Woodstock Plan Commission not supportive of plan to redevelop Die Cast site

Commission voted 4-1 against recommending project over concerns of traffic, parking, safety and overall fit for area

The city of Woodstock recently heard three different proposals to revitalize the old Die Cast site in its downtown. The City Council discussed the proposals further at its Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, meeting.

Woodstock could decide to move forward with plans to redevelop the city’s old Die Cast site, but it will have to do so without the support of its Plan Commission.

Commissioner’s on the city’s planning board voted 4-1 against recommending City Council approve a project for the city’s long-vacant site at their meeting on Thursday.

While commissioners were not supportive overall of the development, their vote Thursday was just a recommendation. The final say will fall to the City Council, Building and Zoning Director Joseph Napolitano said Friday.

The project, pitched last year by Chicago Hubs Realty, calls for a three-phased plan at the Die Cast site in downtown, which has remained mostly vacant for the past couple decades. The area sits on the west side of Clay Street and north of Church Street.

The first phase of the development calls for affordable senior living, which will be followed by assisted living and memory care. The project will wrap up with a multi-family mixed use concept and a parking garage.

In total, the plan will bring nearly 400 living units, as well as retail and commercial space. The project could take three years to build out, said WellQuest Living CEO Steve Sandholtz, who is involved with the development.

Developers are seeking a special use permit for the project, which the city code requires, Napolitano said. There’s no set date yet as to when it could appear in front of the City Council for a vote.

While the City Council was originally supportive of the proposal last year, commissioners on the Plan Commission Thursday had several concerns. They included, but were not limited to, parking, traffic and the overall need for the project.

Commissioner Richard Ryan didn’t feel the project was a good fit for Woodstock and said the city had one shot to get this project right since “it’s a prime piece of property.”

“I like the project, but it’s not really promoting the future of Woodstock,” Ryan said. “Woodstock needs youth. … We’re taking away an urban opportunity to change the lifestyle and age group of this community.”

Commissioner Steve Gavers said he was concerned about seniors being so close to train tracks downtown, and sided with Ryan, saying the area is “a younger community.”

Commissioner Doreen Paluch had concerns about whether assisted living, memory care and senior living were a need. Sandholtz said at the meeting there is “abundant demand.”

I like the project, but it’s not really promoting the future of Woodstock.

—  Woodstock Plan Commissioner Richard Ryan on the Die Cast proposal

Paluch was also concerned about parking and traffic. Sandholtz said developers have reoriented the site in some ways to help create a better flow of traffic, but added “we don’t have all the answers … but we have been very cognizant to address the flow of traffic.”

The lone commissioner that was in favor of recommending, Cody Sheriff, said he thought the project made sense, and that traffic wouldn’t be a big concern given the demographics that the plan calls for.

“I don’t really see much of an issue,” Sheriff said.

Only a few people spoke as part of the public hearing for the development Thursday, one of which was resident James Young. Like some commissioners, he said he thinks there are several lingering questions that need to be answered before it can move on.

“[The development] doesn’t have to move on,” Young said. “We don’t have all the answers. There’s a number of unknowns.”

The Die Cast site in its early history housed a series of factories, which were torn down in the 1990s and has sat mostly vacant since. In the mid-2000s, a plan to create a series of townhouses was passed, but was only partially completed before the 2008 financial crisis caused the project to fall through.

In 2020, the city bought the eight-acre property, and late last year heard three proposals for the site, before going with Chicago Hubs Realty.

We don’t have all the answers. There’s a number of unknowns.

—  Woodstock resident James Young on the Die Cast proposal