Rand hearing wraps up until July

About two dozen witnesses have testified and faced cross-examination during an Ontario Land Tribunal hearing, which got underway April 9 to make decisions about a proposed subdivision in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

And after two days of deliberations this week, Wednesday and Thursday, lawyers and experts involved with the process that has gone over many details about Solmar Development plans for the Rand property development, will take a break until summer.

The hearing will resume July 29 for at least another five days, as about 10 witnesses have yet to take the stand in the virtual hearing.

During cross-examination Wednesday, Brendan Stewart, landscape architect and witness for Save Our Rand Estate (SORE), was questioned about one component of the proposal that has perhaps been the most discussed throughout the last six weeks.

That’s the panhandle access at 200 John St. It has been stated and restated that it’s the preference of the developer, one that experts from other parties with status have raised several concerns about. That discussion continued Wednesday.

In his written statement, Stewart said an access at the panhandle would “decimate” trees in that area.

What about the trees at SORE’s preferred access at 144-176 John St.? This was asked by Solmar lawyer Mark Flowers.

“There’s a much wider space to work with,” responded Stewart, adding it would be a better spot for an access when trying to preserve trees and natural heritage features.

Stewart also noted “there will be impacts no matter what,” regardless of where the access is located.

Another potential access along Charlotte Street at the nearby municipally-owned heritage trail, running along the rear of the Rand property, was initially given the green light by council. However that decision was rescinded shortly after and is now out of consideration.

Stewart said the development needs to “find a viable and sensitive way to solve the access problem,” claiming an access at the panhandle will create “visual impacts” at 210 John St., a private residence owned by Blair and Brenda McArthur, who also have status in the hearing and have counsel representing them in the process.

Wednesday’s proceedings were interrupted for more than an hour by a power outage in Toronto.

Called to the stand by SORE, Tara Chisholm, an engineer with expertise in municipal servicing, was a witness in Thursday’s deliberations.

She believes Solmar’s plans related to servicing are not adequate and “must be further co-ordinated and refined.”

While being cross-examined by Flowers, she said because the development is part of a private condo plan, Solmar is proposing private sewers.

Although a shared service agreement with the town “could be possible,” the Ontario Building Code requires separate parcels to connect to public infrastructure.

Chisholm also said gravity sewers “should be used whenever possible,” noting the Ministry of Environment dictates that when a pumping station is being proposed, such as it is with this development, “all available options” need to be reviewed.

Sarah Kurtz, an engineer specializing in water resources, was another witness on Thursday on behalf of the town.

Summarizing her opinion, she said the proposed development, which could involve up to 196 homes, can be serviced by municipal infrastructure.

While some revisions have been made by the developer that are to her satisfaction, she said she still has concerns.

“They haven’t fully demonstrated the proposed draft plan, and (how) the related engineering can address all the issues that have been raised,” she told town lawyer Nancy Smith.

Kurtz said her concerns could be addressed through further consultation with arborists about trees near the site’s boundary wall, as well as with ecology experts as related to wetland on the property.

Does that mean the project is not “infeasible” and that there is just “more work to be done?” asked Flowers.

“That’s fair, yes,” she replied. Kurtz also said she is hopeful some of her concerns will be addressed during the draft plan approval process.

There was some discussion about Solmar consultants' usage of a program called HEC-HMS, described on the company’s website as software that simulates the precipitation-runoff processes of dendritic drainage basins.

Kurtz said she has heard of this program but has never used it, meaning she was unable to provide feedback about some components of the proposal, such as whether the stormwater management plan is appropriate.

She admitted the proposed location of the pond is suitable, but that it would require an easement from 144 John St.

As Thursday’s proceedings were winding down, OLT member Daniel Best thanked all involved parties for working collaboratively.

He said a site visit by panel members was previously considered, but that it doesn’t seem necessary at this point.

“The visual evidence counsel has provided has been excellent,” said Best.

The hearing will continue July 29.

Kris Dube, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara-on-the-Lake Local