Two steps taken, one big step left for former WMS rezoning

Woodstock council approved the first and second readings of the rezoning required for developers to repurpose the former Woodstock Middle School as an apartment complex. Still, the third and final reading won’t come as quickly.

A public hearing regarding the proposed rezoning preceded the regular council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25, with concerned residents and a developer representative on hand. While residents didn’t oppose the developer’s plans to repurpose the old school to a 36-unit apartment building and build a new 20-unit on the property, they encouraged the town to impose restrictions and specific requirements as part of the rezoning amendment.

Residents surrounding the former school petitioned the council to ask the town to include a condition to ensure the property offers public recreation and green space. Other speakers urged council to require repurposing of the school before construction of the new 20-unit building begins, citing concern developers may choose to cancel the potentially expensive renovation.

Woodstock CAO Andrew Garnett read the petition signed by 70 area residents into the record.

The petition asked the town to impose a condition on the developers “to convey to the town of Woodstock” a portion of the property adjacent to Orange Street.

The petition explained that this portion of the property could “continue to be used as a general recreation and green space for the people of Woodstock as it is the only public green space from the Meduxnekeag River to Connell Park.”

The homeowners noted that Woodstock citizens used the existing green space for over a century.

Residents John and Lois Thompson, who helped deliver the petition, told the River Valley Sun the signatures represent only residents living near the old school property. John said they could have secured many more signatures throughout the town.

John Thompson also addressed council, asking it to ensure developers legally commit to renovating the old school as promised.

“It is urged that prior to any work beginning on the property that the town obtain some form of binding guarantee that obligates the developer to execute the necessary remediation,” Thompson said, quoting the letter he and his wife submitted to the town.

Woodstock developer Joel Rose also addressed council, noting he owns apartment complexes directly across the street from the former middle school.

He, too, urged council to impose conditions to ensure the developers complete school remediation before being allowed to begin construction of the new building.

Rose said he fears his apartment building could become long-term neighbours to a dilapidated building.

Blair Martin of Belleterre Real Estate Properties, representing the developers, addressed the residents’ concerns, noting he would work with the town regarding the green space. He stressed, however, the developers are not in the business of operating and maintaining parks or greenspace.

Martin explained the developers are not interested in taking on the liability issues associated with operating a public park.

Martin said the development partners would only have entered the project if confident they could repurpose the old school. He added he brings experience to the project, including lessons learned on a similar project.

Martin added the building would remain a problem of the town regardless of who owns it.

The developer noted the building deteriorated significantly following the school’s closure and under the New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure ownership. While the asbestos removal was a known challenge, he said the biggest problem was the mould the department allowed to spread after it took control.

Martin also explained the new owner must subdivide the property to allow the separate buildings to meet the province’s affordable-home requirements.

Mayor Slipp said the CAO and town staff would work with developers to address the green space options, timelines and other areas of concern which council could reflect as conditions for the zoning bylaw amendment.

Conditions attached to the bylaw amendment before the first and second readings included parking lots being graded to ensure no increase in water run-off from existing levels and the stormwater systems being tied to the nearest stormwater sewer.

Rezoning conditions require developers to pave and curb parking lots before building occupancy. Before a building permit is issued, they must also submit a landscaping plan to the town development officer.

In its rezoning application, the developer advised the planning advisory committee (PAC) it could include a daycare on the bottom floor of the repurposed school.

The PAC conditionally approved the daycare if it complies with provincial regulations, places play areas in the rear yard, provides one parking spot for every five children, creates limited traffic impact on the neighbourhood, and ensures no internal connections between residential and daycare users.

While most council members support the development, they urged the town to address all concerns before final approval.

Coun. Jeff Bradbury said he wants all concerns addressed but believed it necessary for the town to work with developers to allow a project offering affordable housing and daycare to proceed. He noted no one benefits from a closed school sitting empty.

“This is our best chance to get this building cleaned up,” Bradbury said.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun