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Dec. 11, 2019 | Wednesday
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SORE wins right to join legal battles
A portion of the stone wall surrounding the Randwood Estate. (Richard Harley/Niagara Now)

Save Our Rand Estate, a NOTL group advocating for the preservation of the historic Randwood property, was awarded full party status Thursday, allowing the group to be part of the legal action between the town and developer Benny Marotta.

The victory means SORE will be allowed to present arguments and cross-examine witnesses in the court battle between the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Two Sisters Resorts Corp. and Solmar Niagara 2 Inc. — commonly known as Solmar Development Corp.

The activist group was also awarded costs for the legal proceedings. More than 60 SORE supporters packed the courthouse in St. Catharines last Wednesday to show their support for the group.

“Well, I must admit, I’m certainly encouraged,” said SORE’s lawyer Patrick Little.

“Now we’re two for two in being able to participate as SORE, as a representative of a significant portion of the community.”

Justice Meredith Donahue delivered her hand-written ruling last Thursday.

Two Sisters wants to build a six-storey hotel and 160-unit subdivision on the Randwood Estate and nearby properties. The developer has launched a legal challenge to a plan by the town to designate the property a historic site.

SORE represents local residents, many of whom live close to the Rand site. They are concerned about the size and scope of the development, loss of historic features on the estate and the impact on their homes and enjoyment of life.

“I think (the ruling) is a concise review of the arguments and then a clear determination based on the appropriate criteria that SORE has an interest and would benefit the tribunal, in this case the Superior Court, by providing a perspective that deserves to be heard,” said Little.

He said he thinks SORE has come together to reflect a view that, while not at odds with the town’s perspective, emphasizes what residents see as “part of an important segment of the profile that the community has in what Randwood represents.”

He noted that the high turnout at public meetings pertaining to Randwood show that NOTL has a “significant group of people who support SORE.”

“Another 420 people have gone onto the SORE website and said, ‘Please email me all the stuff about it’ … So it’s not as if it’s a band of four people — anarchists — who are trying to sway the public mood,” Little said.

Little said SORE is a “groundswell of people” who are generally concerned that Two Sisters is going to destroy heritage attributes of an iconic property which “could very well be preserved” if they stuck to plans that were approved in 2011.

“The idea is to provide a forum, to provide a voice for that segment of the community,” Little said. “So, why is there a need for there to be a six-storey hotel? Why is there a need to be a 160-unit subdivision stuck at the back? I think SORE provides representation for those people who agree that NOTL has a unique profile and that the Randwood Estate is part of that,” he said.

“Certainly, redevelopment of it makes sense. It’s no longer a viable resort or country home for summer purposes. But there certainly has to be some value ascribed to what is there presently, both in house and landscaping terms, that seems to be being run roughshod over by the Two Sisters proposal.”

Lyle Hall, one of SORE’s core members, said the group is feeling good about the win.

“Clearly, we’re quite happy,” Hall said.

“I think we’re still a little perplexed on why we’re even having this battle. I think SORE has demonstrated we have a position and an interest, and a unique position and interest in what’s happening on the Rand Estate. And we don’t quite understand why Marotta and his team are continually fighting us.”

“But we’re here to see this through. We’re not going away and I guess if he wants to continue doing this, we’ll continue as well. I think we’re certainly heartened to see the judge side with us, and not just side with us on allowing us to be a party but side with us on costs as well.”

Little said next step for SORE is asking to be a part of the matters at the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal, so that they may have a say during the tribunal for an application to quash heritage designation of the Randwood Estate.

“And SORE I think provides a very good opportunity to coordinate and to coalesce the community positions with quite frankly, in my opinion, superior expert evidence,” Little said.

“I mean there are five expert reports that were prepared and filed in December by SORE. They were retained by SORE, paid by SORE. And so rather than just relying on a neighbour saying ‘Oh yeah, it’s too big, it’s too much traffic,’ without having a professional opinion that can be backed up by qualifications, SORE has retained people to speak on transportation, on environmental concerns, on design, on heritage features, so that (the group) is in a position to make a contribution to these authoritative tribunals that each have their focus — as well as being able to represent a significant component of the community at town council, to assist staff, to assist councillors, to arrive at a decision that would be reflective in political terms of what the community would like,” he said.

Little said SORE has proven its commitment to being involved in the process by spending money to obtain expert opinions and letting residents’ voices be heard.

Hall said he, too, feels SORE has a unique position regarding the estate.

“We do have new information to bring and we have consultants we have engaged, but I think the test, if I understand the legality of it, is that we have a different position than the town, in that the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake represents all the residents of NOTL, and for a whole host of situations and issues beyond just the Rand Estate. We, as SORE, have a unique and very narrow focus, and that focus is unique or different from the town’s focus.”

“Our next challenge is LPAT, and we will continue to advocate to have SORE’s voice at the table. And our hope would be that perhaps at some stage Mr. Marotta realizes our legitimacy and we can have this battle in court over the merits and not whether Mr. Marotta thinks we’re eligible or not.”

In 2011, town council approved plans for a four-storey hotel on the properties of the Randwood Estate.

“The Romance Inn was approved (narrowly) by council in 2011. Benny Marotta bought the property knowing what was approved for this important property. If he didn’t want to do that, he shouldn’t have bought the property,” Hall said.

“Just to reiterate, we are not anti-development. We are anti-bad development,” he added.

SORE posted the following letter on its website Friday:

“SORE is pleased to report that it has received the decision of Madame Justice Donahue of the Ontario Superior Court following yesterday’s proceeding in St. Catharines.

SORE has been granted full party status to intervene in the court challenge brought by Benny Marotta’s companies of your elected Council’s decision to designate the Rand Estate under the Heritage Act. The Marotta group lawyers fought very hard, for reasons they never fully explained to the court, to keep SORE out of the case.

Madame Justice Donahue concluded in her decision that:

SORE would be adversely affected should the Marotta group be successful in quashing council’s designation decision, and she was satisfied that SORE would make a useful contribution to the case.

Costs will be awarded to SORE from the Marotta group for its successful result in this motion.

The Marotta group’s application to overturn Council’s decision will be heard in the last week of June in St. Catharines. We will be looking to pack the courtroom again.

This is now the second legal proceeding launched by the Marotta group where SORE has sought, and received, party status over the objections of Benny Marotta’s lawyers. The next one will be their appeal to the LPAT of Council’s non-decision on their zoning by-law application for the proposed convention centre/hotel. That will be heard May 9, 2019, at the NOTL Community Centre. SORE will be looking for full attendance at that prehearing conference. And a reminder if you have not yet done so to write to the LPAT case coordinator to advise of your support for SORE and its application for party status before LPAT (see our web posting and last email for more information).

Thank you for your continued support.”

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