Woodstock council pulls plug on major downtown development

by | Dec 17, 2023

Town opts out of agreement surrounding construction of six-story complex on old Woodstock Baptist Church property

Woodstock council has pulled the plug on a development firm’s efforts to build a massive residential and commercial structure along Main Street in downtown Woodstock.

In a media release issued Friday afternoon, Dec 15, the town said the council unanimously passed a motion on Tuesday, Dec 12, following an in-camera meeting, to end negotiations with the developers.

“The Woodstock Town Council opts to end negotiations on a development agreement with Arc Development Group (ARC) for a proposed 6-storey mixed-use apartment and commercial space unit on 690 Main Street, the former Woodstock Baptist Church site.” the town stated on Friday’s press release.

Mayor Trina Jones said the decision followed an update on the status of the developer’s agreement from CAO Allan Walker during the committee-of-the-whole meeting on Tuesday.

Jones noted the agreement expired on Nov. 30.

Negotiations between Woodstock and ARC Development began a year earlier, following approval of the project and the required variances by the Planning Advisory Committee and council.

The mayor said staff and council didn’t accept some revisions to the agreement proposed by the builders. The release didn’t specify what revisions the council deemed unacceptable.

“Though proposed revisions to the agreement had been provided by ARC on Dec. 11, the council was not in agreement with some of the amendments ARC was requesting, and we felt it in the best interest of the community to not extend negotiations further,” said Jones. “Though we appreciate the opportunity and efforts ARC has put forward, we were not willing to bend on most of the amendments they requested, and therefore, we didn’t see much purpose in continuing negotiations.”

The town and the developers began negotiations in November of 2022 after they reached a purchase and sale agreement, which was conditional on finalizing the developer’s agreement.

The town owns the former Woodstock Baptist Church property, which sits vacant across Main Street from the courthouse. It acquired the property through a land swap to allow the construction of a new modern church on the former Carleton Memorial Hospital property.

Jones explained the council agreed to sell the Main Street property for one dollar upon completion of the developer’s agreement. Without a finalized agreement, the town remains the property owner.

The ARC Development Group had to clear several hurdles to gain approval for the ambitious project. These included variances allowing it to surpass height restrictions from 18 to 23 metres and a reduction in required parking spaces.

At a public meeting on Sept. 20, 2022, PAC approved the variance requests from ARC, represented at the meeting by Jordan Perry and Josh McEvoy.

The 2022 PAC meeting also saw several presentations, primarily from neighbouring property owners, opposing the size and scope of the development. An appeal of PAC’s variance approval, which was later denied, further delayed the completion of the draft development agreement, causing the town to extend negotiations.

Woodstock council approved PAC’s recommendations at a council meeting on Sept. 27, 2022, but then-Deputy Mayor Amy Anderson emphasized the importance of the developer’s agreement.

Anderson, who did not seek re-election in November 2022, said the council must maintain strict oversight of the project and be “more proactive” and “very detailed” while pursuing a final development agreement.

Jones said the current council discussed options during the Dec. 12 committee-of-whole meeting before unanimously agreeing to return to open session and table a motion to end the negotiation.

The mayor said the council wants to begin its search for other development options for the property immediately.

“Council and staff will be meeting in January to finalize a new Request For Proposal that will be released as soon as possible in the new year,” she said.

Jones noted the Requests for Proposals in the spring of 2022 yielded only two responses, including ARC Development’s, adding that she hopes the changing circumstances, including widespread housing demands, attract a greater response this time, especially among local developers.

The second response in 2022 came from Woodstock businessman Shaun Albright, owner of Crossing Paths Guest House, sitting next door to the former church property.

Albright’s proposal suggested the town subdivide the property, of which he would use a portion to build a six-to-eight-unit apartment building, create green space and expand parking for Crossing Paths.

Jones said the new Requests for Proposals would include information about any available incentive programs upfront, with a goal to see the chosen project begin as early as 2024.

“Given the situation everywhere with lack of housing, housing will certainly be an important aspect of this development project,” she said.

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