The construction of a microbrewery in Holyrood wasn’t terminated by the Concerned Citizen’s of Holyrood; nor by the town council, or even the Eastern Region Appeal Board. In the end, it was the proponents themselves who pulled the plug.
“This was an extremely difficult decision for our team to make, however, we feel that it is the most appropriate course of action when considering the various factors at play,” said proponent Thomas Williamson.
Those ‘factors-at-play’ were several, but largely boiled down to location. Some residents did not want to see part of the town’s festival grounds sold to accommodate the business.
The land was rezoned in 2019 specifically to accommodate the brewery, but questions from residents persisted: What would the land be sold for? Who would pay the cost up upgrading Byrne’s Road? How much would the Town pay for land to accommodate misplaced marina boats? And what about the plan to further develop the festival grounds, plans for which the Town received $77,408 from the provincial government and $112,511 in federal funding?
Council voted to approve the brewery application in a 4-3 vote. That decision was promptly appealed by resident Mark Lane, who said he represented a Concerned Citizesn group.
“With an upcoming municipal election in September 2021 and factoring in the backlog of the Eastern Regional Appeals Board, the likely outcome would see the appeal heard after the municipal election,” said Williamson. “Our desire from the outset has never been to create disfunction or animosity within the Town of Holyrood, our aim has been to work collaboratively while following the process outlined by the town, and we believe it would be best for all parties to allow the election to take place unencumbered by such a hot button issue.”
The decision, said Williamson, was not an easy one. He noted the proponents have since put forward an application in another town, which he did not name.
“Our sincere desire has always been to construct a beautiful, state-of-the-art brewery in Holyrood, however, everyone must try to understand that not every property works for a development of this nature,” said Williamson. “There are a multitude of infrastructure, zoning, development and business model factors that come into play when selecting a property. Based on these considerations and some of the events that have transpired over the past months, we've made the difficult decision to move our development to another municipality. Recently we have been discussing with a number of other municipalities various options, negotiating with land owners and we are quickly moving through the process of finding suitable alternatives. While we still believe the appeal process would have confirmed the original decision regarding the brewery development and discredited the misinformation that has been shared publicly, we do not believe pushing this development ahead is in the best interest of any stakeholder in Holyrood.”
Holyrood’s new mayor, Kevin Costello, meanwhile, said he will address some of the issues raised by former Mayor Gary Goobie and others during the fall-out from council’s approval of the brewery. Costello was one of the three councillors, including Goobie, who voted against the application.
“There’s definitely been some accusations of issues within council and at the town. It’s been refenced that they’ve been festering for a long time,” Costello said. “My leadership style is not going to allow issues like that to fester for a long time.”
Costello said any such issues will be investigated and appropriate checks and balances will be put in place if necessary.
“Some people say council is gone off the road. Well, we’re tying to put it back on the road,” said the mayor.“One thing I would say is that the way council conducts business probably does need a little bit of a refresher. An example of that is the way in which we communicate. And, in the short week or so I’ve been in this position, we’ve been looking at that. Practically, we need to find out what the most efficient means to communicate with our residents is. So, we need to communicate on a bunch of different levels. We need to communicate on an emergency level, for example, if we have an emergency water shut off. We also need to find an effective way to communicate applications, like this brewery application. I will say, in my opinion, we did communicate in regards to the requirements set out by Municipal Affairs with regards to advertisement and whatnot, but I just feel there’s so much more room for improvement in regards to communicating with our residents. It’s something we’ve talked a lot about since I’ve been on council, but it’s just been talk. There hasn’t been a sufficient amount of effort put in it, in my opinion. A big priority for me is making sure residents are up to speed as much as possible.”
To that end, the Town, before Costello was named the new mayor, hired an external consultant, J. W. Consulting Associates, to formulate a new communications plan at a cost, thus far, of $3,450 HST included.
That plan has been drafted and is awaiting review.
As to the withdrawal of the brewery application, Costello said that it is an unfortunate outcome. “We don’t like to see any applications, whether that be for a business, or even a home, or a simple shed, fence, or garage, we don’t like to see applications withdrawn,” said Costello. “There’s no doubt that the economic impact of this brewery would have had a positive impact on the town, but the location was the issue. I voted ‘No’ on this application, based on the location, but I do believe that they had good intentions with the potential development of the brewery in this town.”
As to the vacant seat that remains, Costello was the lone member of council in favour of holding an election to fill that seat before the coming municipal election in September.
“I always like to have my team as full as possible,” said Costello. “From what I understand there’s probably going to be a fairly large turnover this time around. And what I mean by that is there are probably not going to be a lot of current councillors seeking re-election. I really feel that if we were able to get someone in that seat now, at least that would give them five or six months of exposure to council’s processes and procedures.”
Other members of council voted against the motion on the basis of cost and proximity of the September municipal election.
When members of council do campaign in the fall, Costello said the brewery application, despite being no longer before council, will likely still be a hot button issue.
“When I was going door-to-door last time when I ran, people were bringing up issues from 15 years ago,” said Costello. “So yes, I would say this issue will definitely be an election issue, though it’s not an active application any more.”
Meanwhile, Williamson, of Beach Head Brewery, said the proponents wanted to thank the Town, and that he hoped all parties would learn from the experience. “We would like to thank all staff and councilors for their support, feedback, advice, and hard work. Collectively, we have all spent more than two years working on this development, attempting to bring a concept to reality and while the outcome is not what any of us hoped for, we must accept it and move forward,” said Williamson. “We truly hope that the Holyrood Town Council takes a leading role in healing the wounds that have occurred throughout this process on all sides. We are happy to support the Holyrood Town council moving forward and would welcome the opportunity to speak with the Holyrood Concerned Citizens group to find common ground so we can all grow from this experience, with the goal of making Holyrood a better place to live, learn, work, play and invest. As we have said from the outset, we love Holyrood, and we hope for nothing but the best moving forward.”
Mark Squibb, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Shoreline News