After a lengthy in-camera meeting yesterday, Council emerged to pass a very important resolution concerning the proposed Marotta Rand Estate subdivision on 200 John and 588 Charlotte (the back half of Randwood). The purpose of the resolution was to set out the Town’s position and instructions to its lawyer ahead of the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) hearing on the subdivision application set for March of 2024.
By way of background, NOTL Council had never been given the opportunity to take a position on the Marotta subdivision application. At the earliest opportunity after the application was deemed complete by the Town for the purpose of processing, Mr. Marotta’s company took the matter away from Council and appealed directly to the OLT to make the decision instead of our elected Council.
The Marotta application in front of the OLT seeks approval for 172 residential units. The resolution passed by Council yesterday states that taking into account the site heritage and other constraints and the existing access driveways, the site can accommodate “less than 10” residential units.
The resolution calls the access proposed by SORE – between 144 and 176 John Street – the “historical John Street access”. The resolution goes on to state that if this historic access as proposed by SORE is used instead of the 200 John panhandle access proposed by Solmar “an appropriate level of intensification” could occur on the site. However, the resolution states, Solmar is so far “unwilling” to secure that access from its sister Marotta company that owns that part of the Rand Estate. Mr. Marotta owns and controls both companies. In other words, Mr. Marotta is refusing to make that access available to himself.
The recitals to the resolution then state that in the alternative, the Town is willing to grant an easement over a portion of its lands, understood to be the Heritage Trail, to facilitate an appropriate access IF requested by the Marotta company. In the event that such a request is made, a recital in the resolution commits the Town to a “public process” to determine the design of such an access.
The body of the actual resolution goes on to set out that the Town will support residential development on 200 John and 588 Charlotte only if it:
- Conserves cultural heritage attributes in accordance with the Denise Horne report approved by Council at the well-attended special Council meeting in April of this year
- Protects an existing wetland and boundary trees
- Caps the residential unit count at a maximum of 135
- Includes a publicly accessible park at the Charlotte Street entrance IF that entrance is requested by the Marotta company.
Other important conditions were also imposed by Council in the resolution.
SORE welcomes and applauds the Town’s constraint-based approach to development and its continued support of the Denise Horne report. The Rand Estate is a locally and in our (and others) view provincially significant heritage estate, is already protected by Town heritage designation bylaws (after a lengthy legal battle with Mr. Marotta) and deserves no less.
We also applaud Council’s decision to cap the permissible number of residential units at 135. The site is heavily constrained by heritage and natural features. The majority of it is also designated as “low density” residential in the in-force Town Official Plan. To permit density of the sort sought by Mr. Marotta would make a mockery of the low density designation in the Town OP. A cap of 135 is also more in line with the extensive recommendations of the just-released Character Area study for this site carried out for the Town by outside experts.
We further applaud Council’s recognition that the historical access as proposed by SORE off John Street between 144 and 176 John Street is “feasible and would yield an optimal level of intensification”. That access is shown in the plan below. For the benefit of our readers, this access was in use until at least 1996 and was the access approved by a predecessor Council in 2011 for the Romance Inn proposal. It is readily observable as a patch on the Rand Estate wall on John Street.
One thing absent from the Council resolution is any recognition of the recommendation in the just-released Character Area study that a pedestrian and cycle walkway be created linking John Street, the Commons and the Heritage Trail at the Whistle Stop. The ideal location for such a walkway is along the John Street panhandle as shown in the SORE plan below.
Where we strongly depart from Council is the door it has left open to Mr. Marotta to ask for, and receive, an easement over public property – the Heritage Trail – to facilitate access to his proposed subdivision simply because he is “unwilling” to use the historic access off John Street proposed by SORE. One that Council has now acknowledged is feasible and would yield an optimal level of development on the site. This makes no sense to us and frankly we do not understand the rationale for this aspect of the resolution. In our view, the Town should hold Mr. Marotta’s feet to the fire and tell him that if he wants to put houses on the back half of the Rand Estate, he should use the most appropriate access on this heavily constrained site- the historical access as proposed by SORE and now endorsed by Council.
SORE has accordingly advised the Town in no uncertain terms that it will contest the issue of access at the upcoming OLT hearing. SORE’s planning, heritage and traffic experts all heavily favour the SORE/Romance/historic access. It appears that the Town’s evidence at the hearing may support SORE’s position. It will then be up to the OLT, which is now the final decision-maker, to provide its views on which access is preferred.
On balance, we congratulate Council on its instructions to its hearing team. The Town’s position and SORE’s do not differ materially at this point, other than on the question of access as outlined above where SORE’s position is clear. In the absence of a settlement between the Town, Solmar and SORE prior to the hearing the decision on access is now in the hands of the OLT following the upcoming hearing.
On that front, we very much hope that Mr. Marotta now takes this opportunity to stop fighting with the Town and with SORE and comes to the table with an appropriate plan in accordance with the Council resolution. He has stated that he wants to make NOTL “more beautiful”. To date his plans for the Rand Estate instead reflect an approach to overbuild, disrespect heritage and the natural environment and squeeze every last dollar out of one of the most important heritage estate properties in Niagara Region. It’s time for a new approach. The SORE plan below shows how the proposed subdivision could be developed in full compliance with yesterday’s Council resolution and yield 126 units. We very much hope Mr. Marotta will join the Town and us in finally moving forward in a collaborative fashion.