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Dec. 6, 2021 | Monday
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Marotta unveils 191-home subdivision plan for Rand Estate
A superimposed image of Marotta’s plans on a map of the area by SORE. (Supplied)

Resident group SORE vows to fight 'completely inappropriate' proposal for heritage property

 

Developer Benny Marotta has submitted new plans for his controversial development project on the historic Rand Estate.

His company, Solmar (Niagara 2) Inc., wants to build 191 units on the 26-acre property, comprising 125 single-family dwellings and 66 semi-detached homes.

Marotta said he is hopeful the town will agree to his proposal, noting there are no townhouses included in his draft plan.

Compared to some other developments in town, notably one on the main entrance to Niagara-on-the-Lake, he said he feels the number of homes is appropriate.

A resident group that's been vocal in opposing Marotta's plans for the Rand Estate at every step, Save Our Rand Estate (SORE), takes issue with the latest plan, saying it is "completely inappropriate."

Lyle Hall, a spokesperson for the group, called it a "high-density development that would leave almost every square inch of the back half of this iconic property covered with houses."

SORE considers the Rand Estate to be "the most important heritage estate property in NOTL," he said in response to questions from The Lake Report.

"It’s far worse than Mr. Marotta’s original subdivision plan that he showed the community at the public meeting in early 2018. By our count he's added approximately 30 more houses. He made a big deal out of claiming that he was misunderstood and just wanted to make NOTL even more beautiful. This is a bizarre way of showing that."

However, Marotta said SORE is "misinformed" and that the plan is in fact considered low-density based on the number of units per acre. He believes the plan is more appropriate than several other townhouse developments being built around town, noting his project calls mainly for single-family houses.

"It really doesn't matter what someone proposes in Niagara-on-the-Lake. SORE will object to everything," Marotta said, adding the initial proposal to the town had 20 more units.

He said the province's mandate for these types of developments is to offer more housing and is encouraging townhouse-style homes, which are more affordable for buyers. He said he purposely didn't include townhouses in the development because it wouldn't complement the Old Town.

"At this point, I'm hoping that the politicians will work with the town staff, who are experts ... to take their advice and make sure that the proper planning is done, and I will work with them on the best solution for the development," Marotta said

Hall said the plans are "even more dense than the Cannery Park development in St. Davids" and said the issue is not about single-detached homes versus townhouses.

"Regardless of whether Mr. Marotta is now proposing semi-detached houses or townhomes, the issue we are focused on is whether his proposal represents good planning in the context of the surrounding neighbourhoods, adjoining land uses and the cultural heritage significance of the Rand Estate."

He did not say what the group considers to be an appropriate land use, but noted the group isn't opposed to housing on the land — which is zoned residential.

"We’ve never said 'no houses.' We never said 'no hotel' either. But in both cases we’ve said the development undertaken must be respectful of the heritage pedigree of the site, the protected cultural heritage assets located throughout the site and the surrounding land uses, including other heritage properties, as well as established neighbourhoods," Hall said.

Marotta maintains the development is more suited to NOTL than other recent developments.

"It's a hell of a lot better than what has been developed in the last few years within the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, whereas they're mainly townhouses."

"It's a lot more suitable for the quality of Niagara-on-the-Lake than what's been built in the last few years within the town. Because we could have built 300 townhouses in there."

Hall said Marotta should engage with the town planners and SORE to address their concerns.

"If Mr. Marotta had made even the slightest good faith effort to address these concerns the discussion might be different. Mr. Marotta has made almost no effort to engage SORE or, from what we know, the town for most of the last three years. Instead, he has attempted to bully his way through tribunal and courtroom to get his way, and so far lost at every turn. SORE will be ready as required to present its vision in the appropriate forum at the appropriate time."

Asked what SORE thinks are the chances the development will be approved as is, he said "none."

"Mr. Marotta has served up a proposal so egregious he has widened support for SORE in our defence of the Rand Estate and responsible development in NOTL. We are being flooded with messages of encouragement and support by NOTL residents."

The group would not comment on how Marotta's plan is different than the many tightly packed developments popping up elsewhere in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Hall said there is no real mission to advocate for responsible development in all of NOTL, only specifically the Rand Estate — which borders on the properties of some SORE members.

"SORE's corporate mandate is the responsible care, maintenance and use of the Rand Estate," Hall said.

"It's outside of SORE's corporate mandate/purpose as set out in our incorporating documents to tackle development issues elsewhere."

Asked if he would consider adding more green space and making the project more of a legacy project, Marotta said he thinks there is already a lot of green space around the area.

"The front is set within green space. On the north side we have the Rand (Estate).That's 14 acres all green. On the east side it's all vineyards and empty land now that we're going to be planting for vines, so it's within a green space setting."

He said he's open to suggestions from the town, "if it makes sense on a planning level."

Hall said the next step for SORE is to continue monitoring the situation and attending legal matters surrounding the estate.

"The next step is the Conservation Review Board in July. Mr. Marotta's companies are challenging the notices of intent to designate 200 John St. and 588 Charlotte St. issued by the town under the direction of the previous council in August of 2018.  That challenge is finally going to the (Conservation Review Board) in July and SORE is a party to that hearing and will be presenting evidence," he said.

"From there, the heritage designation question will go back to council for a final decision. After that, the Marotta companies need an official plan amendment, a zoning bylaw amendment and approval of a subdivision plan to proceed with this proposal."

He said SORE has no plans to back down in its attempt to stop what it believes to be an inappropriate proposal for the site.

"SORE will continue to defend the integrity of the Rand Estate and of Old Town NOTL. We'll be only too happy to see Mr. Marotta at the Conservation Review Board, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal and in the courts, if needed. We know what we’re doing, we have lined up and continue to use a team of leading experts to assist us … and we haven’t lost a court or tribunal challenge yet to Mr. Marotta. Mr. Marotta should know we are not going away."

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said she could not comment on the subdivision plans before a public meeting is held.

A virtual open house regarding the project is set for June 15 and an online public meeting has been scheduled for July 14. Full details of the project, including conceptual drawings, subdivision layout and a heritage impact study are on the town's website at https://www.notl.org/content/public-notices-under-planning-act.

 

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