I write in response to developer Benny Marotta’s letter in your Nov. 17 edition, “Hoping new council will be open to discussions on development.”
His letter is so full of misinformation, it’s difficult to know where to start.
I follow SORE’s admirable work carefully.
SORE, which Mr. Marotta fails to mention received a prestigious award recently from the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario for its work on the Rand Estate, has never called his proposals for the Rand Estate “criminal.”
I’m not sure if the word “grotesque” has been used but if not, it certainly could have been.
As a reminder, the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake went through an arduous and contentious process in 2009-2011 before a 5-4 council vote narrowly approved the Romance plan to change the designation of the front half of Randwood to commercial from residential.
The boutique three-storey hotel that council approved was carefully and tightly circumscribed in the official plan amendment permitting the Romance Inn.
Mr. Marotta knew full well what he was buying and what the town had only narrowly approved for the front half of the Rand Estate.
Instead, he proposed to build what was effectively a seven-storey convention centre and wedding factory on the most important remaining estate lot in Old Town.
That proposal was appealed directly to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) by Mr. Marotta without giving council the opportunity to make a decision on it.
While that appeal has now been withdrawn, few of us in Old Town believe it is gone forever.
And on the back half of the Rand Estate, Mr. Marotta proposes to pigeon-hole somewhere between 170 and 190 houses, and eradicate or trivialize most of the remaining physical and landscape cultural heritage attributes now protected by heritage bylaws.
Mr. Marotta complains about being fought at every turn. The record suggests otherwise.
It was the Marotta companies that tried to coax the town’s municipal heritage committee to not recommend designation of the Rand Estate under the Heritage Act.
When the Pat Darte-led council (not, Mr. Marotta, the Disero council), decided instead to proceed with the heritage designations, Mr. Marotta initiated a scorched earth legal assault on the town involving an appeal to the Conservation Review Board, a Superior Court challenge to the legality of the Darte council decision and an appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal when that challenge was thrown out at every turn.
Mr. Marotta also complains that SORE never met with him. Again, misinformation. Representatives of SORE met with Mr. Marotta on Good Friday in April 2018.
That meeting was videotaped and posted on the SORE website, where it remains archived and available for viewing. Thereafter, Mr. Marotta involved his lawyers and it quickly became apparent that any further meetings were futile.
This was all during the Pat Darte-led council term, incidentally.
Mr. Marotta further fails to mention his companies’ outrageous clear-cutting of the designed landscape on the back half of the Rand Estate in the fall of 2018, in what can reasonably be viewed as a fit of pique after the previous election and right before the Disero council was installed.
The town rightly prosecuted the Marotta companies under the Heritage Act for that brazen middle finger.
It is to be hoped that the incoming council will ensure that those charges, which could result in reinstatement of any illegally destroyed landscape and trees, will be heard on their merits rather than dismissed on a technicality due to a delay in bringing them to trial.
As I noted in an earlier letter, the SORE website (sorenotl.ca) contains a Benny Marotta Media Archive section outlining Mr. Marotta’s past exploits across Ontario.
These exploits, as well as his actions to date in relation to the Rand Estate, speak for themselves.
It is clear that one thing is paramount in everything Mr. Marotta does – lining his own pockets. He should spare us all the pity party.
The newly elected 2022 council should continue with the course established by the Darte council and continued by the Disero council of vigorous stewardship of this enormously important cultural heritage gift given to all of us by the Rand family.