Two John Street East properties, which include the historic Randwood Estate and other signifiant heritage attributes, have been designated by the Town under the Ontario Heritage Act.
A bylaw to designate the properties, which comes following the property owner’s October withdrawal of an appeal to prevent the designation, was approved by council at their last December meeting.
The protection afforded by designation is important, says Lord Mayor Betty Disero, especially with the properties up for sale. Should anybody come forward with proposals to develop either of those properties, she says, “we know what needs to be protected, and we can talk about any changes to that property within the heritage context.”
The designation of the properties should have been undertaken by council when the former owners had a 2011 hotel proposal approved, she says.
“But they didn’t, and we’ve done it now,” says Disero, adding an earlier designation “could have saved a lot of tension.”
The town-initiated process to designate the other two properties, and the owner’s appeal, will continue, with the next step being a hearing before the Conservation Review Board, which “is taking a really long time,” says Disero. There is only one member of the board to cover the entire province, and hearings were cancelled for a time early in the pandemic, she says.
Town staff have been inspecting the site and will know what has been damaged on the property during the designation process, if anything, says Disero. “They have a record of everything that’s happened.”
She says people peeking in windows thought things were being removed, such as the fireplaces, which are actually just boarded up but still there.
There was a report of things being thrown out of upstairs windows at one point, and staff investigated and took photos, she says.
In addition to the appeal of designation on other properties, Disero says she believes charges against the property owner for damage to the historic Dunington-Grubb landscape have yet to be settled.
The Town began the designation of all four properties with a notice of its intention in the summer of 2018, when council decided not to wait for the property owner, who said he supported designation, to proceed at his pace.
The Marotta group of Two Sisters Resort and Solmar Development Corp., owner of the four properties, filed an appeal of the Town process early in 2019.
The appeal withdrawal, which coincided with the owner’s announcement he intends to sell 144 and 176 John Street East, does not include 200 John Street or 588 Charlotte Street lots, which remain the subject of a subdivision application. Town planning director Craig Larmour said in October that application was not complete.
The property owner’s appeal to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal over the lack of a decision on the application to build a six-storey hotel and event centre was also dropped when the two John Street properties were put up for sale, listed at $19 million.
Property owner Benny Marotta told The Local at the time he was “tired of dealing with the politics” of Niagara-
on-the-Lake, and “the group of people supported by the politicians.”
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-on-the-Lake.”
The 13-acre property at 144 John St. E., and the lot next to it at 176 John St. E., the two that are now designated of heritage significance, were purchased by Marotta in 2016 for $8 million.
After a two-day hearing before the Ontario Superior Court last January on Marotta’s attempt to put a stop to the town-initiated designation process on all four properties, Madame Justice Linda M. Walters ruled against the property owner, saying the matter should proceed to a hearing before the Conservation Review Board.
The The Marotta group of Two Sisters Resort and Solmar Development Corp. did not respond to a request for comment.
Included in the designation of the two John Street properties are the main residence (Randwood), a local landmark which was owned by the Rand family from 1919 until 1980, a wooden gazebo, and a modern brick pavilion. There are also other buildings and many landscaping features of note, including the wooden and stone foot bridges, stone pathways, and water fountain, the report accompanying the designation bylaw says.
The heritage value includes the Rand summer house, as well as the concrete, brick and stone wall found along John Street East and Charlotte Street.
The report mentions the many historical associations of the properties, from the early owners, to the Rand family in more recent times, and ties to the Devonian Group (now part of the Devonian Group of Charitable Foundations,) and The Niagara Institute (now part of the Conference Board of Canada), which used the property for conferences, seminars and as a place of teaching. The Niagara Institute was established by Calvin Rand in 1971.
The designation report also references the Canadian landscape architect team of Howard Dunington and Lorrie Dunington-Grubb. The couple designed and worked on various areas and landscapes on the property, and “were pioneers and well-respected in the Canadian landscape architect community. The property also has historical/associative value as it demonstrates or reflects their work and ideas.”
The red brick pillars which mark the entrance to the property on John Street and the mature trees and plantings and boxwood hedge are also of historic significance, the report notes.