdrop to the church is a wall of residential highrises.

Cathedral Hill is a designated heritage district, and new buildings are supposed to be sensitive and complementary.

An earlier design showed a boxier, 15-storey residential building. Now it is 21 storeys plus a mechanical floor. The top two storeys are penthouse units set back from the rest of the tower to shape the top and to respect protected sightlines related to Parliament Hill.

The designers suggest that a taller, more slender tower can better address urban design issues on the site, compared with a shorter building of the same interior size.

However, community associations have expressed concern about the size of the proposed development.

“Normally, a neighbourhood would end tapering down, and this would do the opposite. It tapers up,” said Charles Akben-Marchand, president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association.

“You can see how the office building really crowds the steeple of the church.”

The keys to unlocking the potential of the site while keeping the houses are the removal of the 1950s Cathedral Hall facing Sparks Street and the construction of a new parish hall in the centre of the site.

That allows the designers to slip a narrow tower behind Roper House and put lower -scaled townhouses where the church hall was.

The townhouses are key elements in the urban design strategy. They provide a lower building along Sparks Street to make a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape and use stone to relate to the older buildings. The townhouses match Roper House in scale at its west end while deferring to the cathedral to the east.

The cathedral will be framed by new buildings and have a new plaza in front. There will be new pedestrian routes between Sparks and Queen.

The townhouses are set back more than the present church hall so the cathedral is more visible.

The office building is pushed back further than in an earlier scheme to allow a clear view from St. Peter’s to the cathedral.

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