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Experts, public weigh in on Rand subdivision

Planner Paul Lowes, representing the developer, offered this artist rendering of what the mix of housing proposed for the new subdivision on John Street East and Charlotte Street might look like.
Planner Paul Lowes, representing the developer, offered this artist rendering of what the mix of housing proposed for the new subdivision on John Street East and Charlotte Street  might look like. 

Last Thursday’s public information session on the current proposal for the Solmar subdivision seemed to raise more questions than answers.Planner Paul Lowes, representing the developer, offered this artist rendering of what the mix of housing proposed for the new subdivision on John Street East and Charlotte Street  might look like. 

Town planner Rick Wilson outlined the proposal to date, and explained that a revised application, submitted to the town in March, prompted the session, which was not required under the planning act. It was intended as an opportuntiy for the public to comment on the changes made to the proposal, which was outlined in a town report made available to the public June 2.

He explained that while councillors would be listening to the comments, they would not be participating, and that town staff have not submitted any recommendations to council.

“This is not a council meeting,” he emphasized, and explained that the revised application for the Charlotte Street and John Street East subdivisionl has already been appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal for a decision, which had not been provided by the town within the allotted time permitted under planning legislation for the first application.

He also spoke to the “hierarchy” of plans and guidelines in place, starting with the province, and also involving regional and municipal plans, and the Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendments that will be required for it to go forward.

The report compiled to explain the revised proposal sets out the plan to develop a property of about 30 acres, which currently contains two single-detached dwellings, a two-storey carriage house, and other accessory buildings and structures, with a stone wall around the north, west and south perimeter and gates at the entry points. A watercourse, regulated by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, crosses the northwest property line behind Weatherstone Court. Surrounding lands include residential, agricultural and open space uses.

Both properties are designated as having cultural heritage value.

The revisions, Wilson said, include going from a total of 191 single and detached houses, to 172 units, 107 of them townhomes — the region requested a greater mix of housing — plus 39 single family homes and 26 semi-detached.

The original stormwater management plan drew concern from residents about an underground holding facility, and has been changed to a  traditional stormwater management pond, with a walkway around it.

The revised plan increases the amount of parkland and open space to include some cultural heritage resources, and to improve access to the Heritage Trail. It includes an open space block at the John Street East entrance of the subdivision with a Whistle Stop Parkette at the south end of the site, where a gazebo is to be reconstructed, and a Heritage Parkette at the other end, with a walkway to connect them.

The proposed access to John Street East remains, but with some changes that include moving the existing pillars, with a re-designed private road right-of-way that eliminates the curbs in the original proposal.

Additional trees are proposed to provide a landscape buffer between the driveway and 210 John Street East, and trees planted along the interior streets and pond, although there was also concern expressed by several speakers about more trees to be removed.

An emergency access is proposed through a community garden to provide emergency vehicle connection to Charlotte Street. 

Paul Lowes of SGO Planning & Design Inc., representing Solmar, the land-owner, said the developer listened to what was said at last summer’s public meeting, and “we made a fair amount of changes that addressed those concerns.”

They include the broader mix of housing by putting townhouses in the centre of the plan, the  stormwater management pond, reduced grades, the heritage components that will be preserved, additional green space, and the redesigned entrance from John Street.

But several experts representing SORE (Save Our Randwood Estate), which has been involved in pushing for appropriate development on the Rand property from the earliest Solmar proposals, said not enough has been done, either in undertaking impact studies of the revised plan, or preserving significant cultural heritage features, both built and landscaped.

A new heritage impact assessment was called for as a “critical step in responsible heritage conservation” by Brendan Stewart, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Guelph.  

He said he is really concerned that the new proposal demolishes  several significant buildings on the property, and a new study is required to look at the rationale for all the decisions that have been documented, to allow for proper comment on what is proposed.

Dana Anderson, an urban planner representing SORE, said the intensification and housing mix don’t fit in the context of the neighbourhood. She also spoke of the parkettes and pathways, which were put forward as providing connectivity, as instead really just places for “resting at the edges of the subdivision.”

She also spoke to density, saying it “remains unclear what is included and excluded in density calculation,” and that further clarification is needed.

There was also talk of the removal of mature trees and the destruction of a wetland, proposed to be reconstructed offsite at 144 John Street, and the destruction of habitat for two endangered bat species.

Traffic concerns were also mentioned by another SORE expert, a transportation engineer, who said there needs to be an updated traffic study done — the first was conducted in the early days of the pandemic, and also leading up to a holiday, which can skew the results.

Although the stormwater management pond is considered a welcome modification, a thorough analysis of stormwater management needs is missing, said yet another expert hired by SORE. 

Wrapping up their issues was a lawyer who called for development guided by design and conservation excellence, as SORE has proposed, that does not require demolition of heritage buildings, that would save some of the trees, that doesn’t necessitate the removal of the wetland, and that “doesn’t require intensification at all costs.”

Gracia Janes, representing the NOTL Conservancy, said the proposal for the most important heritage estate property in town “is poorly conceived and an unneeded land use travesty that will make it impossible for the town to protect other smaller estate lots in the future.”

It’s not needed provincially, regionally or locally to meet housing intensification targets, she added.

Other residents asked questions, including about process, legal issues, and the project’s impact on climate change, but with no answers offered. 

The next step, explained Wilson, is the scheduling of a case management conference with the Ontario Land Tribunal, and once arranged, the date will be posted on the town website.