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Wednesday, February 8, 2023
SORE designs housing plan for Rand Estate

Group's proposal includes 71 homes and preserves heritage features on historic property

 

There's a new proposal for a subdivision on part of the historic Rand Estate, but it's not from the developer Solmar (Niagara 2) Inc.

Save Our Rand Estate, the grassroots Niagara-on-the-Lake group known as SORE, has come up with a plan that has only about one-third the number of homes proposed by developer Benny Marotta's company.

Using the same footprint as Solmar's latest proposal for 191 homes, planners hired by SORE designed a plan with 71 homes,

The SORE proposal has 20 townhouses on 30-foot lots, 37 single-family homes on 50- and 60-foot lots, and another 14 on larger, irregular-shaped properties, said Lyle Hall, a spokesperson for the group.

The SORE plan is for the subdivision on the properties known as 200 John St. E. and 588 Charlotte St. It does not include the land near the northern portion of the estate, on which a hotel was previously proposed.

Hall noted that SORE supports the much-earlier Trisha Romance hotel proposal on that site, not the large, multi-storey hotel Solmar suggested.

SORE is often accused of being against any development of the Rand property and Hall said one goal of coming up with the new subdivision plan was to show that is not the case.

“Our focus was making sure that we put something out there so that we weren't perceived as being a no-development-at-all-cost group,” he said in an interview.

“And I think if you'd asked a number of us if we thought we'd be putting a plan on the table that had 70 lots on it two years ago, we would have all blanched, but I think we've we've all come to realize that communities evolve and we've tried to evolve along with the community,” Hall said.

“I think we've tried to put something on the table that is reasonable.”

Hall said his organization has not received any feedback from Solmar on its proposal.

“Far from being anti-development, as Mr, Marotta and his social media trolls have claimed for the past three-plus years, SORE has produced a credible, defensible subdivision plan that recognizes the many heritage assets on this site, is consistent with applicable planning policies and zoning, and that is compatible with the surrounding neighbourhoods,” Hall told The Lake Report.

In a detailed post on its website, SORE notes the Solmar plan calls for “191 densely packed residences and a re-engineering of the site’s natural drainage. The result is a grade elevation of up to 10 feet, obliterating the heritage landscape on the site as well as much of the built cultural heritage landscape features of Randwood.”

That grade change, which would have required “hundreds and hundreds” of loads of fill to be trucked in, and an expensive storm water system are not needed under SORE's plan, Hall said.

That change saves the developer a substantial amount, while reducing the number of homes on the site, he said.

SORE's experts designed a plan that the group says will ensure:

*All built heritage attributes on the site are saved.

*Most of the remaining designed cultural heritage landscape and ‎mature trees are retained.

*Public pedestrian access to view the heritage attributes of Randwood ‎is provided at 200 John St. E. and 588 Charlotte St.

*The “Whistle Stop” on the Upper Canada Heritage Trail, including the “memorial garden” that was a central feature of the designed landscape at Randwood, is “preserved and enhanced for public and resident enjoyment.”

*Primary access to the site is provided using a historic access route between 144 and 176 John St.

Town councillors were sent copies of the SORE concept last month, Hall said.

He admitted he doesn't know what costs Solmar has incurred in its plans for the property so far, but with land values escalating and housing prices increasing steadily, Hall said he hopes the developer could make SORE's plan work.

He noted he checked the realtor.ca website last week “and there were 37 properties for sale in Niagara-on-the-Lake, including five building lots, the cheapest of which was $899,000.”

“While it’s not our job to run the numbers for Mr. Marotta’s development projects, it seems pretty likely there’s a profit to be made here somewhere.”

He added Marotta is a “very experienced developer that knew full well when he bought this property that it was festooned with heritage assets and that it is severely access-constrained.”

“It's not our job to maximize Mr. Marotta's profits,” he said. “How much profit is enough?”

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