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Friday, March 31, 2023
Town to appeal ruling in case against Marotta companies
Niagara-on-the-Lake's clock tower in Old Town. File

The town is appealing a court ruling last week that stayed charges against two of developer Benny Marotta’s companies.

A justice of the peace on Oct. 5 verbally granted Two Sisters Resort Corp. and Solmar (Niagara) 2 Inc. a stay of Heritage Act charges laid by the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The charges are related to the clear-cutting of trees on the Rand Estate in 2018 by Marotta’s companies. 

Two Sisters and Solmar claimed the case violated their Charter right to a timely trial since so much time has passed since the original charges were laid. 

However, town chief administrator Marnie Cluckie said the town is appealing.

“The next council will have the opportunity to decide whether to continue or withdraw the appeal,” she said in an email to The Lake Report.

“There are time limits in place. Therefore, if we were to wait for the next council to decide, we would lose the opportunity to appeal,” she added.

The Oct. 24 election is on the horizon and Lord Mayor Betty Disero said Cluckie was “given delegated authority” to decide whether to launch an appeal.

Disero said she was disappointed in the court ruling “because we had two years of COVID and there were times when the courts weren’t hearing anything at all.” 

Though the written ruling has not yet been released, Disero said the decision was related to the timing of the case, not the merit of the charges.

According to the Canadian Legal Information Institute, a “stay” puts a legal proceeding on hold and can be temporary or permanent. 

Solmar and Two Sisters are very happy with the court’s decision to no longer continue the case of the charges brought by the town under the Ontario Heritage Act,” Giuseppe Paolicelli, general manager of Solmar Development Corp., said in an email to The Lake Report. 

Paolicelli said the companies did not breach the Ontario Heritage Act by removing the trees in 2018 and claimed the removal had no effect on any of the property’s heritage attributes. 

We have maintained throughout the process that the town had no reasonable or probable ground to institute the prosecution and that the prosecution was politically motivated and undertaken without merit,” he said. 

The community group Save Our Rand Estate, known as SORE, felt completely different.

The charges were not dealt with on their merits, spokesperson Lyle Hall said in an email to The Lake Report.

The only way the charges themselves can be dealt with is with a full trial on the facts.  That hasn’t happened. Yet,” Hall said.

“Contrary to what’s been suggested by some on social media, the charges were not dealt with on their merits.  All that happened was that a justice of the peace accepted the Marotta group argument that the charges weren’t brought to trial quickly enough,” he said.

Paolicelli said the court’s decision has avoided an unnecessary and costly trial.

A trial could cost the town and taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses, he said. 

The ruling prompted many NOTL residents to take to social media to complain about the amount the town is spending on litigation and legal fees.

Former councillor Martin Mazza said he voted against commercialization of Randwood from day one.

As a taxpayer, he’s frustrated.

We’re paying a legal bill for someone else to stick another feather in their cap whether it’s Betty or anybody else, or SORE,” he said.

If Solmar loses, the company will be out of pocket. If the town loses, taxpayers will be on the hook, he said.

“If the town wins, Benny loses, he pays. If Benny wins, the town loses. Solmar will dissipate, be forgotten about and me as a taxpayer has to pay the bill,” he said.

“I’m not happy about that,” he added.

Cluckie said she will ask the town treasurer how much the case is costing the town, noting “the town is involved in several matters with Solmar and Two Sisters.”

“The cost of the prosecution in this matter is a small portion of the overall expense,” she added.

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