Housing density and destruction of key features among concerns aired at open house
A subdivision proposed on the historic Rand Estate drew heated comments and pointed questions from residents during a virtual open house Tuesday night.
Concerns over Solmar (Niagara 2) Inc.'s proposed number of housing units, destruction of woodlands, environmental changes and protection of heritage features dominated the three and a half hour meeting.
Paul Lowes of SGL Planning and Design and members of his team represented developer Benny Marotta, whose company has proposed development of a tightly packed subdivision on the Rand Estate.
One of the main concerns of residents was the incompatibility of the plan with surrounding housing because of its density.
Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Robert Bader noted a recent development in the area has added “32 dwellings in a space which is roughly one-third of the area onto which Mr. Marotta proposes will accommodate 191 dwellings.”
“How does a Mississauga/Brampton-style subdivision in any way constitute compatibility with the 200-year-old estate and surrounding low density neighbourhoods?”
Lowes’ defence of the level of housing density pointed to the provincial government and the Region of Niagara.
“The region’s calling for an even greater mix of housing types in the area. That is the new provincial direction and our agreement meets this compatibility.”
Lowes was referring to the province’s “A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe,” which addresses such issues as housing density.
The provincial plan seeks to address growing issues of affordable housing by promoting “in particular, higher-density housing options that can accommodate a range of household sizes,” the document says.
The plan also suggests low-density housing makes people more dependent on using their automobiles, at a time when obesity, diabetes and other health issues are on the rise.
Lowes repeatedly referred to the provincial plan as a reason for the style of subdivision proposed.
The proposed subdivision would have an average of 34.3 units per hectare, with 125 single-detached homes and 66 semi-detached homes.
NOTL resident Daniel Kelly, a former designer, also pushed the planning team on the proposed density. He said that when he was in first year at Ryerson University his professors would challenge the students to pack as many houses onto a property as possible.
“Why was there not more thought given to a creative layout? The concept of low-density seems to be irrelevant. This is not low-density,” Kelly said.
“I just wonder where the good planning is in this development, because I don’t see it in any aspect.”
Lowes offered much of the same answer that he gave Bader. “This is the reality of development in the Greater Golden Horseshoe now,” he said.
“We have to meet those requirements of density.”
Residents asked about the impact the development will have on the historic aspects of the Rand Estate.
Some were frustrated that the open house and upcoming public meeting (scheduled for July 15) are taking place before the plan is reviewed by the Conservation Review Board, which oversees the impact development has on heritage sites.
Lowes stressed that no details regarding heritage sites are finalized until the Conservation Review Board has approved them. A hearing is scheduled for July 19.
SGL Planning and Design said it is working to conserve several key aspects of the Rand Estate. The brick pillars and walls along John and Charlotte streets will be restored and maintained. The fence along the Upper Canada Heritage Trail also will be restored.
But NOTL resident Lauren Goettler took strong issue with what she saw as the town's relaxed attitude toward the protection of the Rand Estate compared with the response she got when buying her home on Ricardo Street.
“You called us into a meeting, which was more like a lecture, about the historical relevancy of our house, particularly the 10-by-10 square foot landscaping done by Lorrie Dunington-Grubb,” Goetler said.
“How did you go from being so important that you’d call us in for a meeting to being such a turncoat and working for Benny and destroying it?”
Leah Wallace, whom the comments were directed at, is the former heritage planner for NOTL. She now consults with the town and did the assessments of the Rand Estate for Solmar’s development.
“The Lorrie and Howard Dunington-Grubb landscape – the bathhouse, pavilion and the surrounding landscaping – will be conserved and restored,” Wallace answered.
But residents had little faith in such promises after Solmar cut down dozens of mature trees on the property in 2018, a move that has drawn widespread criticism.
The continued destruction of old oak trees on the property was a source of concern for many who attended the open house.
Resident John McCullough drew attention to two particular oak trees on the property, one is 250 years old and the other 175. He pressed landscape architect David Waverman about the probability they will survive.
Waverman said the development team is still waiting for detailed engineer drawings that will help them understand the full effect of the development on the surrounding area.
“The consulting team will work as an integrated team so that the landscape architects, civil engineers and arborist work together to protect these trees as best as we can,” he said.
One detail came as a surprise to attendees and planner Lowes.
This was news, unveiled by resident Derek Collins, that the development would gradually slope upward to the southwest before plateauing 10 feet higher than the surrounding homes along the Promenade.
“It’s news to me that we’re raising the site by 10 feet,” Lowes said.
Residents were concerned this will result in houses in the development looking down on existing homes and could create a potentially damaging water run-off situation.
Fedor Tchourkin, a senior engineer with Schaeffers and Associates, an engineering consulting firm, told residents the land needs to be raised to accommodate storm and sewage drainage, because existing infrastructure is not deep enough for the development.
He said the site would gradually increase in height toward the southwest corner and that the height difference would be seamless.
Backyards would still be level with the surrounding area, meaning most homes at the high points of development would have walk out basements. Residents complained the houses could be upward of 40-feet high because of this.
Tchourkine also addressed concerns about water run-off problems from the development.
“Roofs will be directed towards the road and collected by storm system catch basins,” Tchourkine said.
“It’s all calculated and we’ve ensured that the stream won’t get flooded and existing properties as well.”
The development has a proposed park on its western side, south of Weatherstone Court. Underneath the park will be a massive storm water tank to collect water run-off and slowly distribute it into a stream south of Weatherstone. The water will then flow into One Mile Creek.
Solmar is proposing a single entrance to the subdivision off John Street. Residents were concerned that the increase in traffic wouldn’t be manageable and wondered why a roundabout that was previously proposed has been removed from the development plans.
The roundabout was “mainly submitted in support of the hotel proposal,” said Kelsey Waugh, transportation engineer at LEA Consulting.
Solmar has withdrawn plans to build a hotel on the estate, resulting in the removal of the roundabout.
Comments from residents were collected by town planner Mark Iamarino to be considered by staff as the proposal is assessed.
The July 15 public meeting will once again allow residents to voice their concerns following an update from Lowes.
A recording of Tuesday's meeting is available online at livestream.com/notl/events/9717322.