HUDSON — While the Downtown Phase II project cleared a major hurdle this week, City Council members say they will review the project again in the final plan process to hopefully address both their concerns and those of residents.
City Council voted 6-0 in favor of the preliminary plan for the downtown project being developed by Testa Companies. Councilmember Beth Bigham (Ward 4) was absent.
The development 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.
Though he voted for the motion, City Councilmember Alex Kelemen (Ward 3) says he still has reservations about the development, which he hopes will be addressed when council reviews the final plan this fall.
"I look at this as sort of the end of the beginning," said Kelemen. "I think some of the concerns that council’s had, that residents have, still have time for input."
City Councilmember Hal DeSaussure (At Large) noted that the motion passed by council stipulated that the legislative body will get "another crack" at reviewing the project through the final plan process.
At the previous week’s workshop, council members expressed concerns about the design of a median on one of the roads, the placement and aesthetics of a proposed apartment complex, and the density of some of the commercial components.
During the last several months, residents told both council and the planning commission that they were concerned about the density of the development, as well as its impact on traffic volume. Those concerns continued after Testa reduced the scope of the project. The number of square feet planned in the development has declined from 1.1 million one year ago to 419,000 today.
Before council voted on Tuesday, Steepleview Drive resident Beth Innamorato said she still had "serious concerns" about a project that she would like to see downsized more.
"There are too many residential units," said Innamorato, who was the only resident who spoke to council on Tuesday. "Replace a block with green space."
She questioned whether the cost to build the development will exceed the amount of tax revenue it will generate.
Innamorato also said the railroad tunnel on Owen Brown Street "does not support the amount of traffic this development will create" and believes Owen Brown is "not very functional" since it has the tunnel on the west end and the historic homes on the east end.
"This wait, see and monitor, approach to traffic as we build doesn’t quite do it," said Innamorato. "It’s a lot of density for two streets, but maybe I should say it’s one and a half streets back there."
City officials are examining a few different options for handling the traffic flow on Owen Brown. That issue will be addressed during the final plan process, according to the motion approved by council Tuesday.
Innamorato also asked about the costs of the parking garage, sanitary sewer system for the new development and the salt dome. Some of the other projects occurring in the city, she notes, include a new town hall, a new bus garage, two new salt domes, a solar panel project, a potential tax for Velocity Broadband service, and a study of proposed revisions to the Land Development Code.
"This all sounds like a very progressive agenda," said Innamorato. "It sounds like our hard-earned tax dollars are at work here and we may very well be looking at a future debt. Is this the outcome of the comprehensive plan? A legacy of insurmountable future debt in a city that is bottlenecked with traffic?"
Joel Testa, president of Testa Companies, says his company has worked for the last two years to try to meet everyone in the middle.
"In terms of the desires of the administration, the city government and the population, and what we as developers think is feasible," he said.
Testa said everyone he has dealt with city government in connection to the project has been "honest, fair, open-minded and conscientious."
Testa added his company was charged with helping make the city’s goals "come to life," and thus the process has been "more collaborative" by design.
Testa has begun meeting with the city administration to work out a financial agreement for the development. The deal will stipulate who is paying for what and how it will be funded.
"As much as we got over one hurdle, now there’s a new hurdle to get over," said Testa.
Once the city administration and Testa iron out the financial agreement, the final plan for the project will go before planning commission and then council for those bodies’ approvals.
Each building in the development must also be reviewed by the Architectural and Historic Board of Review to ensure compliance with the city’s architectural design standards.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.