By Mark Squibb | Aug. 20, 2020
A developer says he has washed his hands of a costly project: a problematic roundabout in Holyrood that has been under construction since 2015. It comes after the Town of Holyrood said last month, through its chief administrative officer Gary Corbett, that the Town plans to complete the roundabout with another company.
Gary Stafford of A&S Holdings has been at the centre of the development of Holyrood’s “town centre” for the past seven years. He said he was asked to get involved by Corbett, when the town decided to develop land near the intersection of the Holyrood Access Road and the Conception Bay Highway.
“I was approached by Mr. Corbett back in 2013. ‘Would I be interested in purchasing the rubber plant?’ At the time it was owned by one of the residents up here,” said Stafford.
“By the time you tear the building down, put in your road structure, your water and sewer, I was going to come out in the red. There was no money to be made. So, Mr. Corbett brought it to my attention that up behind this 6.7 acres of land was anywhere from 500 to a thousand acres of Crown Land which the Town of Holyrood had under control. They had it frozen… So, they presented me a deal, that if I bought the rubber plant, and did the proper infrastructure and everything else, they would purchase the Crown land, and sell it to me, for what they purchased it at. Therefore, I could make some money, and get my return back on all this original investment in buying the rubber plant.”
So, Stafford said, in 2015 he bought the land, and the dormant rubber plant was torn down, to much media attention. For both Stafford and the Town of Holyrood, It was to be a harbinger of commercial and industrial success. The Blue Ocean Industrial Park, announced in 2017, would see 50 acres of land for sale for industrial use in the Town, while Stafford’s commercial development, The Stores at Holyrood, which was announced in 2018, would see the land the long vacant rubber plant had occupied for years active once again.
Mayor Gary Goobie’s account of the plant sale matched Stafford’s and Goobie applauded Stafford for his willingness to try his hand at working with the Town to develop the area.
“We had an old, dilapidated building right in the middle of town,” said the mayor. “And we had a vision that that would be the hub for business and economic development. We tried on several occasions to attract developers to come forward and purchase that building and remove the building and then work with the town in developing that whole particular area. We have that zoned now in our town plan as Town Centre. That’s the area where we want to have commercial and business development. So, again, we had several discussions with several developers, and some came very close, but then at the last minute they backed away for their own particular reasons. But thankfully, it was this developer, Mr. Stafford who stepped up, and he said, ‘I will work with the Town.’ He stepped up and purchased that old rubber plant, on his own dime. He did the environmental remediation, on his own dime, and he removed that rubber plant, on his own dime, at no cost to the Town.
“So he helped pave the way for what we see up there today. Without Mr. Stafford’s intervention, and taking that financial risk, we would not see the Tim Hortons there now, we would not see the North Atlantic (gas bar) there, we would not see the 6,000 square foot professional building going up,” Goobie continued. “Mr. Stafford put up an awful lot of money on his own to bring this to where it is right now. And had he not done that, we’d probably still see an old rubber plant there, and nothing else there… So there’s a lot of credit has to go to Mr. Stafford for taking that business risk. And I certainly appreciate that, and council certainly appreciates that. And yes, we’ve had some issues with Mr. Stafford, but they were at a level that they weren’t personal, but we knew there were complications, that there were things getting in the way that were stalling that whole project from getting completed in a timely manner. But we continued to work and dialogue with Mr. Stafford. And at times it has been frustrating, on both sides, but we have continued to work with Mr. Stafford.”
Stafford said he hired Progressive Engineering to work with the Town and the provincial Department of Transportation to remove the old intersection and put in the roundabout — at his own expense — to create easier access to The Stores commercial development and the Industrial Park.
A notice on the Town’s website, dated August 30, 2018, notes that the roundabout will be completed in the fall.
“Five years later, the roundabout is still not finished,” said Stafford.
That’s a situation that neither Stafford, nor the Town, are happy about.
“The first year we put in all the underground infrastructure,” said Stafford. “The next year we started all the concrete work which was the next step. Then the following step was the paving, the first coat of asphalt.”
Stafford’s said much of the concern came over what he described as a poorly designed shoulder on the western side of the roundabout.
Eastbound vehicles approaching the roundabout from Route 60 have to turn counterclockwise around it to head towards St. Johns, or, up the Hoylrood Access Road to the Trans Canada Highway. It works fine for regular vehicles. But when construction to repair a damaged culvert on the TCH last year saw all that highway traffic rerouted through Holyrood, it was quickly discovered that tractor trailers did not have adequate space to navigate the roundabout up to the Access Road easily.
“Twice we had concrete put in, and twice a tractor trailer came through in the nighttime and tore it all up, so that we had to take it out,” said Stafford. “When it got to that stage, I said that this is enough; I’m not pumping good money in that if they’re going to have to tear out and fix it (again). It’s not worth it. So, I went to the Town and said, ‘I’m washing my hands clear of this.’”
Because of Snowmageddon and the COVID-19 pandemic that followed, work of any kind was halted for much of 2020. But this past May another emergency repair job to another culvert on the TCH led to traffic being rerouted again through Holyrood, and the problems experienced at the roundabout the first time started all over again.
Commuters were backed up from the roundabout for as long as four to five hours.
Stafford said that that could have easily been avoided.
“This roundabout, or any roundabout, is not designed for this much traffic,” he said. “So then, the problem which I had presented over here from day one, became a big problem. Because what was happening, the tractor trailers were coming down, they were going over the curb, they were getting caught underneath, and trying to back up. I told them from day one that that was going to be a problem.”
