As much as SORE appreciated the front-page placement of the Randwood story in the inaugural print edition of The Lake Report and the devotion of so much coverage (with more to come) to this important issue, we were very disappointed over what we perceive to be the lack of balance in, and the tone of, the article.
SORE acknowledges that the June 1st article is the first of a three-part investigative report and, as such, further information and commentary is forthcoming. In the meantime, our concerns are set out below:
- The characterization of SORE as a mysterious, cloak and dagger organization. The 1,989-word article dedicates 269 words to discussion of SORE’s legal status and includes the assertion that “nobody has come forward as the face of the SORE organization.” This statement does not fairly reflect the several community members that have spoken on behalf of SORE. There have been multiple deputations by SORE core team members (who provided their names and addresses) to at least seven Council, Committee of the Whole, Municipal Heritage Committee and/or Urban Design committee meetings since January, at least three live radio broadcast interviews with identified SORE core team members, a 2.5 hour videotaped interview between SORE core team representatives and Mr. Marotta, a presentation at the Niagara Conservancy’s annual general meeting as well as two in-person meetings with Richard Harley of the Lake Report. During, and as written follow up to, the two meetings we provided the names of the SORE core group and described briefly the backgrounds of each individual as well as describing SORE’s decision-making process. Reading the article, one can’t help but notice that the Lake Report seems to have no interest in Mr. Marotta’s title nor relationship with Two Sisters, Two Sisters relationship with Solmar or whether Mr. Marotta has partners in Two Sisters Resorts Corp.. Nor did the article delve into why Solmar employee Maurizio Rogato (featured prominently in The Globe and Mail series last week “Public Money, Private Influence”) advised Council earlier this year that Mr. Marotta was not involved in the Rand proposals, when he has now emerged apparently as the spokesperson for same. Why is SORE’s organizational structure of such interest to the author while the Marotta group’s is not?
- The lack of balance in the assumption of believability between SORE and Mr. Marotta. The article uses the phrase “Marotta said” (or a variation thereof) no less than 21 times. In not a single instance does the article second guess, question or attempt to verify any of Mr. Marotta’s statements or assertions. Yet, with respect to SORE’s assertions, the article references SORE “claim[ing] to give people the real facts” or calls SORE’s legitimacy into question for the entirely facile reason that SORE is not currently incorporated. (In that regard, of the many hundreds of citizens’ groups currently active in Ontario, did the Lake Report do any research on how many are incorporated or on what if any benefits incorporation offers to such a group?) The article’s final paragraph states that Mr. Marotta would be “happy to meet with anyone” yet SORE provided the Lake Report with written communications from Mr. Marotta’s lawyers refusing to meet with SORE, refusing to provide documents (e.g., tree map) promised during the March 30th livestreamed meeting and refusing to let anyone on the property for inspection purposes (e.g., the boxwood hedge). If the Lake Report seeks credibility as an independent investigative paper, it must at all times strive to be balanced and objective in its reporting.
- Characterization that SORE’s “main issue” is that the project is “aesthetically unpleasing.” This is patently incorrect. There’s no question that SORE (along with the Town’s Municipal Heritage and Urban Design Committees) vehemently object to the design (the chair of a recent meeting of the Urban Design Committee referred to it as a cross between an airport hotel and a Soviet apartment block). However simplifying SORE’s objection to the project being “aesthetically unpleasing” does a great disservice to SORE and its many hundreds of active supporters. SORE objects to Mr. Marotta’s proposal because:
- It’s too tall. The issue here is neither aesthetics nor the number of stories but the actual height…in other words the number of feet…Mr. Marotta’s architect has acknowledged that the ground floor will be at least 20 feet tall. That means the building is the equivalent of seven stories high. The Romance Inn proposal was a heavily negotiated compromise between the developer and the community, which was explicitly restricted in the Official Plan amendment to 3 stories facing John Street. We think it is important everyone learn the path the Town travelled to permit the Romance Inn and the fact that the Marotta group proposal is more than twice the height of the Romance Inn.
- It’s too intense. The project is not a 145-room hotel it’s a destination entertainment centre with 400+ parking spaces and the largest banquet hall in Niagara-on-the-Lake, located in the MIDDLE of a residential neighbourhood. It is clear the Marotta group has other designs for the building well beyond a simple hotel, such as a wedding factory, perhaps someday a live entertainment venue. It will cause excess traffic, noise and odors from customers, staff and service vehicles. At this size and scale, the project is a completely inappropriate use for this site, even if it were not one of the most important heritage assets in NOTL.
- It’s a bad neighbour. The setbacks and buffering for the 2011 Romance Inn hotel were reluctantly agreed to and carefully negotiated (see the 2011 OPA) as they were at the limits of acceptability but the Two Sisters project is over the top. Should someone living in an adjacent bungalow expect people to be peering down at them from the 4th, 5th or 6th floor of a hotel, while they are quietly enjoying their backyard? Or to be listening at all hours to outdoor parties in the many events the Marotta group is clearly planning for the facility to accommodate?
- It will require offsite infrastructure modifications such as the creation of a traffic circle at John Street and the Niagara Parkway, that will almost certainly entail removal of several large trees.
- It incorporates staff and service vehicle access points off a residential street (Charlotte) not designed for such activity. The Official Plan requires all traffic access to be from John Street.
- It’s the first phase of a larger project that will see 160+ undersized and incompatible housing units built in an area not designed for such density.
- And, finally and perhaps most importantly, it is a jarring, utterly incompatible, poorly designed addition to a nationally important cultural heritage asset in the centre of Canada’s first heritage district and across from a National Park.
On top of all that, and something SORE hoped an investigative journalist might have looked into more thoroughly, is the fact that the process being followed to assess this proposal is highly questionable for a host of reasons. Town planning staff deemed that the application was complete, when it clearly is not. Council has failed to date to act on its own advisory Committee’s recommendations (discussion of heritage designation for the site has been ongoing since June 2017). The Applicant seems to be stalling on completion of the archeological assessment…a process that carries with it certain restrictions (the article contains a boastful statement by Mr. Marotta that he has planted new trees on the site…something he is expressly prohibited from doing until the archeological assessment is complete). The 2011 Official Plan Amendment for the Romance Inn specifically required the boxwood hedge to be protected AND to “remain” where it’s been for a century (not moved as Mr. Marotta is apparently planning with what remains of the boxwood hedge after his contractors cut part of it down). Why have these issues not been addressed in the investigative story contained in The Lake Report?
SORE welcomes the Lake Report to Niagara-on-the-Lake. An independent news source is necessary and likely welcomed by a broad cross section of residents. For subsequent articles SORE hopes a more objective lens can be placed on this important issue.
Save Our Rand Estate (SORE) is a large and energized community group organized during the lead up to and aftermath of the Jan. 25, 2018, public meeting to discuss the Marotta/Solmar proposal. In this short time, the group already boasts hundreds of supporters. A core team has been assembled to help co-ordinate SORE’s efforts and to deploy resources to support the vision most of us share, namely to respect and honour the unique and important physical and cultural heritage of Old Town NOTL. The core team are all Niagara-on-the-Lake residents — some of whom live proximate to the Rand Estate.