The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake released the following statement about decisions that have been made by staff and council in closed meetings about subdivision plans affecting the historic Rand Estate.
As well, Save Our Rand Estate, issued its own statement on the situation. See SORE’s statement at the bottom of this document.
The purpose of this statement is to provide public insight into the challenge that the Town Council has faced in determining its position on matters related to the appeals by Solmar of Zoning By-law Amendment, Plan of Subdivision and Heritage Planning Applications related to 200 John Street East and 588 Charlotte Street (“the Rand Estate”).The Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) hearing on the Rand Estate is scheduled for an eight-week period starting on March 25, 2024. The list of issues for the OLT to consider is lengthy. Legal and expert witness costs will be significant.
In a planning case that has not been appealed to the OLT, the Town conducts public open meetings where it carefully considers and balances provincial, regional and Town interests to determine its position.
In this case, where the matter has been appealed to the OLT, the law requires settlement talks to occur confidentially to balance those same interests. In these situations, all litigants must feel free to fully explore compromise. If a settlement is not reached, revealing discussions would undermine litigants’ positions at a contested hearing. The Town has acted appropriately in its closed session decision-making. The process followed by the Town has been guided by prevailing provincial legislation.
Between September and December of 2023, Solmar, SORE and the Town met often to talk about settling matters prior to the hearing. A settlement of one or more issues would reduce hearing time and costs. The meetings were, as required by law, confidential. Settlement has not been achieved. Consequently, Solmar, SORE and the Town cannot reveal anything that was discussed in the settlement meetings.
On December 15, 2023, the Town released a public statement outlining the position it would take for the hearing. That position was the result of adopting a “constraints-based” approach to determine the appropriate balance between natural heritage features, cultural heritage attributes, stormwater management and access to the existing public road network. At times, the choice is between two or more undesirable alternatives, as illustrated by the matter of the road access location.
The Town confirmed that the Historical John Street access was feasible but Solmar has not offered it as available from their related corporation. In supporting cultural heritage conservation per the Horne Report (April 12, 2023), the Town confirmed that it opposed Solmar’s request for the Panhandle access. To remove the Panhandle as an access option, the Town consented to the use of Town-owned land at the existing Charlotte Street access to the Rand Estate. This would achieve cultural heritage conservation in the Panhandle area of the subdivision. In addition, it would reduce hearing time and costs.
On January 12, 2024, following a further balancing of provincial, regional and Town interests, the Town chose to withdraw its consent to use Town-owned land at Charlotte Street. The Town understands that removing the Charlotte Street access option will increase OLT hearing time and costs and that Solmar will pursue access through the Panhandle, which would impact cultural heritage attributes, as noted in the Horne Report. The Town will oppose the Panhandle access at the OLT hearing.
The Town will continue to work with Solmar and SORE prior to the hearing to reduce issues and streamline the evidence required to properly adjudicate all issues remaining in dispute. The Town will continue to be guided by prevailing provincial legislation in doing so.
For additional information, please refer to the attached documents:
SORE’s Jan. 17 statement on the Rand Estate
SORE is pleased the town is continuing to support the recommendations contained in the Denise Horne report. Further that the town will oppose use of the panhandle/200 John St. for access to the proposed Marotta subdivision.
Solmar knew full well the heritage implications of using the panhandle given Ms. Horne explicitly recommended against it.
If Benny Marotta decides come in with an application for less than the 135 units council has stipulated as the cap, honour the Horne recommendations for heritage protection and use the historic access between 144 and 176 John St. or his vineyard for access he will save the town (and SORE) the cost and aggravation of a protracted fight at the Ontario Land Tribunal.
That, unfortunately, has not been his approach over the last five years.
Going forward, the hearing bill faced by the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake for the proposed Rand subdivision is 100 per cent in Mr. Marotta’s control.