Castel Blanc subdivision approved by municipal council. No new construction projects planned for the near future
The Ville de Gatineau has approved a request to subdivide the land at 43 rue Principale, dividing the “Castel Blanc” heritage home and the garden adjacent to it into two separate lots. The owners’ request was recommended to the municipal council by the city’s Urban Planning Advisory Council (Conseil consultatif de l’urbanisme – CCU) and the Local Heritage Council (Conseil local du patrimoine – CLP) on September 26 and approved by the Council at its meeting on October 18. The decision was put to a vote with 15 council members voting for, 3 voting against and 2 absent members.
The decision to subdivide means that the fenced garden area next to Castel Blanc will now be considered an independent lot that can be sold or developed by the current owners. The subdivision does not affect the Castel Blanc building itself, which retains its status as a heritage home and will continue to be protected as such. Built in 1883, the home was first owned by medical doctor and former Mayor of Aylmer John-Joseph Edmond Woods and his family. Considering its age, beauty and historical significance, Castel Blanc is listed by the city as a heritage site of “superior value”.
On October 10, the Aylmer Heritage Association (AHA / Association du patrimoine d’Aylmer - APA) sent a letter of concern to the municipal council co-signed by four other residents associations, claiming that the garden adjacent to the home was an indispensable part of the property’s heritage value. The letter states that the “house and the garden form an indissociable whole, having been designed for each other … the garden gives meaning to the house’s architecture.” It further argues that the garden should be considered “landscape heritage” according to the city’s Cultural Heritage Act (Loi sur le patrimoine culturel) since both land and buildings of heritage value are included in the definition of heritage property (“immeubles patrimonial”) under Article 2 of the act. The AHA requested that the council therefore protect the green space by either rejecting the request to subdivide or authorizing it in a way that ensures no structures would be allowed to be built over the garden.
While the council recognized the heritage value of the Castel Blanc building in its decision to subdivide, it did not consider the garden as part of the heritage property. The council based its decision on the fact that only the house and not its surroundings is explicitly listed as being of heritage value in the property’s file and therefore did not see any restriction on subdividing the land. However, since the entirety of the property remains part of Rue Principale’s heritage zone, any future construction on the new lot must first be approved by the council and must strictly adhere to the city’s heritage regulations as well as its plan for architectural implementation and integration (plan d’implantation et d’intégration architecturale – PIIA). In addition, the Council said it would ensure that any future project would align with Old Aylmer’s new urban plan (Programme Particulier d’Urbanisme - PPU) that is currently in development and will be adopted in the spring of 2023.
In response to AHA Vice-President Réjeanne Gagnon’s intervention during the municipal council’s October 18 meeting, district councillor for Aylmer Steven Boivin maintained his support for subdividing the property but emphasized the council’s commitment to upholding the heritage regulations and standards for property development in Old Aylmer. “This [decision] does not mean future building projects won’t be subject to the city’s heritage regulations. I can assure you that the council will be extremely vigilant with any future requests for construction on that land.”
The AHA continues to maintain its position that the garden is an integral part of the heritage value of 43 rue Principale and that the city has an obligation to protect it even after the land is subdivided. “This file is one of the first examples of the need to preserve the landscape elements of heritage sites that are inseparable from the city’s built heritage,” said Ghislain Otis, member of AHA’s Board of Directors, in response to a request for comments from the Bulletin. “The heritage act and the city’s development plan allow for the protection of landscape heritage that is inseparable from a built heritage property. We simply ask that they city’s commitments be honoured.” He added that the association will continue to look into all possible means to protect the garden from being impacted by future projects.
The Bulletin contacted one of 43 rue Principale’s co-owners, Hubert Beauchesne, to enquire about possible future projects. Beauchesne said that there are currently no plans to build on the land and no plans have been made to sell the lot. “At present, there is no project at all, not even a hypothetical project that has been discussed by the owners.” While Beauchesne does not foresee any construction in the near future, he said that a large part of the green space would be preserved in the event of any new development in a way comparable to other commercial spaces on rue Principale, such as Café Mulligan. “If one day there is something built there,” he said, “much of the green space will be protected and included in the plans in a way that respects the heritage value of the land and, of course, the building itself will meet the city’s heritage standards. It won’t be a high-rise; it will respect the area and the style.” He also noted that any future project would likely be a commercial building accessible to the public, such as a restaurant or a café, with the possibility of residential units on the upper floor. He further explained that the owners would first consult the AHA and local residents before submitting any construction proposal to the city. “We will certainly work with the AHA; they are the heritage experts in this area.”
Photo caption: Maison Woods or “Castel Blanc” at 43 rue Principale. Photo credit: Réseau du patrimoine de Gatineau et de l’Outaouais.