The Built Heritage Sub-Committee (BHSC) unanimously recommended that the heritage permit for an addition at 551 Fairview be granted with direction to the City’s heritage staff to work with the applicant on two specific elements to improve the proposal and ensure compliance with the Rockcliffe Park Heritage Conservation District (HCD) Plan.
As Chair of the BHSC, I worked with Vice-Chair Barry Padolsky, a noted Ottawa heritage architect, on a compromise solution that directs the applicant and staff to pursue design revisions aimed at improving compatibility with the existing Grade 1 house. Please click here to read the motion.
Since this application has garnered a lot of local interest – both in support and opposition – I felt it was important to explain my position on this application and the many thoughtful comments provided.
Much of the concern expressed had focused on the impact of the proposed addition on the public sightlines and experience from the “dog walk” – the gravel pathway that borders the west side of MacKay Lake. It was felt by some residents that the public view from the pathway to the existing rear façade of the house merits protection and should be considered to be part of the historic fabric of the community.
I carefully considered but ultimately did not agree that the application should be rejected on that basis. If one accepts that the public is owed an uninterrupted view through private yards to the homes on the escarpment as they are today, what does that mean for the right of property owners to plant trees and other vegetation on their property? Is it fair to interpret such a requirement in the absence of any specific obligation to do so in either the Rockcliffe Park Heritage Conservation District (HCD) Plan or the relevant zoning rules?
My consideration of the asserted right to the views of the existing homes from the dog walk was influenced by other elements of the application worth noting. The proposed addition would result in a set back 16.5 m from the eastern property line (ie. the MacKay Lake side) and 21.5 m from the “dog walk” itself. That distance is comparable to most of the other houses along the dog walk, with the exception of the home to the south, which is set back a mere 7.4 m from its rear property line. The application would result in a house footprint of 12.7 per cent of the lot - lower than any of the five houses in closest proximity to it and less than half the ratio of the two directly adjacent houses.
I did not believe it would be fair or reasonable to prevent the applicant from building an addition on the basis that there is an implied right of the public to views of both the backyard and the existing back façade of the house.
I did, however, agree with those who were concerned about the relationship between the proposed addition and the existing house – particularly at the second story. The HCD plans requires that additions “complement” the existing building, including the roofline, and the applicant’s commissioned cultural heritage impact statement acknowledged that the proposed second story was not “subordinate” to the original building, as the HCD plan requires. I was therefore pleased that we found a compromise that allows the addition to proceed but subject to changes described in the motion.
In conclusion, heritage protection needs to be guided by transparent, predictable and evenly applied rules. In the balance that these heritage rules establish – between the rights of private property owners to make changes to their homes and their obligation to protect the architectural, landscape and cultural heritage value of the neighbourhood – I feel the path taken today by the BHSC was the correct one.
I appreciate that the applicant and his architect have been thoughtful interlocutors in this process and willingly accepted the direction today. I am also grateful to all the residents who reached out to me – both those in support and in opposition to this application. The engagement is a testament to the high level of collective pride in, concern for, and desire to promote the future well-being of, the Village of Rockcliffe Park.