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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Subdivision proposal for Rand Estate nothing new, Solmar lawyer tells tribunal
An Ontario Land Tribunal hearing over Solmar Developments' proposed subdivision to be build on the Rand Estate lands began Tuesday. Richard Hutton
Solmar Development Corp. wants to build a subdivision on the Rand Estate property. Richard Hutton

There’s nothing new about Solmar’s plan to build a subdivision on the former Rand Estate property, a lawyer for the developer told the Ontario Land Tribunal on Tuesday.

It was the first day of a long-awaited hearing in the dispute over plans for the site.

At the hearing, lawyer Mark Flowers, who is representing Solmar Development Corp. and its owner, Benny Marotta, said Solmar is only carrying on what has been happening with the property for decades.

“The former Rand Estate was severed into multiple parcels several decades ago, with new residential development already occurring on many of those separate parcels,” he said in his opening statement. 

His client recognizes that the property is significant, he said.

“There is no dispute that the subject properties have cultural heritage value,” he said. “Where the parties differ is with respect to the identification of the heritage attributes and the appropriate means by which to conserve significant cultural heritage resources.”

The hearing is expected to last 21 days and to wind up on May 29. It’s being chaired by tribunal vice-chair Scott Tousaw and member Daniel Best.

This is the latest dust-up in the ongoing battle over the property that has been waged since 2018, when Marotta first unveiled plans to build a hotel on the site.

Nancy Smith, the lawyer representing the town, said Niagara-on-the-Lake’s position is simple.

“The heritage buildings, the heritage landscape features, the heritage natural elements and the wetland that Solmar seeks to demolish, to remove or to relocate to facilitate its subdivision design can all be conserved, can all be protected and can all be retained,” she said. 

Likewise, Save Our Rand Estate (SORE) lawyer Catherine Lyons said Solmar’s plan is not a good use of the land and that it is “fiction” to say the destruction or relocation of cultural and natural heritage elements has to occur.

“Intensification can be achieved while meeting other provincial, regional and local requirements of conservation,” Lyons said.

SORE, she said, has been waging its preservation battle since it was formed in 2018 after learning of the plans Solmar had for the property.

Since then, the property has fallen into disrepair and trees have been removed.

“This has been a long haul for (SORE) and all involved and we’ve watched the estate decline in the course of this long proceeding,” Lyons said.

The Rand family are also significant to the town’s history, she said, noting Calvin Rand was one of the founders of the Shaw Festival and that the home hosted many dignitaries in its day.

“The prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi, and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau visited Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Shaw Festival (in 1973), and were hosted at the Rand house — or Randwood — for a glamorous party,” Lyons said. 

Tom Halinski is a lawyer representing Blair and Brenda McArthur, whose property adjoins the Rand Estate.

Their property is also known as Brunswick Place and the McArthurs are concerned about the impact on their property if an access road is approved along a strip of land referred to as “the panhandle.”

“The McArthurs acquired the property in 2016 from a prominent Canadian artist (Trisha Romance) and have devoted considerable time and resources to its maintenance, the maintenance of the many heritage attributes of Brunswick Place out of respect for its heritage and importance to the town,” Halinski said.

The McArthurs share the concerns about the proposal that were put forward by both SORE and the town. In addition, Halinski said, they are worried about the impact it will have on their property.

“We will demonstrate over the coming weeks that those impacts are likely to be significant,” he said, adding that the McArthurs believe development of the estate property can be achieved “in a manner that respects both the Rand Estate and Brunswick Place.”

It was about this time last year when Solmar had sought permits to alter and demolish structures on the historic property but the request was turned down by council in a close 4-3 vote.

Sara Premi, the lawyer representing the company owned by Benny Marotta, said at the time that Solmar would appeal the council decision to the tribunal along with the rest of its development planned for the property.

Prior to that meeting, Denise Horne, who was then the town’s heritage planner, had recommended council approve the demolition of three structures including the pool garden, the Calvin Rand summer house and the old stable house.

Smith said she plans to call Horne as a witness “under summons” to speak to her report.

“​​She prepared a detailed staff report with respect to the heritage permit applications seeking alteration and demolition to facilitate the source subdivision design,” Smith said. 

hutton@niagaranow.com

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