Stafford maintains that had the shoulder been reinforced with rebar, which is designed to support large trucks, the problem could have been avoided.
He noted the concrete centre circle is reinforced with rebar.
“I told them to do the same thing over there,” he said, pointing to the shoulder, which he said the Town removed to allow passage of tractor trailers.
Stafford was on hand to watch the massive detour delays unfold.
“It became a total gong show,” he said. “Everybody was confused. They had two flag people here at the time, figuring it might be a little problem, and they were doing okay, but a lot of people weren’t listening. They weren’t paying attention. And most people don’t. They don’t pay attention to signage.”
It wasn’t the first disagreement between himself and the town, Stafford said. Last year, after he erected several road signs at the roundabout, which he felt necessary for its safe usage, town staff showed up and covered them with black bags. Earlier, a driver had actually driven over one of the signs.
After all the trouble, Stafford said he has had enough. But he’s concerned about what the dispute will mean for his reputation.
“Whatever goes on with the roundabout, I put it here, not Progressive Engineering, not Harbourside Engineering Consultants, not the Town, not the Department of Transportation, I’m getting labelled here, if it’s done right or wrong,” Stafford allowed. “That’s the way the people look at it. I’m disappointed that I’m not going to finish it. I take pride in my work. I do it right the first time, even if it’s going to cost me extra money.”
Stafford estimated he’s spent about a million dollars on the roundabout.
“No one twisted my arm at this. I’m blaming myself more than anybody else, because I chose to do this,” he said.
At a July 29 council meeting, CAO Corbett reported that the Town is going to call a tender to get the work finished, and that he expected the work to be finished in four to six weeks.
“I guarantee they’ll be at it for at least two months,” said Stafford.
As for The Stores development, Stafford said work is ongoing. Currently, the outside of a large commercial and retail building is complete, with work beginning soon on the inside. He said there will be three businesses located there, including Pharma Choice, a doctor’s office, and a physiotherapy office.
The Town is using Progressive Engineering to evaluate the tenders from other companies to put the finishing touches to the roundabout.
When contacted for comment, CAO Corbett said that what he said at the public council meeting last month was all he had authority to say.
“I will say that there is still a good relationship with the developer,” added Corbett. “He is still connected on a daily basis as it’s his investment no matter how the roundabout gets completed. As development continues on the developer’s private property we are all working diligently to return to the normal the Town has experienced.”
Meanwhile, Goobie said he understands residents’ frustration with the unfinished project, which resembles a construction zone.
“We’ve heard it loud and clear from several residents over the past while, through e-mails and social media and what not,’ said the mayor. “There are several residents who are concerned and have been publicly expressing their frustration, and rightfully so. They have an absolute right to express their concern… There’s no question, that it has been a very complicated and exhaustive process… I know it has been tumultuous at times, and there were some difficulties there between both parties, but it came to a point when we felt, as a council, that it’s time to get this completed.”
He also conceded the shutdown of the TCH and the diversion through Holyrood complicated the issue.
“I had a private conversation with the Minister (of Transportation and Works). In fact, he contacted me on a Friday afternoon. We made some physical changes to the roundabout… We removed the concrete abutment in the corner to allow the tractor trailers to avoid the roundabout and proceed directly up Liam Hickey Drive. And that worked out vey well,” said Goobie. “The minster assured me, that, when it’s all said and done , that they would be there to step up and help the Town get that roundabout finished, and repair the damages as well.”
However, from the beginning, there has been no provincial to municipal funding for the project.
Goobie said it’s time the job gets finished.
“We came to a decision that it’s time to get that roundabout finished. We are going to do that ourselves. There has been a tender put out. In fact our engineering firm, Progressive Engineering, they more or less did new spec as to what needs to be done now to get it finished. The tender was put out, there were four companies who bid, and it’s now in the hands of the public works committee to review each tender and we hope to have that announced in the next little while, hopefully at the next public meeting.”
He said that the successful company will lay an extra layer of asphalt, which should help mitigate drainage problems, replace concrete abutments, and finish walkways. Everything, essentially, except the permanent lighting, said Goobie.
Goobie said the Town is looking at cost recovery options.
“That will be finalized in the next little while, with the developer, so that means that he will be able to relinquish all of his responsibility in finishing the roundabout,” said the mayor. “And it will not be done at the expense of the taxpayers. We will recover whatever cost that this tender is with the developer.”
Goobie said that, to his knowledge, once the roundabout is completed, its maintenance will be the responsibility of the Department of Transportation.
“While we’re stuck on some problems in trying to complete the roundabout, there’s a much bigger picture involved in this whole particular area,” added Goobie, highlighting the expected economic benefits from the development of the area, both at the Stores, the Industrial Park, and with other developments.
“We’re going to see more commercial business growth in that area,” said the mayor. “We’re going to see more families move into that area. “The roundabout is just a very small piece of that. But, we are working to get that done.”
Goobie said he is grateful for the various projects completed by Stafford.
“It was Mr. Stafford, on his own dime, who stepped up and developed Marina Shores,” Goobie pointed out. “If you drive down there, it’s an absolutely beautiful subdivision. And yes, we have some issues down there, but nothing that can’t be dealt with. But look at the impact that that development has had on the community over the last several years.”
He also applauded Stafford for his purchase and removal of a defunct fish plant on the North side.