An overflow standing room only crowd of well over 300 people packed the Community Centre last night for a special session of Council. The purpose of the meeting was to decide upon numerous permit applications by the Marotta group under the Heritage Act to demolish/remove buildings and designed landscape from 200 John St and 588 Charlotte. The proposed demolitions and landscape removals are all in aid of a high density subdivision that the Marotta group has applied for approval to develop on the back half of the Rand Estate. All of the permit applications relate to heritage attributes that the Darte and Disero Councils had decided were worthy of designation under the Heritage Act.
Council had before it an in-depth staff report from heritage planner Denise Horne in which she recommended that most of the permit applications be denied by Council. That report was unanimously supported by the Town’s Municipal Heritage Committee on April 12.
Council heard from Ms. Horne as well representatives for the Marotta group, SORE, the Niagara Foundation, the Niagara Conservancy and several private residents, including a former NOTL resident. All except for the Marotta group were opposed to Council granting any demolition permits.
While recommending that Council deny the majority of the demolition permits sought by the Marotta group, Ms. Horne’s report did support demolition of the Calvin Rand House, the pool and the Barn Stable Complex.
SORE and the other speakers strongly opposed allowing the Marotta group to demolish any of these structures. One of SORE’s heritage experts, the noted Michael McClelland, outlined to Council the many heritage attributes of the Calvin Rand House and the Barn Stable Complex. Another SORE expert, Professor Brendan Stewart, reviewed the renowned Dunington-Grubb firm’s involvement in the design of the pool garden complex and the devastation that the 200 John access road proposed by the Marotta group would wreak on that complex.
In the end, by a 4-3 recorded vote, Council accepted a motion moved by Councillor O’Connor and seconded by Councillor Balasiuk that Council accept Ms. Horne’s recommendations except those relating to the Calvin Rand House, the pool and the Barn Stable Complex, and that the requested demolition permits for those buildings and structures also be denied.
Voting for the motion were Councillors O’Connor, Balasiuk, Mavridis and Burroughs. SORE, and the community, are deeply indebted to these four councillors. Thank you for standing up for the Rand Estate and against Mr. Marotta, who had a front row seat last night, and his allies on Council.
Voting against the O’Connor motion were Councillors Ruller, Cheropita and Weins. Despite it being clear that voting for her motion would neither add significant expense to the upcoming OLT hearing nor reflect adversely on Ms. Horne’s otherwise excellent report, these suggestions were used by some on Council to try to justify a “no” vote. Our sense was Councillor Ruller was trying to do the right thing and support staff and that his vote might have been different if the Town had had their outside lawyer there last night to answer questions that staff struggled with.
Councillor Weins deserves a special raspberry in particular. After taking over the chair after Lord Mayor Zalepa declared a conflict due to the proximity of his residence to Randwood, Councillor Wiens earned the enmity of most of the crowd (and from the comments we heard lost more than a few votes in the next election) by refusing to allow the crowd to express its support for speakers, even going so far as to attempt to have bylaw officers eject a 75 year old man who dared to mildly clap after one resident’s delegation. By his comments and many questions last night throughout the delegations, most attendees left with the impression that Councillor Weins was worried more about making Mr. Marotta happy than doing what’s right for the Rand Estate. Councillor Weins’ performance is recorded for anyone who missed it last night.
The Marotta group will now almost certainly appeal Council’s denial of the requested demolition and alteration permits to the Ontario Land Tribunal, where they will be joined with the Planning Act applications for their proposed Rand subdivision already there. The OLT hearing is scheduled for next spring but there is a virtual case management conference on June 9 to settle the issues for the hearing that we will be reminding you of as we get closer. It would be good to see many of the crowd that attended last night’s meeting in person or electronically log into that June 9 OLT session.
Of note, Mr. Marotta’s lawyer confirmed last night that he will be returning with an application for a hotel and convention centre on the front half of the Rand Estate, something we had expected. Our supporters will recall the uproar over his previous proposal, which he ultimately withdrew. The Town is now in the curious situation where Mr. Marotta is or will be pursuing hotel/convention centre proposal on two sites, both of which are highly controversial.
We gratefully thank our supporters for showing up en masse last night. This was the first real opportunity to remind this new Council that developers do not run the town. Mission accomplished.