Renfrew – It took a special council meeting, but a decision which caused a great deal of controversy in the community was reversed in what seemed an almost effortless procedure and unanimous vote by town council.
Marshall’s Construction and Welding, a company owned by Horton Township Mayor Dave Bennett, will not be evicted from its current location at 1 Innovation Drive following a town council decision Monday night. The decision comes after months of near silence from the town and council after Mr. Bennett went public with the issue, stating he was evicted and had been given a short time to vacate the premises. He was eventually granted an extension, but it had appeared the municipality and council were firm in the decision to evict the long-time tenant.
All that changed on Monday night, pretty well right up to the wire of when the eviction notice was to take effect, when council held a special meeting and discussed two items, the second of which was the lease to Marshalls. In a brief motion, council voted unanimously to enter into a new lease.
Council and the company have signed a new five-year agreement that will allow the 27-year-old firm to remain in the building that is owned and maintained by the Town of Renfrew.
The matter came to public light when the Leader published a story with Mr. Bennett expressing his perspective in its August 23 issue after talks with the town came to a standstill. The town was then advised by its legal counsel to cease any direct contact with Mr. Bennett and refer all matters through his lawyer to the town’s lawyer. While the town CAO, Robert Tremblay, did write a letter to the Leader refuting some of Mr. Bennett’s statements and this letter was published in full, there was no comment coming from council on the issue since the eviction notice was issued.
Mr. Bennett was first notified in the spring he had until June 30 to vacate the premises, but the eviction order was delayed as his solicitors attempted to negotiate a resolution. Although he was working towards resolving the issue in order to comply with everything the town had asked him to do, he received a second eviction notice for October 30, 2023.
Some of the requirements associated with the eviction notice included removal of scrap and debris in the back yard. Another was to have remittances for rent made on the first day of each month. Mr. Bennett has told the Leader he complied with these orders. Rent is paid up to date and many large transport loads of scrap have already been removed from the yard. Ironically, Marshalls’ portion of the debris is only about one third of the overall mess, he maintains.
The company was founded in 1996 and had a workforce of as many as 40 people prior to COVID-19. In addition to providing employment, the company has provided many in kind services to the community, the most recent being the sanding and painting of the old CP caboose in Howard Haramis Park. That amounted to a direct $49,000 donation by the company.
The company operated out of a building on Hall Avenue from 1996 until the Renfrew Industrial Commission took over the former Westinghouse, and later Beloit plant, in 2000.
Since the publication of the matter, the town’s legal counsel advised the town not to make any specific public statements regarding the matter until a final resolution was made. Over the last two months both parties worked behind the scenes to resolve the matter one way or another. Those discussions led to the motion to enter a lease agreement before council for a vote, which occurred Monday night.
The lease is for a five-year period for rental of 23,100 sq. feet of property at 1 Innovation Drive.
Councillors Vote Unanimously In Favour
When Mayor Tom Sidney asked for the motion to be read aloud Monday night and if any council members wanted to comment, Reeve Peter Emon spoke of the importance of cooperation between parties to resolve issues for the betterment of the town, and Marshalls.
“It’s difficult to conduct negotiations and has to be negotiations in private and sometimes that leads to a strain in the relationship and sometimes a narrative that is not flattering for either party,” he said. “But the good news is that there is a way forward.
“They have been a long-term tenant and although there has been some well-document struggles it is nice they were able to sit down and move with us with a plan forward to resolve this.”
The reeve added some of the issues in the lease were “tidied up” and goals were also set to tidy up the physical plant and area itself.
“We did not need this to drag on, nor did they need this to drag on any longer,” he said.
Mayor Sidney echoed Reeve Emon in terms of both sides working towards a positive outcome.
“This shows that the town is willing to work with people, whether they are current or new leasees,” he said. “They heard us and we heard them and we were able to come to a resolution that works for everybody.
“The small municipality, you know, town talk is very difficult at times. Sometimes word gets out or something gets going and newspapers catch things and things get skewed,” he said.
There is a long list of issues which have hopefully been resolved in the process, he said.
“I am happy to see them stay,” the mayor said. “It is a nice tight lease that we can rely on.”
The town issued a media release following the Monday night meeting with a quote from Mr. Bennett stating, “we are pleased to keep our operations where they are to support local jobs and the economy.”
Gerald Tracey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader