How will Old Town residents feel about a four-storey Parliament Oak Hotel on King Street?
That’s the plan for the former school property — the proposal from Two Sisters Resorts is to demolish the former school building and put up a boutique hotel.
There are 129 suites planned in the “luxury hotel” fronting on King Street, with a restaurant, bar and event spaces, all in one building, allowing for some onsite greenspace. There will be underground parking and eight surface parking spaces.
In 2018, the District School Board of Niagara sold the 1.6 hectare King Street property to developer Liberty Sites Ltd., following community protests and failed negotiations with the town, which had made several offers to purchase it.
Liberty was proposing a dozen 1.5 storey semi-detached homes, plus a three-storey apartment building. Residents, believing it to be too big and too large a density, were advocating that any development of the site should respect the streetscape and low-density residential neighbourhood surrounding it.
Paul Lowes, of SGL Planning and Design, who also represents developer Benny Marotta, Two Sisters Resort and Solmar for the proposed subdivision on John Street East, says the applications for Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendments for the hotel have been submitted to the town, along with all the studies required and an “early design.” The town will review those applications to determine if they are complete.
Once the town deems the application complete, it will be made public.
The building will have a “slightly bigger” lot coverage, at 22 per cent, than the school building, which covers 18 or 19 per cent of the property, says Lowes. But the landscaped area will be greater, with less paved surface.
And the historic oak tree, which has been reported to be 300 years old, will be saved.
The building design, he adds, “will fit quite nicely in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
Residents in the neighbourhood of the property have received a letter from LURA, a public relations firm, dated Feb. 6, explaining they “specialize in speaking with neighbours about a variety of policy and planning or construction projects. We are not engineers or planners ourselves nor are we responsible for the result of any project we are involved with. Rather, we work to foster positive dialogue between interested parties.”
Two Sisters Resorts, the letter says, “has identified that an early dialogue will be beneficial to ensuring the circulation of accurate information and the fostering of a respectful and open dialogue. We recognize there may be great interest in this site from residents. As the application process advances, this dialogue will also be helpful in circling concerns and inquires from the community back through to the project proponent/applicants.”
Neighbour Alan Gordon says POST, a group of NOTL residents and neighbours inspired to action by the first development proposal for the historic Parliament Oak school site, is still very much in existence. Preserve Our Special Town was formed to protest what was considered inappropriate development in a low-density residential neighbourhood.
Gordon says since the first proposal was appealed for lack of a town decision on zoning and Official Plan amendments, POST members have been waiting for a hearing.
Liberty had also filed an application to the town for a permit to demolish the school, an application that was not completed, but that can be moved forward by Two Sisters, which bought the property in October for $8 million.
“Things went very quiet during the hiatus, and nothing much was happening,” says Gordon.
He and others opposed to the residential Parliament Oak development have been following closely the proposal for a four-
storey, 60-foot apartment building on Mary Street, at the corner of Mississagua Street. It too is inappropriate for its location in a residential neighbourhood, because of its height and size, and that developer is also looking for Official Plan and zoning amendments, Gordon says.
That application “got our attention, We’ve been communicating with our list from POST. Most four- to five-storey buildings are 40 feet. This has very high ceilings, and mechanicals on the top. It’s the equivalent height of a six-storey building.”
Added to that is the issue of density, with 40 units proposed, “about 10 times or more what the OP allows,” says Gordon.
“Frankly to me it seems quite absurd.”
The Mary Street proposal is “way out of line” with the Official Plan, which is specific about residential zoning and redevelopment and what is appropriate for an existing neighbourhood, he says.
Meanwhile, having heard that the Parliament Oak property had been sold, “we were on notice, just waiting for the other shoe to drop,” he says.
It has, and what he has learned about the proposal for what he calls “a quasi-resort” is also inappropriate for the low-density established residential area, he says.
“An enormous amount of effort went into the Official Plan,” which was recently updated, he says. “Our position is very clear. A commercial use for the property is completely inappropriate and inconsistent with the OP, as is the density, height and scale of the building.”
Gordon says he and his group are not opposed to development, and he points to the new hotel on Queen Street as something he feels maintains a sense of scale and density with the surrounding neighbourhood.
“But the Parliament Oak and Mary Street developments, in residential areas, defy common sense.”
Connie Tintinalli, a founding member of POST and a neighbour to the property, is also opposed to commercial rezoning. Citing the history of the property, she says, “how much further from the intended use of this important site can this proposal for a commercial hotel be?”
Community facilities and institutional zoning designations permit uses that serve the residents and future residents of the town, she adds.
“If the town of NOTL wants to remain a real town with residents, families and maybe even a school, we need to prioritize the needs of the people that live here rather than the ones who merely visit, and those who only want to reap riches through development as they overwhelm the town’s unique character.”
Lyle Hall, a member and often spokesperson of SORE (Save Our Rand Estate), which watches closely development and legal issues of the four properties owned by Benny Marotta, Solmar and Two Sisters on John Street East and Charlotte Street, has also been following development plans for the Parliament Oak site — he lives on one of the four streets surrounding the property.
He is concerned that the proposal is to rezone the property for commercial use.
Rather than a dialogue about how big the hotel should be or how many rooms it will have, it should be “what tone the new council is going set” with this proposal, and the one for Mary Street.
If the town wants to give up community facility space for commercial zoning right in the middle of a residential block, “we’ll never see another community facility space. Let’s not fall into the developmental trap of whether it should be 129 rooms. It shouldn’t be a hotel at all. Ideally, it should remain a community facility, or at worst, residential,” that fits in with the surrounding neighbourhood, says Hall.
Unfortunately, he continues, the owner of the property “has more money and more staying power than probably the town or the residents do.”
“I’m not at all surprised,” he adds, to see the property owner propose commercial zoning for a hotel — the discussion will be whether council will defend what residents want them to do.
This proposal, which if approved would begin to pull the commercial concentration away from Queen Street, Hall says, “will be a real challenge for council.”