Some residents in Lowertown do not want to choose between saving heritage homes and making room for bicycle lanes.
Owned by the National Capital Commission, 277, 275, 279 and 273 Sussex Dr. are scheduled to be demolished to make way for a major construction project which includes widening of the road and adding cycling lanes.
The city-led project is seeking approval for demolition control at the Ottawa built heritage advisory committee on Sept. 20. Lowertown residents, including heritage and development committee chairwoman Nancy Miller Chenier, came out to the Lowertown Community Association on Sept. 10 to seek support and information from their city councillor on the topic.
“Those houses are in a designated heritage district, with history and Lowertown stories attached to them,” said Miller Chenier. “We would like the houses to be contained and we would like Coun. Fleury to support us.”
So far, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who because of a prior commitment did not make it to the Monday evening meeting, has not sided with the community on the issue.
In an earlier Ottawa-East EMC interview with the councillor, Fleury stated he is waiting for an official decision from Ottawa built heritage advisory committee on the value of the buildings on Sussex Drive.
“There are categories that define every house,” Fleury said. “My simple understanding about those houses is that, yes, they are in the district, but they are category three. Category three is something (where) they are part of the district, in of itself, but they are not heritage piece.”
Fleury does not call himself a heritage expert saying he puts his trust in city heritage staff to state the value of the homes.
A category three building is a structure located in a heritage district that would not merit individual heritage designation, according to the cultural heritage impact statement, which will be presented at the advisory committee meeting.
The report also points out the guidelines in the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District Plan.
“Structures deemed not to have heritage significance may be considered for demolition, if an appropriate replacement structure is proposed,” states the plan.
Furthermore, the councillor said the main reason for the road widening is to add bicycle lanes to the road.
“Both the community, the NCC and the city all agree there is a need to place cycling lanes and wider sidewalks on the street,” Fleury said.
Some residents do not find it that simple and do not necessarily believe the widening is to benefit pedestrians and cyclists first and foremost.
“We are accommodating the car first. If the road is busy, pedestrians and cyclists will feel less comfortable to use the busy street,” said Lowertown resident Sylvie Grenier.
Liz Bernstein, vice-president of the Lowertown Community Association, agreed.
“It is a false dichotomy that we have to choose between heritage and cyclists,” Bernstein said.
When the Ottawa-East EMC reported about the proposed demolition in April, city infrastructure services manager for the east, Ziad Ghadban, said the project would not be able to go ahead as designed without the demolition of these buildings.
Ghadban said the city needs to correct the curve and alignment of Sussex Drive between the Royal Canadian Mint and Boteler Street to allow for 1.5-kilometres of safe cycling lanes in both directions.
“The dedicated cycling lanes would not be possible without the realignment,” he said.
The association has requested for the homes to be either moved further back from the road or relocated to another property within the heritage district to meet the needs of both the road-widening project and the conservation of the district.
Fleury said the options of moving the houses or looking at other options was up to the owners of the homes.
“From my perspective, the angle of keeping the houses, moving those buildings, and looking at the options needed to be addressed at their board (the NCC board),” Fleury said.
The councillor said he has to trust in the expertise of the city’s heritage staff.
“Unless there is something that is way off the mark here, but I have to trust that our heritage staff are able to provide good advice or submit a report about those houses.
The built heritage advisory committee will meet to discuss the project in the Colonel By room at city hall on Sept. 20, starting at 6 p.m.
Fleury said he will attend the meeting.
Residents can sign up in advance to speak at the meeting by calling Kelly Sammon at 613-580-2424 ext. 16875 or emailing her at email@example.com. Residents can also sign up at the meeting.
If residents and city staff do not see eye to eye with the decision, Fleury indicated he would set up a meeting to discuss concerns further.
If passed at the built heritage committee, the application would still need approval from the planning committee and city council.