The Weather Network
May. 22, 2022 | Sunday
Local News
Town accuses Marotta companies of damaging historic landscape at Randwood
A group of protesters gathered one morning after being notified of cutting sounds coming from the property. (Richard Harley/Niagara Now)

The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake has charged two of developer Benny Marotta’s companies with contravening the Ontario Heritage Act by “altering” some of the heritage attributes of the Randwood Estate.

The charges, filed in the Ontario Court of Justice in Welland in March, accuse Solmar (Niagara 2) Inc. and Two Sisters Resorts Corp. of damaging the historic landscaping at 588 Charlotte St., 200 John St. E., 144 John St. E., and 176 John St. E.

All four properties fall under a town application to be designated under section 29 of the Heritage Act. None of the town’s accusations have been tested in court.

While the charges were laid more than 10 weeks ago, the town has never publicized nor announced that it has launched the court action against the developer.

Municipal officials repeatedly refused over the past week to make any comment or provide any details about the accusations.

The Lake Report could find no court documents nor any references to the charges posted on the town’s website. The documents are fully public and there are no known legal provisions that would preclude them from being revealed by the town.

When asked for some basic information about the case, a town spokesperson said in an email: “Legal counsel has advised that the town cannot be providing documents which relate to matters before the court. The town must remain impartial in these types of matters and providing information to the public or the media could be used against the town in prosecution. There are proper methods to follow to obtain these types of documents, and the town has been advised to direct any person requesting legal documentation to go through the official process.”

However, Save Our Rand Estate – SORE – the citizen organization that is opposing Marotta’s development plans for Randwood, obtained the documents from the court in Welland and posted them to its website.

Because the court documents offer few details, and the town will not publicly say what the accusations entail, it cannot be confirmed that the charges relate to possible damage to the historically protected Dunington-Grubb landscape features. It also is not known if the allegations relate to when the developer cut down numerous trees on the site last November. SORE officials believe they do.

The court documents, issued by town planning manager Eric Withers, state the alleged infractions occurred between Nov. 1 and 12, 2018, but offer scant details.

Lawyer Michael Melling, who represents Marotta’s companies, denied that the developer has done anything wrong.

“The charges laid by the town are without basis in law or fact,” Melling said in a statement to The Lake Report.

“The actions in question were approved by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and were taken with advance notice to and full knowledge of the town. If necessary, this will be proven in court.”

Melling added, “Solmar’s focus now is on the confidential settlement discussions with the town and SORE. Although it’s regrettable that these charges were brought, we look forward to a quick and positive resolution for everyone.”

Landscape architect Alex Topps, a spokesperson for SORE, said the group is “incredibly grateful” that the town felt that charges were warranted under the Heritage Act. He noted that at one time SORE considered launching a private prosecution over the changes that were made to the property.

Topps called the work done on the site last fall “tactical and deliberate” – and “not just clearing trees.”

On its website, SORE said the town’s accusations are “quasi-criminal charges under our legal system and can result in substantial fines for corporations and jail time for individuals upon conviction.”

The organization also notes that it could not obtain a copy of the charges from the town, adding, “We look forward to the town posting timely information on these charges on its website going forward, including upcoming court appearances and trial dates. There is enormous interest in this matter among SORE’s supporters and town residents in general.”

SORE also suggested that if the developer is convicted under the Heritage Act, the town can force the company to pay the costs of restoring any damaged features.