Founders Crossing developers pull petition for controversial Woodstock housing plan

Founders Crossing developers withdraw petition for controversial housing development

The developers behind the controversial Founders Crossing housing proposal in Woodstock have formally withdrawn their petition. 

The Woodstock City Council was set to consider the preliminary plat for the $25 million project at its Tuesday meeting, but attendees were met with a sign on the City Hall door announcing the petition withdrawal.

Kenneth and Rhonda Rawson wanted to build 77 single-family homes and two apartment buildings on the 11.5- acre Woodstock Station site, but were met with resistance from residents and Plan Commission members.

Mayor Brian Sager said the Rawsons called to permanently withdraw the proposal – which had been discussed for a year and a half – about 5 p.m. Tuesday. 

“The petitioners have asked for the opportunity to work with the city in the future, perhaps looking at other types of products or other types of parcels,” Sager said. “But in this particular instance they have come to the conclusion, based on the response from the community, [to withdraw].”

Sager said that the Rawsons recognized that the project wasn’t the best fit for the high-profile Woodstock Station property, which is located off Clay and First streets near the Square and the railroad.

He said the Rawsons planned to turn their sights on other projects that may be “more appropriate.” 

Rhonda Rawson didn’t respond to a phone call or text message Tuesday evening.

Some council members expressed concern that residents, many of whom protested the Founders Crossing plan, didn’t have a cohesive idea for what should go on the property.

“We are really clear on what you don’t want,” council member Wendy Piersall said. “We need to know what you do want. And when I started asking that question, the answers were all over the place.”

Piersall said she was concerned that residents wouldn’t be able to come together in support of the next developer to come along for that reason.

“This coming off our agenda tonight, or if it had gotten voted down, didn’t really solve a lot of the problems that came up along with this development,” she said. “I think you as a public need to be a lot clearer on what you do want.”

Council member Mike Turner, who had been a staunch opponent of the Founders Crossing plan, said he wanted to work in partnership with the landowner – Wintrust Bank – to find other developers for the site.

“As I look to the Die Cast, what I see is the potential. The empty canvas,” Turner said. “I don’t think it should be filled just with houses. I don’t think it should be filled just with a community space. I think it’s a mix. ... In the next phase of this the ability to engage multiple, vetted, creative developers in partnership with the landowner can create something much more imaginative.”

The property is within the newly enacted downtown tax increment financing district No. 2, which covers the downtown area and part of Route 47. The site formerly housed a typewriter factory before becoming a Die Cast auto parts facility.

More than a decade ago, a developer wanted to put up to 400 apartments and town homes on the site, but development came to a halt after the housing market crash and remains vacant.

Council member Jim Prindiville said he liked that the Founders Crossing project was market-driven, but was open to gathering input from residents about what should go on the site.

“This project, I thought, was well-designed,” he said. “It had a design-driven element to it ... and I thought that was a very good thing for Woodstock. It was an attractive project. But again I think the community understands that they need to answer the question – do we want a market-driven project or do we want a publicly planned, publicly supported urban redevelopment project?”

Woodstock City Council plans to hold a workshop to discuss the future of the property, but has not yet set a date for the meeting, the mayor said.

Woodstock resident Tricia Rachford said she was relieved that the project had been pulled from the table. She had been concerned about the design and lack of green space throughout the development.

“I am very happy,” she said. “I am looking forward to our community doing something of a higher caliber.”

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