Smiths Falls looks to extend exclusivity agreement with Saumure Group on development of old water treatment plant

The former water treatment plant is set to be demolished, but the town is seeking to extend an exclusivity agreement with the Saumure Group of Companies as an offer of good faith. The local developer will have 120 days to come up with a plan on reinventing 25 Old Mill Road. – Laurie Weir photo

The Town of Smiths Falls is looking to extend an exclusivity agreement with Saumure Group of Companies to develop 25 Old Mill Rd.

This is the site of the old water treatment plant that was destroyed by fire last year and will be demolished soon.

The Saumure Group had been working on plans for redevelopment before the fire on May 8, 2023.

The recommendation from Julia Crowder, manager of economic development for the Town of Smiths Falls, was brought to council’s committee of the whole on Monday, March 25. All but one councillor supported the recommendation, which will give Saumure Group the opportunity to submit a proposal to redevelop the site.

Crowder said in her report the proponent is now prepared to proceed with the work that began before the fire loss under the previous conditions. This agreement would be for a nine-month period that would end Dec. 31.

“All provisions would remain the same, other than the timeline,” Crowder said, “and it also includes a reporting period of 120 days. So, the first report from the proponent would be in July if we were to move forward.”

Coun. Chris McGuire asked what advantage this would be for the town to renew it now.
“I can see a lot of disadvantages,” he said.

Crowder said since they’d been working with this company for some time, they wanted to give them the opportunity to come up with an offer of purchase – if that is the direction they want to go with given the new parameters on the property.

“We have the option to back out at any time,” she said, but she wanted to give them the option to come up with something by July. If not, she said, council could cancel the agreement and go in a different direction.

Coun. Peter McKenna supported the staff recommendation. He questioned how staff would keep Parks Canada abreast of the process. “Are they a partner or will they help monitor the evolution of this?”

Crowder said Parks Canada has been involved in the discussion with the proponent and the town and will provide staff with guidelines on redevelopment. Parks Canada would also be provided with a site plan application as they are a stakeholder.

Coun. Steve Robinson said they have a moral contract to extend the contract to the proponent “because of the fire,” he said.

McGuire said he would not support the recommendation.

“Since the fire, almost a year ago, there’s been no progress made … now we’re going into approving the demolition as the engineers have put forward from the insurance company that could really make this site undevelopable. And there’s still nothing from the proponent.”

McGuire said he sees no advantage to resigning this agreement with the proponent at this time.

“If somebody was to come in (with) an idea and wanted to buy the property for a dollar, I’d be open to that. There’s nothing to come of it until the demolition is over and once that happens, it’s a completely different site. I think there needs to be a completely new request for proposals because there might be a completely different group of investors that might be interested in it.”

Mayor Shawn Pankow said he’d support the recommendation as it is “an exercise of good faith. It wasn’t until two weeks ago that the committee made the decision to demolish and clean up the site.

“I think that for most of last year it’s been in limbo and if I was a contractor looking to develop it, I would be waiting for council or committee’s decision on what was going to happen with the site.”

Pankow said he felt that nine months was an appropriate amount of time for the proponent to figure out what they wanted to do with the property.

Councillors Dawn Quinn and Jay Brennan both supported this proponent as one of a long-time developer in the town. Brennan thanked the proponent for their interest.

Coun. Jennifer Miller also had “a lot of faith in Saumure and their interest in developing Smiths Falls, and we have lots of examples of how they’ve done good work.”

The recommendation will come to a future council meeting for final approval.

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