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Few issues raised over Phillips Estate plans

Converting the historic estate into a hotel will require Official Plan and zoning amendments.
Noise and traffic were two of the concerns raised by residents at a recent open house.

Residents who have watched the historic Phillips Estate sit idle at one of the busiest intersections in town for decades were given a chance to ask questions and raise concerns Monday evening about a proposed development that would see it restored for use as a hotel.

It was once a grand home built hundreds of years ago as a refuge for wealthy Americans who visited Niagara-on-the-Lake in the summer months.  

Now the estate, partially restored with plans to be an upscale hotel, and two bordering lots are being proposed to become the site of an 81-room hotel with a restaurant, spa, and other features such as a portion of the fourth floor having a rooftop deck. Underground parking is also part of the plan.  

The property has been owned by Rainer Hummel since 2003, and the latest proposal is being brought forward by Van Riesen Hotel Group.  

Hummel told The Local shortly after the open house adjourned that he is still the owner, and that the property is registered in his name, while Van Riesen Hotel Group is the agent involved in the proposed development.   

He intends to keep the property in his name and at some point, “see it developed.”  

He has no plans to sell, he added.  

The proposal is to use adjoining lots fronting Simcoe Street to add two new three-storey and four-storey hotel sections that will connect to the historic home. 

The estate has passed through many hands, from the early prominent citizens who originally owned portions of the property, to the Americans who first built the summer home, and then through generations who have renovated and added to it over the years. 

Recent town documents say the estate and property “represent a significant example of the type of elegant summer properties constructed by wealthy Americans who spent their summers in
Niagara-on-the-Lake during the heyday of the grand summer estates that sprang up in the town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”  

The town also says the “landscape setting, including the greenhouse and the specimen trees located throughout the property, is an integral defining element of the property, marking it as one of the few remaining significant summer estates in Niagara-on-the-Lake.” 

One individual who asked questions during the open house was Glen Bandiera.  

He’s concerned about traffic in the area that will result from the project if it’s approved as it is being proposed. 

“I’m a little intimidated by the number of rooms,” he said.

Jennifer Vida, an agent representing Van Riesen Hotel Group, said a traffic impact study has been conducted and that there are some “remedial measures that need to be taken” on Queen Street, which will be worked out during the site plan process.  

Concerns about noise from events at the proposed hotel were also brought up during the open house.  

Carlia Rienzo said rowdiness from another accommodation in town are a “chronic issue.” 

Vida said the town’s noise bylaw “will be enforced upon the events and functions that take place on this property.”  

Initial plans for the project were somewhat of a “glass box,” admitted Vida, fielding questions from meeting participant David Parker. 

She explained plans have changed and the main hotel building will fit in with a heritage-style facade and “blend in with the character of the existing house.”  

The highest piece of the property will be no higher than 16 metres, said Vida, adding its highest point currently is 10.66 metres.  

The purpose of the open house, as well as a public meeting before council on Oct. 3, is to get closer to proposed official plan and zoning bylaw amendments. 

The official plan changes are to accommodate the height of the building, said Vida.  

The zoning bylaw amendment proposes to change the existing general commercial site specific zoning related to permitted uses, lot frontage, lot area, building setbacks, building height, parking requirements, loading spaces and buffer strip requirements abutting residential uses.