While the town waits for its planning experts to look at an application for a subdivision on Charlotte and John Streets, a group of residents has, with the help of their own experts, come up with an alternative proposal.
Developer Benny Marotta has submitted an application to the town to build 125 detached and 66 semi-detached homes on the two properties, which border the two Randwood Estate lots on John Street.
However, Marotta is in the process of making revisions to his application, but it’s still a work in progress, he told The Local, and wouldn’t say whether the changes will address any of the residents’ concerns.
Supporters of SORE (Save Our Rand Estate) voiced their objections to several aspects of Marotta’s original proposal during a June virtual public meeting, and since then SORE has hired its own planning experts to come up with another option, a preliminary concept with fewer homes they feel is much more appropriate for the site.
It’s a way to show the group is not against all development, and would support a proposal that addresses residents’ concerns, says SORE spokesperson Lyle Hall.
“We’ve said all along we’re open to development, so we felt it was time we put something on the table and demonstrated the possibilities.”
They have hired Toronto urban design firm BrookMcIlroy — both principals Cal Brook and Anne McIlroy have Niagara-on-the-Lake roots — and have spent “several hundred thousand dollars,” Hall says, to come up with a much-reduced density of 71 homes, including 20 townhouse units 30 feet wide, 37 single family lots at between 50 and 60 feet wide, and another 14 single family lots more than 60 feet wide but with irregular shapes and depths.
SORE’s plan also addresses other issues, such as access through the main John Street gate that won’t impact the heritage landscape, and levelling the grade of elevation that was being proposed, to avoid altering the site’s natural drainage.
SORE’s design, which has been submitted to the town, also preserves all built heritage attributes on the site, as well as any remaining cultural heritage landscape and mature trees. It provides for public pedestrian access at 200 John and 588 Charlotte Streets, and the linear axis from John Street to the Whistle Stop (the wooden gazebo) on the Heritage Trail, including the memorial garden, a central feature of the designed landscape at Randwood, preserved and enhanced for public and resident enjoyment.
Their recent hiring of planning experts to address the subdivision was in addition to several professionals, including lawyers, that have been brought onboard over the years by SORE to ensure the preservation of all four sites owned by Marotta and his companies, including Randwood Estate, the subject of a hotel and conference centre which is now on hold.
“There is a handful of people really committed to making sure this happens,” says Hall. “A lot of people feel it’s really important to the community, and a small core group is providing the funding for it.”
But it’s not just SORE members, he adds — he has been out at events and “literally had people walk up to me and hand me cheques.”
Since SORE was formed, the group has occasionally been accused of the not-in-my-backyard mindset, but although some of the supporters live in the neighbourhood, many do not.
Hall has the Parliament Oak property between his home and John Street, and although he is just as concerned about that development, he says, “Randwood is more pressing.”
Some who have supported SORE from the beginning have moved out of the area, and they’re still active in the effort to
preserve the heritage attributes and limit development to something appropriate for the four properties. “This has very much become a cause for people who have deep-seated feelings about it.”
Does the developer know there is another proposal for a subdivision residents could live with? There was a time when three members of SORE sat down and talked to Marotta about the Randwood development, with a video of the conversation posted on SORE’s website. But since that interview in the spring of 2019, says Hall, there has been no contact with Marotta, and now, the best channel for this alternative subdivision proposal is with town staff.
The next appropriate step for SORE is to talk to council during the public meeting that will be held at that time, he says, once staff have made their recommendations on Marotta’s application.
For the sake of the town and the neighbourhood, he adds, “surely Benny Marotta can do better.”