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Planning panel approves Cathedral Hill development

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By Joanne Chianello, Ottawa Citizen

After decades of trying to develop its lands on Cathedral Hill, the Anglican diocese finally received approval to go ahead with a project that will see, among other things, a condominium tower on the southwest portion of the site that will be 21-storeys high -or more than three times the height that’s currently allowed.

Council’s planning committee Tuesday unanimously approved the proposal to construct a 21-storey condominium tower, a row of four townhouses and a 12-storey office building around Christ Church Cathedral at the west end of Sparks Street. The plan was also approved last week by the Ottawa Built Heritage Advisory Committee.

However, the plan did not sit well with the half-dozen or so residents who came to argue that the development was too dense and that heights will block important views.

For the spot where the condo building will be built, the existing zoning allows for heights of 20 metres. Tuesday’s decision, which will go to council today, allows a maximum height of 73.6 metres.

The new towers will be slightly higher than the cathedral spires and “considerably higher than the other existing heritage buildings” nearby, according to a city report. “Do not foist this development on us,” said James McGraw, whose wife owns a condo on Bronson Avenue. “This is going to overwhelm the cathedral and its attendant buildings.”

Hugh Finsten, who lives on Bay Street on the eastern edge of the site, told councillors he was worried the views of the Ottawa River from his condo will be blocked, and could affect the value of his home. But more importantly, he said later, the development “is a real detriment to downtown Ottawa.”

“I thought that this proposal doesn’t fit at all in the neighbourhood,” said Finsten. “The cathedral is going to be walled in. Yes, it’s true, you’re going to be able to see it from the parkway, but the rest of the view is all blocked up.”

The site is bounded by Bronson Avenue to the west, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church to the east, Sparks Street to the north and Queen Street to the south. Christ Church owns all the property except St. Peter’s and three Queen Anne revival houses on Queen Street.

The Anglican diocese wants to develop the land surrounding the 138-year-old building to generate income for its ministries and to pay for the ongoing restoration of the heritage building, which costs at least $100,000 a year, Rev. Shane Parker, dean of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa and rector of Christ Church, told the committee Tuesday.

“It’s a Victorian Gothic building in the middle of one of the coldest climates on earth and the wear and tear is significant,” he later said.

Although the financial details of the diocese’s deal with Windmill Development Group of Ottawa to undertake the project were not made public, Parker said the complex leasing deal will provide the church with revenue “in perpetuity,” and that will free up money for the church to invest “in things related to people, as opposed to the structure itself.”

The church is also in discussions with Habitat for Humanity to provide some affordable housing units in the 136-unit residential development.

Cathedral Hill is a designated heritage district, and new buildings are supposed to be sensitive and complementary. The design has morphed from a boxy, 15-storey residential building into a skinnier 21-storey residential tower, which the city’s design review panel prefers because the more slender tower will be less dominating. The tower has also been moved farther from the cathedral, to provide a better view of the church from the north side.

Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes represents the ward where Cathedral Hill is located. She supports most of the project, as well as the church’s requirement for revenue, but said “the height is a real problem.” “It’s either fat and squat or tall and thin,” said Holmes, who in not on the planning committee and hence could not vote on the issue. “We don’t ever seem to be able to have a less-tall-and-thin discussion, it’s always an extremely-talland-thin discussion.”

The plan calls for demolishing the 1950s Cathedral Hall facing Sparks Street and constructing a new hall in the centre of the site. That allows the designers to build a narrow tower behind Roper House -a heritage-designated site -and put lower-scaled townhouses where the church hall was on Sparks.


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