HUDSON — What’s next for Downtown Phase II?
The city administration, council members and residents will spend time trying to answer that question after nearly 52 percent of voters casting ballots Tuesday said they opposed the proposed project.
Issue 11, which asked residents if they favored having the city continue with a proposed public and private downtown development project, was defeated by a tally of 2,554 (51.78 percent) to 2,378 (48.22 percent), according to final, but unofficial results from the Summit County Board of Elections.
The current proposal calls for 138,000 square feet of office space, 73-75 town homes, 50 condominium flats above businesses and a 250- to 300-space parking structure. The project is being developed by Testa Companies, and is eyed for the area of Morse Road and Owen Brown Street. Most of the land there is owned by the city and Hudson City Schools.
This was an advisory election, which meant the outcome of the vote is non-binding on city council, which has the authority to approve the project.
Jessie Flagg Obert, a board member for Hudson’s Voice (anti-Issue 11), said her organization was "thankful for the exceptional turnout from all of the voters."
Obert said she felt having almost 5,000 people vote on a one-issue ballot in a May election is "pretty spectacular."
She added, "we hope that council does the right thing" by honoring the wishes of the 52 percent who voted against the plan.
"We hope to continue to collaborate with the city on what’s next for Phase II and any further issues where we can be positive and proactive and a voice for the taxpayers," said Obert.
Meanwhile, Joe Creehan, chairman of Citizens For An Informed Hudson (pro-Issue 11), said he was "truly shocked" at the outcome of the advisory election.
"I can’t believe that Hudson didn’t bring enough voters out here to recognize how outstanding this proposal is for Hudson," said Creehan.
Creehan said his group still believes the current proposal is the "best plan" for the city.
"I think we’ll try to give some advice to council from our perspective," said Creehan. "We’re going to stay active in this. This by no means is over."
Obert said she spoke with three voters on Election Day who had originally been "Yes" votes, but changed their minds after reviewing information from Hudson’s Voice during the last couple of weeks.
She added she believed her group’s "continued message" that the project had "zero to little benefit to the taxpayers, but a whole lot of burden of cost" made a difference.
Creehan said his group believes the city has done an "outstanding job" developing the plan. He added his group will continue its mission of providing information to citizens.
"I just think we got to get the right message out," said Creehan, "We may not have had a loud enough voice."
Perspective from council members, developer
Following months of campaigning, forums and discussions in coffee shops and on social media, the ball is back in council’s court.
Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) said he expects council to discuss its next steps on Phase II at its workshop meeting on May 14 at 7:30 p.m. in Hudson Town Hall, 27 E. Main St. Noting there are about 17,000 registered voters in the city, Wooldredge said he was "disappointed" in the turnout of about 5,000 voters.
Wooldredge said while he was "not surprised" by the vote, he was "disappointed" with the outcome. Now, he said, was a time for council to "take a deep breath, give it some time and see where we go."
He noted he felt that something has to be put in the area of Morse Road and Owen Brown Street.
"We’re going to have to give some more thought to what we do," said Wooldredge.
Noting that voters approved the First & Main (or Phase I) project by a 20-point margin, Council member Alex Kelemen (Ward 3) noted that the Phase II project failed by a nearly four point margin.
"The message for council is this plan lacks the same widespread support [that First & Main had], and should be modified with more public input, but not thrown out," stated Kelemen.
Council member Lisa Radigan (Ward 2) said she felt she and her colleagues need to "work together with the community, city staff, and each other to determine the best way forward."
"Collaboration and cooperation are critical," added Radigan. "This is a major project that has been in the works for many years and we are fortunate to have many passionate voices who want the best for Hudson. Now it’s time to work together to find a constructive way forward."
Council member Beth Bigham (Ward 4) said the outcome of Tuesday’s vote is a signal that council needs to pause.
"We need to establish a new vision for the project, with outcomes and goals that the majority of the community can rally around," said Bigham. "This effort will require a collaborative problem solving approach and I look forward to working together to ensure that occurs."
Council member Dr. J. Daniel Williams (At Large) said he was "very disappointed [in the outcome]. I think we have a good plan for Phase II."
Williams said he and his colleagues need to discuss their next steps and added he wants to clarify what opponents would like to see changed in the plan to make it palatable.
"I’m not sure I really understand what it is that the opposition wants us to change," said Williams.
He added he hoped to, in the next few weeks, gain a better understanding of how the plan could be changed to make it acceptable to the majority of residents.
Creehan noted his group did not understand what Hudson’s Voice was seeking in a downtown project.
"If this opposition group has any ideas, it hasn’t been apparent because everything’s been ‘No,’" said Creehan.
Obert noted her group has "specifically avoided coming up with our own version of a plan." She explained she felt the purpose of her organization was to be "the voice of what the citizens are approving of, of what they appreciate."
"When the numbers don’t line up, and don’t make sense financially, then the plan needs to start over," said Obert.
Joel Testa, president of Testa Companies, said he was "not overly surprised" by the vote. He said it "isn’t shocking" and noted only 10 percent of the population voted against the project. Testa said he spoke with many residents and said two particular issues came to the forefront.
"A lot of people voted based on misinformation and blatant lies," stated Testa. "It was almost like a political smear campaign. It was hard to watch." He added he felt if those voters had "the real information or proper facts," the number of "No" votes would’ve been reduced.
Testa noted he heard from some voters who were "a little bit confused" about what precisely they were voting on. Testa said he spoke with people who were uncertain whether they were voting on the specific proposal or whether they were deciding if they wanted the city to continue as a partner in the development rather than having the project run completely by a private developer.
He noted council will need to make a decision and added he feels "confident" that the development in "some way, shape or form will move forward."
"We’ve done the best we can I think in trying to get what the community wants," said Testa.
Creehan emphasized he felt Testa had done "exactly what the city’s asked him to do."
Williams said the two issues he hears about the most from residents are fixing roads and providing housing options to people who want to downsize. Phase II, Williams said, "would’ve provided" the additional housing choices.
However, Williams said the bottom line is "the people have spoken and we need to listen to that, and move ahead."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.