HUDSON — City Council will perform an in-depth examination of the Downtown Phase II preliminary plan, which now includes 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.
Council is scheduled to vote on a motion to approve the plan on Sept. 4, according to City Manager Jane Howington.
Three residents spoke at Council’s public hearing on the proposed development Aug. 14. Although there were about 30-35 people present, Mayor David Basil closed the hearing after after no one else volunteered to speak.
Nicholson Drive resident Donovan Husat, who is also co-president of the Hudson Heritage Association, said some residents have asked him about the possibility of putting a referendum on the ballot regarding Downtown Phase II.
“We have not taken an official position on [a referendum], particularly because not even members of our board all agree on that one way or the other,” said Husat.
He said his organization “very much appreciates” the opportunity the group has had to meet with city staff to discuss the project. Husat said that while his contingent had concerns about the size, density and character of the development, he noted he feels city staff and Testa have “listened to” their objections and made “many changes” to the project in response.
Husat said he will continue to seek feedback from its members and other residents about the project, with a specific focus on the architecture.
Cutler Lane resident Ned Kendall said he felt the plan “isn’t what [residents] wanted.”
“We don’t need any more commercial [development] in town,” Kendall said. “These will be commercial businesses coming in to do other things and they’ll be subsidizing our tax base, which is good, but we’ll have to put up with traffic during the rush hour.”
Kendall said he and other residents wanted to see more residential development for empty nesters who want to continue living in Hudson, but who are looking to downsize.
Darien Drive resident Richard James asked officials when they would expect to see a “payback” from the investment in the project and questioned how the endeavor was going to help current residents.
“There’s going to be a lot of overcrowding and overdevelopment here,” James said.
Rather than a Downtown Phase II, James suggested the city could instead spend money on developing a senior center or recreation center.
Council is set to address the project again Aug. 21 and 28. If council approves the project Sept. 4, city staff would begin negotiating a financial agreement with developer Testa Companies, with an eye toward obtaining council’s blessing on the pact in October, according to Howington.
“The approval of the site plan and the financial agreement provides the ability to move into site work (demolition) and final plan process in October,” Howington states in an Aug. 16 memo to council and Mayor David Basil.
Community Development Director Greg Hannan said Testa made “significant changes” to the plan compared with what was first proposed a year ago, saying the scaled-back version is “very much in line with our development plan that was proposed with the comprehensive plan.”
Joel Testa, president of Testa Companies, said the changes — which reduce the square footage from 1.1 million to 419,000 square feet — represent a “good compromise.”
The Planning Commission recommended approval of Testa Companies’ preliminary plan on July 23.
In her Aug. 16 memo, Howington noted a concern was raised at the Aug. 14 meeting about “so much of the square footage” of a mixed-use area south of Owen Brown Street being planned as residential development. She said the commercial section originally was planned to be built all at once, but noted there is a concern about commercial absorption rates.
“Neither the developer nor the city want vacant buildings standing there,” Howington said. “As such, it is anticipated that the commercial space will be phased in over two or three phases.”
Testa has said he would like to make the area south of Owen Brown entirely commercial, but “feels the classification of flex space would provide a safety net, should the commercial market require a longer absorption period.”
Examples of flex space design include a scenario where a small business could be on one floor and that company’s owner could live on the second floor, and changing the use of a space from residential to commercial as the market develops, according to Howington.
Non-commercial space in the area south of Owen Brown creates “more efficient parking spaces” that can be used by office workers during the day and residents at night, according to city officials.
As well, Howington said both staff and Testa have “spent considerable time” attempting to reduce cut-through traffic trying to use Owen Brown to access Darrow Road, as well as improving walkability and providing safety improvements to the underpass area.
The proposed installation of a median to reduce the cut-through traffic “drastically dropped many of the negative traffic impacts to the area,” Howington said, and city staff will continue to study the median and other traffic calming measures.
If the project goes forward, utility and median work on Owen Brown will be the first improvements performed by the developer, according to city officials.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.