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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Some Rand heritage attributes up for debate, former town planner tells tribunal
A locked wooden gate warns passersby the Rand Estate lands are private property. Richard Hutton
The land that that now houses Weatherstone Court was once a part of the Rand Estate. Richard Hutton

While the Rand Estate has important cultural heritage attributes, just what the attributes are is a subject of debate, said a former member of staff for the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Leah Wallace is a former senior planner and, prior to that, she worked for the town as a heritage and urban design planner for 12 years from 2000 to 2012.

Since 2016, she has been a heritage planning consultant and was first retained by Two Sisters/Solmar back in 2017 after the Rand property was purchased.

Wallace testified on behalf of Two Sisters Solmar at an Ontario Land Tribunal hearing Monday. 

One of the bones of contention, Wallace said, is how much remains of the old Dunnington-Grubb landscape design remains on the property and that lack of clarity is an issue.

“They can’t be described, in my opinion, as a heritage attribute,” she said. “And the town considers it an attribute.”

Benny Marotta, principal of both Solmar and Two Sisters, purchased the estate from Calvin Rand in 2017. Marotta’s plan is to build a 191-home subdivision on the site.

The development proposal wound up before the tribunal after the town refused to grant Solmar permission to demolish some structures on the site, including the pool garden, the Calvin Rand Summer House and the old stable house.

The hearing is being chaired on alternate days by tribunal vice-chair Scott Tousaw and member Daniel Best and is expected to last until May 29. On Monday, Best led the hearing.

During her testimony, Wallace said the carriage house, built in the 1920s, “was already in deteriorating condition” prior to the sale of the property to Solmar in 2017.

The summer house has been unoccupied since the sale as well. Similarly, a bath house on the property is in disrepair and would need “extensive repair and restoration.”

But Solmar’s plan would see the bath house restored and moved to a preserved commemorative park surrounding the historic Dunnington-Grub landscape and pool, Wallace said, as it would show “its relationship with the pool garden.”

Other structures, she said, including the carriage house and the summer house, could be demolished: they don’t have heritage value due to renovations (the carriage house, for example, was renovated to include an apartment) and the summer house did not feature any significant design elements and was made from materials typical of its 1970s construction.

As Solmar lawyer Mark Flowers indicated during his opening statement on April 9, the Rand Estate lands have parcelled out over the years and sold off, including land that has already been developed.

Walls surrounding the estate, meanwhile, are deteriorating and have been replaced with wooden fencing in places by previous owners of the property, Wallace said.

“Christopher Street and Weatherstone Street used to be part of the estate,” she said.

In earlier testimony, the panel heard from Eleni Beyene, an environmental engineer from Soil Engineering Ltd. Beyene’s firm took soil samples at the Rand site, near the former stable house.

Samples taken from the north and east of the site found soil contaminated with “petroleum hydrocarbons” but couldn’t confirm “100 per cent” if other parts, particularly beneath the building itself, were also contaminated without drilling underneath the home itself.

“To determine if there is potential contamination, demolition of the building may be required,” she said in response to questioning from Andrea Mannell, co-counsel for Solmar.

In addition to the town, other parties to the hearing include the group Save Our Rand Estate (SORE) as well as Blair and Brenda McArthur, the owners of Brunswick Place that is located next door to the Rand property.

The hearing is being live streamed at youtube.com/@ontariolandtribunal/streams.

It is expected to last until May 17. Parties on both sides will bring forth their own experts and witnesses to back their case.

hutton@niagaranow.com

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