a peek inside the fishbowl

13 Feb, 2007

PEC meeting and La Maison Jeanne D’Arc

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Westboro

… as summarized in an earlier email from Dagne, my fellow heritage do-gooder,

“PEC approved heritage designation for the structure today, so it looks as though we get to keep the building, which we are so pleased about. (City Council has final say, but it’s expected that this will be passed.)

Hobin/Uniform plan to put three townhomes into the original 1934 building and to retain the building’s presentation to the street (eg the main entrance will stay, and side entrances will go in for two of the townhomes).

The plan to put singles and doubles on the rest of the property looks set to go forward, although the heritage committee will get to look at final plans and we’re hoping that some of us from the community will also get to be part of that process. ”

As Dagne wrote, we are pleased about the designation. After all, this is what we had set out to do. I am, however, disappointed that the committee, and our Councillor, weren’t open to discussions about alternate use for the building. I have a feeling that our requests for an improved consultation process aren’t going anywhere either. But I’m not giving up.

Those who spoke out in defence of Heritage designation and made points about the rezoning and the applicant’s request to have the 5% parkland dedication waived (which was APPROVED by the way) were all amazing: diplomatic and well-spoken … a real asset to our side.

Here are my speaking notes from today. At the last minute I had to make major changes and ended up ditching half of my planned speech about Heritage, but at least this will give you an idea of where I was coming from. Read on if you’re interested. :)

re: HERITAGE

My name is Andrea T*** and I’m here with my neighbor Dagne F***. We each live within a few blocks of La Maison Jeanne d’Arc.

After the unanimous decision to recommend heritage designation for La Maison at the LACAC meeting on January 25th, we were pleased to hear, through an article in the Ottawa Citizen, that the applicant agreed there is more to a community than the houses that people live in.

People choose to live in Westboro because of mature trees, unique history, and landmarks like this one. La Maison Jeanne D’Arc is a landmark and a key to our collective history. It shouldn’t be dismissed as trivial or bartered away. It would be such a shame if it disappeared, because once it’s gone, it’s gone.

At the LACAC meeting on the 25th of January, city planners said they want to “extend the fabric of the community” of Westboro by tearing down La Maison Jeanne d’Arc and replacing it with 20 large homes. But it’s heritage buildings like this one that provide the connecting fabric that links us together. Bulldozing a building that is so rare and rich in character like the Maison Jeanne d’Arc would do nothing but permanently erase part of our neighborhood character for short-term financial gain. And it’s not worth it.

Westboro prides itself on its history, and it is a history that goes back pretty far. It was the Algonquin tribe that inhabited the river here who referred to it as Kitchesipppi, or the Grand River. The name is remembered in our regional electoral ward.  

We speak fondly about our lumber days and history of our waterfront. Our shared history is reflected in the streetscape: the street names and large-scale murals, for example, the larger-than-life portrait of Winston Churchill on Churchill Avenue near Churchill school.

The Westboro Business Association does their best to promote the “village” part of “Westboro Village.” Past Christmases had the Westboro BIA hosting old-fashioned sleigh rides at Christmastime, caroling and hot apple cider. History is part of what draws people to this neighborhood.

So why is heritage such a tough sell to developers?

We went door-to-door with a petition and had overwhelming support. 180 people signed it. They agreed that the Maison Jeanne d’Arc deserves heritage status. 

It’s disappointing that the buildings in which women worked and lived, like convents or the religious institutions the sisterhoods ran, tend to be overlooked.

The architect is Mere Marie Thomas D’Aquin – who was also a painter and poet. La Maison is the only building she built. She may not have slept there, but that does not make her contribution any less important. It was a rare thing for a woman to be an architect in those days. According to a report by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, in 1939, five years after the Maison Jeanne d’Arc was built, there were only five female registered architects in Canada.

Her unique contribution to this neighborhood, and the history of the building as a school, a home, a centre for learning, as well as its strong Francophone connection, cannot and must not be overlooked.
 
In closing, I’d like to share Councillor Christine Leadman’s point of view about the heritage issue in our ward. The following was taken from her website. She writes:

“I feel we all need a sense of self, who we are and where we come from. We need to celebrate our heritage. We need to have a sense of pride of how our city was built and what we have achieved over the years. We need to instill this sense of pride in our children and value what they have today. We can also learn from the past and what not to repeat. This is often lost in today’s fast paced society. In our multicultural society where we applaud the efforts of ethnic groups in retaining their identities and respect their cultures. We need to do the same with our own heritage and culture.”

 

re: ZONING

My name is Andrea T*** and I oppose the rezoning of 360 Kenwood Avenue.

In the fall, my friend and neighbor Dagne F*** and I petitioned for heritage status for the Maison Jeanne D’Arc. At the time, our petition asked specifically about heritage because we believed this was the only avenue available to us.  We have spoken to hundreds of people about this issue and I would like to go on record and say that there has been great support in finding an alternate use for this building.

