The historic Randwood Estate, which includes two lots on John Street East in Niagara-on-the-Lake, is for sale for $19 million.
Property owner Benny Marotta of Two Sisters Resorts told The Local Monday he is “tired of dealing with the politics” of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and “the group of people supported by the politicians.”
In a news release issued Monday, he said his intention all along was “to preserve the integrity of this heritage property and enhance its already robust landscape for guests and the community to enjoy, while creating a beautiful establishment that would elevate hospitality in Niagara-
The 13-acre property at 144 John St. E., and the lot next to it at 176 John St. E., were purchased by Marotta in 2016 for $8 million.
The developer has tried to engage the Town in a dialogue to resolve concerns and issues, the news release says, but “unfortunately, the Town refused to talk. As it turned out, the core issue was not design or proper planning, but rather, purely political. Specifically, it became obvious that the council is entirely driven by a wealthy and powerful group calling itself the SORE Association, which is determined to prevent any form of development on the properties.”
“It is tragic that the Town does not seem to understand that municipalities must protect the interests of all tax-payers and citizens and have to attract investment in order to maintain fiscal stability and provide employment,” says Marotta. “The end of the Two Sisters proposal is a loss of over $50,000,000 to the Town’s economy. Arriving at this decision was very difficult, but it is apparent that there is no path to amicable discussion with either the Town or SORE.”
“The position of council has always been and continues to be that we determine the heritage attributes and then see what is possible to build that will work with those heritage attributes,” says Lord Mayor Betty Disero.
“We have always just defended that position with the legal challenge brought forward by Two Sisters,” she added, referring to ongoing legal battles over the lack of a decision on the zoning application for the project, which led to a Local Planning Tribunal Appeal, and an appeal to the Conservation Review Board over the Town’s efforts to have the property designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Some of the residents’ concerns with the Two Sisters proposal were the height and mass of the hotel, two levels of parking, the loss of mature trees, the destruction of significant landscaping, and the fear of losing an important heritage asset.
Lyle Hall, spokesperson for SORE, has strong words for the proposed hotel development, and objects to the claim that members of SORE (Save Our Rand Estate) are opposed to any development of the property.
“That’s simply patently untrue,” he says, calling the project a “grotesque departure” from the 2011 Trisha Romance proposal, which included a smaller inn and spa, and was approved by the Town after much debate and compromise.
The real issue, he says, is that the developer knew what he was buying, knew what the zoning was, and asked for significant changes to zoning to allow a much larger, five to six storey “wedding factory” with a large banquet hall, in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. “That was what got neighbours up in arms,” says Hall. “It’s nobody’s fault but his own.”
His response to the assertion in the news release, that the Two Sisters applications have protected the heritage of the existing buildings and grounds, is “laughable. It’s outrageous. I think of the clear-cutting on the grounds, and the garbage bins outside, things being thrown out the windows — we don’t know what’s going on.”
To the claims of preservation, he says, “that just isn’t the case. There has been impenetrable damage to the property.”
The property owner keeps talking about the jobs and taxes that will be lost to the town, Hall says, “but the development he has proposed “is just not appropriate.”
He points to the other two lots, one on John Street and the other on Charlotte Street, the site of a subdivision proposal, that are not up for sale.
Hall questions whether Marotta is serious about selling the other two lots, for a price more than double what he paid for them. “Building a subdivision of a couple of hundred homes next to a commercial property would take an enormous leap of faith,” says Hall.
Two Sisters has withdrawn zoning and site plan applications for the Randwood property at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, and its objection at the Conservation Review Board for heritage designation of the estate and the two John Street properties, the town planning director Craig Larmour confirmed Monday.
Meanwhile, Marotta is turning his attention elsewhere, he told The Local. While he’s tired of dealing with politicians, he has not given up on investing in NOTL, he says. He intends to change his focus to building more wine
facilities on property he is in the midst of purchasing.