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Divide grows over using heritage trail in Solmar subdivision work
The Upper Canada Heritage Trail is among the topics Rick Meloen will speak about on April 22. FILE

After a long meeting held behind closed doors on Dec. 15, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s council emerged with a public stance on how development should take place on the historic Rand Estate in Old Town.

The town’s position puts it on a slightly different path than that of the residents’ advocacy group Save Our Rand Estate.

Town clerk Grant Bivol announced the town is prepared to allow for the construction of a new road entrance into the historic lot from the Upper Canada Heritage Trail to facilitate the building of new homes on the former estate.

“SORE doesn’t support that access,” said Catherine Lyons, a lawyer representing SORE. 

Solmar Development Corp., which owns the property, has a subdivision plan on the books, which proposes to build 172 units on the historic property.

The proposal has been the subject of an ongoing dispute between SORE, the town and Solmar owner Benny Marotta since it was first brought forward in July 2020. 

Marotta’s development group has planned to have one access point for vehicles to get into the site — through an opening in the wall at 200 John St. E.

The resident group has consistently argued the access point should be through an opening in the wall between 144 and 176 John St. E., lots which are owned by Marotta’s other company, Two Sisters Resorts Corp. 

Bivol said the town favoured the access point SORE proposed, but if Solmar remains unwilling to build it there, the town would allow a new access point to be built through the Upper Canada Heritage Trail, which runs behind 588 Charlotte St.

“SORE is really uncomfortable with the idea that counsel has unilaterally made this decision without any consultation,” Lyons said in an interview.

She said there should have been some consultation on whether or not part of the heritage trail should be given to a developer for private use.

“To take the trail and say, ‘OK, now we’re going to make it into a road’ and do that with no public consultation is problematic,” she added.

A town consultant’s report discussed at council on Dec. 5 said an entrance in the stone wall could be built along the heritage trail “to facilitate access for pedestrians and cyclists” if it met the structural requirements.

The report from Urban Strategies Inc. and GBCA Architects did not suggest granting road access from the heritage trail. 

Despite differing on whether to let Solmar use the heritage trail as an entrance, Lyons said the resident group was “pleased with the town’s position.”

“Will we be able to co-ordinate our defences? Absolutely,” she said. “We’re on the same page, I believe, with everything except for the access.”

According to Bivol’s announcement, the town wants to cap the number of residential units on the lot at 135, whereas Marotta’s proposal is for 172 units.

In an article released Dec. 16, SORE shared a sketch of a subdivision with 126 units, well within the 135-unit cap suggested by the town.

The town also supported the development recommendations of Denise Horne, its former heritage planner. 

Her recommendations are laid out in an 835-page report which was endorsed by council at a large public meeting on April 24 last year.

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