There has been a lot of concern about the process. Only a select handful of people have seen the applicant’s plans. Such a large-scale development has had the bare minimum of public consultation. Only those who live right next to the proposed development were invited to view the plans and those I spoke to said were led to believe it was a done deal. And it’s my understanding the meetings were not attended by City staff.

I’d like to quote Stuart Lazear, the City of Ottawa’s co-ordinator of heritage planning, from a recent article in The Ottawa Citizen.

“… The community has a critical role in terms of being vigilant, to ensure that there is a good quality of infill design, and that development respects the character that the community wants to have. You can’t expect a planning department to be the police for the esthetic values of a community.”

We need to pause for a moment, especially now that the original plans have changed significantly and the applicant is asking for special exceptions – such as an increase in height variance.

We need a truly public consultation- where residents could share their concerns and those concerns would actually mean something. We continue to wonder why we, the residents, have such little input in what is built in our neighborhoods. Why is it that the developers dictact the terms?

We are not against infill housing. We accept it as a reality of our growing city. But we are concerned about how this development will fit into the surrounding neighborhood.

The proposed development is not consistent with local buildings. The report to the Planning and Environment Committee states:

“The proposal for the site is consistent with and advances many of the relevant design considerations providing for street oriented development that reflects the development pattern of the community.”

The designs that we viewed from afar at the LACAC meeting in late January look like tract housing, and they were consistent only to the homes the applicant designed as part of the infill of the Ogilvy Estate on Kenwood. And who sets this “development pattern”? The developer? A development of this size must be sensitive to the homes around it in terms of size and design. These push the boundaries of both. Infill should reflect the style and character of the surrounding community around it INCLUDING La Maison Jeanne d’Arc.

I had a meeting with John Rapp, the executive director of Dovercourt Recreation Centre, which is a five-minute walk from the proposed development. He asked me what I wanted, what I see as the ideal use of this space. I’ll tell you what I told him.

A lot of people in this neighborhood want the Maison Jeanne D’Arc to be saved from demolition and re-used in a way that would most benefit the community. There is a serious deficit of retirement residences, daycare spaces, and other non-profit spaces. Ironically, we have a critical need for all three. This is a rare opportunity for the City of Ottawa to show they support the people who live here and create something the community really needs.

In a follow-up email Mr. Rapp wrote: “Should a possibility come up that the developer would create some community access space, or the City indicate that it would lease or buy it – we are ready, willing and able to help make that effective.”

We don’t believe all the options have been explored or exhausted.

Development should not only be about maximizing residential opportunities. We shouldn’t lurch ahead blindly without a larger design plan in mind. We need to decide what kind of neighborhood we want Westboro to be, and develop a long term plan based on that vision.

I respectfully ask the committee to defer rezoning decisions until a proper public consultation has taken place and all options for adaptive reuse have been investigated. This is a huge decision and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Once the land is used up, it’s used up forever.


3 Responses to "PEC meeting and La Maison Jeanne D’Arc"

1 | RooseveltRoss

February 24th, 2007 at 4:59 pm

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Thanks for you work on this! Glad we were able to turn this around. I heard derisive comments from city officials that the local people only got involved when the zoning change signs went up, as if we ignored some earlier pleas for input.

I have no idea what they did to get input before that stage, but it certainly didn’t involve telling us, just a block away from the building.

The (slightly) annoying thing is that Hobin will probably get some sort of award for his “vision” when the things all finished, and he’ll tell people how important it is to preserve old buildings with character. Oh well.

2 | katie

February 27th, 2007 at 11:24 am

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We love Hobin’s designs. We’re thinking of purchasing one, actually. I think there are worse examples of infill in the city… These are architecturally designed gems.

Ottawa’s first ring suburbs aren’t exactly known for their stunning architecture. When Hobin goes into Old Ottawa South, for instance, he’s doing that neighborhood a favour.

3 | Gail

March 10th, 2007 at 9:20 am

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I hope that not only could the Maison Jeanne D’Arc building be preserved, but I woudl love to see it used for something else, other than turning it into town homes. It certainly has a rich history. I attended that school about 40 years ago and have special memories of it, nothing like any other school I ever attended. It was like a community within the school/convent. I attended classes from kindergarten in the building and other grades. I remember the chapel and the main reception area. I remember seeing the nuns cooking in the kitchen as our grade 3 class passed by on our way upstairs to our classroom. For other grades the children were placed the adjacent buildings, which felt like being in a schoolhouse. I could go on, but my point is that it is was a very special place for many people, including those who lived there, as well as the points mentioned regarding its architectural and community significance, which I think makes it a landmark worth saving.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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