HUDSON — A group of residents is calling on city leaders to allow voters to decide whether Downtown Phase II should move forward.
A petition that group representatives say was signed by more than 1,300 people requesting that the downtown project plan be put on the November ballot was submitted to City Council on Tuesday night.
Parmelee Drive resident Jessie Obert said the 1,300-plus signatures were collected at football games, soccer practices, businesses, and coffee shops in one week.
"This tightly woven family of Hudson citizens is screaming at you from the top of their lungs to you, Council, to you," said Obert. "What are we saying, you ask? Listen, communicate and consider us. Listen to us. It hasn’t happened yet. Consider us more than the future development, because we are here now, we are raising our families now. We are doing our jobs. We’re paying our taxes and enjoying this small town life right now, not in the future."
She added there is a "serious disconnect" between the desires of the public and what is being done and told Council it’s time to "stop hiding behind this comprehensive plan," and speak with their constituents.
"We aren’t interested in this Phase II," said Obert. "Not with Testa, not under these terms, not at all. You have 1,300-plus signatures in front of you saying just that."
Obert received a standing ovation from several residents in the meeting.
Some Council members said they would consider the possibility of placing the issue on an upcoming ballot.
The petition requests that the question be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot, but Councilman Hal DeSaussure (At Large) said it is too late for that to happen. The ballots have been printed and early voting starts Wednesday, Oct. 10.
Jody Roberts, the city’s communications manager, said the stack of petitions were "more than an inch thick," and were sent to the Summit County Board of Elections for an official calculation of the number of signatures. Roberts noted the Board of Elections would need to decide whether the issue could appear on an upcoming ballot.
A call placed to the elections board was not immediately returned. Council was scheduled to discuss the petitions at its workshop on Tuesday, Oct. 9. That meeting was scheduled to happen after press time.
Council on Sept. 4 approved the preliminary plan for the downtown project being developed by Testa Companies. The project will include 63 town homes, 80 multi-family homes and nearly 138,000 square feet of office space, along with a 300-space parking garage at the corner of Owen Brown Street and Morse Road. It is this particular action by council that the petition signers are requesting be put to a vote of the citizens.
"Citizens who signed this petition believe that the size of the development and its potential impact to the downtown areas is large enough that the voters should be able to vote on it," said resident Rebecca Benson Leiter. "It has been signed by people of all ages and represents a wide range of residents across the city."
Leiter said many people moved to Hudson because of its charm and good schools. She said she believes the proposed Downtown Phase II project could potentially "radically alter" the downtown area and "change the town."
During the process of gathering signatures, Leiter said she spoke with many residents who are "frustrated" with council and the administration because they believe the officials have "not sought out, nor listened to public opinion. This needs to change."
Leiter said she felt the city should set up a community advisory board to provide feedback to the administration.
Oxgate Court resident Todd Zedak said he collected petition signatures and noted that the process was not difficult.
"I showed up with a clipboard and a paper and a pen," shared Zedak. "And people were lined up to sign it."
He said the square footage planned for the development had shrunk from about 1.2 million to approximately 400,000 square feet. Zedak said none of the residents he’s spoken to have heard about any "corresponding decrease in tax revenue" in connection with the drop in square footage.
He also clarified what people were doing when they signed the petition.
"We are demanding something," said Zedak. "We want this on the ballot. We want this to stop. We want you people who have been elected to represent our interests to say to the community: here are five things that we could build there. What would you like?"
South Main Street resident Tom Hudson called the response to the petition drive "amazing," and "overwhelming."
"Council should pay attention to that," Hudson said. "There’s a strong feeling in the community that you’re not listening at all ... and the feeling in the community is very negative for all of you."
Ravenna Street Dianne Ketler told Council she was "shaking, I am so angry and nervous because we just feel like we are not being heard." She also emphasized that "being heard" means that city officials need to "implement" some of the ideas that residents are sharing.
Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) told the residents "I hear you loudly and clearly" that they want to vote on the issue.
Council member Dr. J. Dan Williams (At Large) said he would consider the possibility of allowing a citizen vote on Downtown Phase II. Both Wooldredge and DeSaussure said there have been a group of residents who have pushed for the city to move ahead with Downtown Phase II.
Mayor David Basil said both he and Council members have expressed concerns about the project.
"We have clearly indicated that we expect those concerns to be addressed as we move forward," stated Basil.
He added the petition would be dealt with "as it is intended, as it’s called for," and said he believed "communication is extremely important."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.