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Monday, December 5, 2022
Editorial: Rand Estate deserves better

It seems like forever, people and communities have had a love-hate relationship with developers and development.

Whether it was the burgeoning GTA starting in the late 1970s or downtown Toronto where highrise condos grow like weeds, established communities historically abhor rampant development. And people fight to ensure the “right” kind of “responsible growth” happens in the neighbourhoods they call home.

For the past 15 years or so, Niagara-on-the-Lake's growth has been on a steady upward trajectory, but the last five years in particular have seen a surge in new construction, with new subdivisions popping up in all corners of town. And those houses become homes to families who choose this area because – it's beautiful, quaint, historic, fascinating, scenic … pick your preferred descriptor.

Like taxes, change and development in southern Ontario are inevitable. As well, it seems, development of the historic Rand Estate also appears inevitable.

Even the Save Our Rand Estate (SORE) folks, heroes to many but vilified in some parts of town for their potent opposition to Benny Marotta's various plans for the Rand, seem to agree that eventually, homes and maybe even a hotel are destined for the property.

The question is what will it all look like and how much is enough development on those 26 acres.

The Rand property is special, even developer Benny Marotta has acknowledged that. We are neither urban planners nor architects, but looking at Mr. Marotta's latest proposal for this heritage property, it seems to be an attempt to cram as many houses as permissible onto six or seven pleasantly suburban streets, with no regard for the history or importance this area holds in the wider community.

Given the power and sway the development industry has in Doug Ford's Ontario, some iteration of this plan might even eventually get approved – likely after much litigation and many appeals.

But is it really appropriate to turn the Rand property into a cookie-cutter urban-style subdivision? Even if the facades are attractive and faintly echo the town's historic past, it's still just another 905 subdivision.

This might be one of the last sizeable properties in Old Town to be developed and out of respect for the Rand’s past and looking to the future, we urge Mr. Marotta to do what might be anathema to a developer: make it special, different. Make it a legacy project that his grandchildren and ours years from now can visit and proudly say, “This is what he built.” Not just another subdivision, but a community that pays homage to the historic past and celebrates the property’s cultural and historic significance. Greater minds than ours surely can come up with outside-the-box ways to make this a reality. If there is a will to do so.

Yes, developers are business people who aim to make a profit. But, really, how much is enough? Wouldn't it be better for Mr. Marotta to be remembered someday as the guy who built this special place on the Rand Estate, not some guy who built yet another subdivision?

Barely a kilometre away, another development, the Monet-inspired park across from the Pillar and Post, is a modern example of this concept. Yes, it will be used as an event venue, but in thinking big, Vintage Hotels came up with a beautiful and memorable public garden that has won the company accolades for an inspiring approach to community-building.

It's a memorable win for the company and for the community. We challenge Mr. Marotta's company to follow a similar path.