HUDSON — Will there be an issue on the May 2019 ballot regarding the Downtown Phase II project?
Council is moving toward voting on sending the matter to the ballot.
Council will have a first reading on legislation Dec. 18 that, if approved, would ask voters to weigh in on the downtown project in the spring. Council will also speak with project developer Joel Testa to clarify issues and obtain his feedback about a potential citizens’ vote.
Council in September approved the preliminary plan for Downtown Phase II being developed by Testa Companies at the corner of Owen Brown and Morse roads. The project proposes 63 town homes, 80 multi-family homes and nearly 138,000 square feet of office space, along with a 300-space parking garage. Since Council’s approval, more than 1,300 residents signed a petition asking for a citizens’ vote on the project. Although the petition was deemed "insufficient" by city officials, residents have continued to urge leaders to put the project to a city-wide vote.
"I would like to get [the ballot issue legislation] going, said Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) at Tuesday’s workshop. "I think the sooner we get at this, the better. I’m in favor of a vote. I think the sense I had on Council was that everybody was comfortable with it."
Mayor David Basil suggested that Council have the first reading on the ballot issue legislation on Dec. 18 and then do three readings on it before putting it to a council vote. Basil noted the First and Main project ballot issue was "captioned as an advisory vote" and said he believes the same format would occur for a vote on Phase II.
If Council decides to put the issue on the May 2019 ballot, City Manager Jane Howington said the paperwork would need to be filed with the Summit County Board of Elections by Feb. 7.
"I think we are responding to requests from citizens," said Council Member Dennis Hanink (Ward 1). "Based on people I speak with, I think by the time we get to May, the voters will see the value of what’s being put before them and they’ll approve it."
"Let’s be practical about it," said Wooldredge. "If the voters turn it down, we’re not going to go ahead as is."
Council Member Hal DeSaussure (At Large) asked Council to consider what would happen if voters approve the issue, but then "some other issue comes [up], are we obligated to go forward with the redevelopment?"
"Things happen in this world and they may stop you from going forward," Wooldredge said.
The city currently owns the property. Council Member Alex Kelemen (Ward 3) asked what the city would do with the land if the majority of voters opposed the project.
"A no vote does not mean there is not necessarily an option or possibility that the parcel will get developed," said DeSaussure. "It just doesn’t get developed with the city as a partner." He said if voters opposed the project, "I don’t want to start this ball rolling again. We’d have go back to the drawing board. We’d have to minimize the losses that we have and see what our options are."
"If the citizens tell us they don’t want this development, why should we turn around a week later and start all over again with it? That doesn’t make any sense," said Council Member Dr. J. Daniel Williams (At Large).
As was done with First and Main, DeSaussure said the city is trying to do Phase II as a "public-private partnership" so it has some control on what goes into the final product.
"If [the project] goes down and [the property] gets sold, a developer comes in, and as long as they comply with the [zoning] code, we have no say on how it looks," said DeSaussure.
Basil said he did not think a rejection of the project by voters would mean that no development should occur. He noted officials have heard from residents who oppose Phase II, but still would like to see the area developed in some way. Basil said he believes a ballot issue on Phase II would be approved.
Council reviews questions for developer
Council compiled a list of questions and issues that it hopes Testa can address Dec. 18. Council members say they want to talk with Testa about the possible ballot issue, parking issues related to the project and whether to include apartments, as well as emphasize the need to see renderings of what the buildings in the development would look like.
"If he doesn’t have any kind of renderings, it’s going to make a vote all that much more tough," said Kelemen. "We need to see buildings. We need to see how they interact with one another."
Wooldredge said residents want the Phase II architecture to "blend in with, fit in with Hudson and particularly First and Main."
Hanink noted a timeline provided by the administration listed a ballot issue vote occurring on May 7, with the architectural review of designs occurring in April or May 2019.
"I thought it would be much earlier so we’re actually looking at the vision of what is supposed to go in there," said Hanink. "It’ll help the vote one way or another. It will give us a chance to react to it and, if necessary, make any mid-course corrections before we get to May and people are telling us whether they agree with us or not."