Old Ottawa South residents fight church addition

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Residents in Old Ottawa South have concerns about the proposed development of the Southminster United Church at 15 Aylmer Ave. In an effort to keep the church operational, the congregation signed an agreement with Windmill Developments to sell a portion of the property for $1 million. The proposal calls for six-storey apartment building, some residents say, is too high, and residents add, the view of the Rideau Canal, and the church itself will be lost. - Michelle Nash Baker/Metroland

Development puts the view in jeopardy, they say

Michelle Nash Baker, Ottawa East News

What’s in a view?

In Old Ottawa South, some residents feel a view should be considered just as important as any heritage building – especially when that view is of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The issue is the proposed development of the Southminster United Church at 15 Aylmer Ave.

In an effort to keep the church operational, the congregation signed an agreement with Windmill Developments to sell a portion of the property for $1 million.

The proposal is to retain the existing church building and renovate the basement to accommodate community uses. The sale is subject to re-zoning of the property to permit residential condominiums. Memorial Hall would be demolished and replaced with four three-storey townhouses and a 14-unit, six-storey apartment building.

The six-storey apartment building, some residents say, is too high and they add the view of the Rideau Canal, and the church itself will be lost.

Susan Brousseau points out the condominium will be higher than the church and higher than any building currently allowed in the neighbourhood. Brousseau is working with a group of residents aimed at reducing the height of the proposal.

“We all feel this is the gateway, the landmark in the community,” Brousseau said. “We just think this is wrong, we would ask for less, everyone would be cheering if it was less.”

Basically, Brousseau said, they are asking the developers to knock off the top of the building.

Brousseau said there is no doubt the view the future condo owners will have will be amazing – something she agrees with architect Barry Hobin about.

But Brousseau said the future condo owners aren't the only people who should matter.

“We are looking (at it from) the residents' point of view, the people skating on the canal – what will they see?” she said.

One of the biggest issues, Brousseau said, is that the developer’s proposal falsely shows what the view will be – the renderings portray the property in the height of summer, a time when the trees still have their leaves.

This will not be the case come skating season, Brousseau argued.

“It is unfortunate, as well, that the renderings do not include a winter scene, when, like most of the year, there will be no leaves. It is important that city council takes this into consideration,” Brousseau said.

Fellow resident Anna Cuylits said there is no doubt the new condo will dominate the view of the canal.

“It will take away, or replace the landmark view on the church,” Cuylits said. “It detracts from the image of the church and that concerns me. The viewscape just doesn’t fit in with the heritage character.”

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko doesn’t totally agree with the residents on the issue – he agrees the building will be too high and would like the proposal to be one-storey less -- but overall, the proposal is OK.

“It’s a challenge as a councillor when you are trying to parse out what are the real concerns and what aren’t,” he said. “This is one where as the councillor I have to say ‘Look I’m with you on a lot of things, but let's not go too far and let's just stick with what’s really substantial,’ and that is the height and the precedent setting.”

The councillor said he is concerned that if this height is approved then the height of future developments along Bank Street could continue to get too high.

Chernushenko pointed out that when Lansdowne Park was being redeveloped, the concern of the condominiums and the stadium facing the canal did not cause concern for UNESCO and he can’t see why the National Capital Commission or UNESCO would find concern with this proposal.

“It really is all about height,” Chernushenko said. “I will be trying to bring down the height. One storey too high does make a difference.”

The proceeds of the sale, the church said, will help complete long-needed maintenance on the main church building and renovate parts of the interior so the church can remain operational for the community.

The property that was sold is the addition, which was built in 1955.

The church plans to return to the original church building, as it existed in 1932 – with the original church remaining intact.

According to the church, the sale was the best option, as opposed to trying to raise the funds needed to fix the building.

“Frankly, over the years we’ve seen decreasing eagerness to financially support the vital work that we do,” the church said in a statement on its website. “More broadly, it’s no secret that Canadian institutions – from social clubs to churches – are suffering. That’s been readily apparent, especially over the last two decades.”

The offer from Windmill, the church said, provided an option for the organization to realize the benefits of returning to its "natural" building without needing the capital investment.

Chernushenko said it's absolutely essential that the church continue operating its programs.