HUDSON — The Downtown Phase II project is still alive and kicking.
A week after nearly 52 percent of voters casting ballots said they opposed the current plan, most city legislators on Tuesday said they felt the result was a signal that they should engage with residents — particularly the ones who voted no — to modify the plan, but not scrap it. Most council members felt this process should occur during the next couple of months.
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 eyed for the area of Morse Road and Owen Brown Street.
Council members decided they will host two work sessions where a discussion can occur among administration and council members, as well as residents and the developer, Joel Testa of Testa Companies. Those meetings have not been scheduled yet.
Council member Hal DeSaussure (At Large) emphasized that he felt these meetings should be a "dialogue" rather than the one-way listening sessions that occurred in November 2018. DeSaussure said he felt all affected parties should work together to "finalize the plan, not to re-create it."
Council member Lisa Radigan (Ward 2) said she liked the idea of people gathering together to engage in a give-and-take discussion about the plans and the modifications they would like to see.
"It doesn’t sound like to me …[that] anybody’s interested in starting fully from a blank slate," said Radigan.
Council member Dennis Hanink (Ward 1) noted he was "not in the mood for a clean slate."
Council member Dr. J, Daniel Williams (At Large) noted that project opponents did not offer an alternative.
"I’m very willing to compromise," said Williams. "I don’t know what the compromise is."
Williams encouraged residents to offer specific ideas before the working sessions so that the proposals could be reported on by city staff at the sessions.
Mayor David Basil said now was the time to take a "30-second timeout," and urged council to "take a half-step back," and listen to residents’ ideas.
"We’ve got to come together as a community around whatever comes out of this," said Basil. He added he felt leaders need to come up with a modified plan that "a majority of the citizens are willing to support."
Council member Alex Kelemen (Ward 3) said he felt council first needed to speak with Testa to find out where he stands with the project.
"We’re talking about making changes," said Kelemen. "Maybe [Testa]’s not willing to make them …There has to be a point at which he would say, ‘Look, I’m not interested in this project anymore,’ and I think we need to know that before we start having people throw ideas at us."
Testa was not in attendance at Tuesday’s workshop.
The meeting included a tense exchange between Council members Dennis Hanink (Ward 1) and Beth Bigham (Ward 4).
Hanink said the situation with Testa has a "chicken and egg" element to it.
"Until we all understand what the changes are that people are looking for, [Testa] doesn’t know what to react to," said Hanink. "Presumably he’s still willing to go forward with the current plan."
"But our public isn’t," Binham responded. "Fifty-two percent said no to the current plan."
Hanink waved his hand dismissively. "If it was 60 or 70 it would be a different story."
The meeting included more debate among members about how to interpret the election results.
DeSaussure said about 28 percent of the registered voters in Hudson cast ballots and the 176-vote differential was "pretty miniscule."
"One could argue that a majority of citizens either support Phase II or have no strong feelings about it sufficient to cause them to vote," he said.
However, Kelemen noted the turnout (4,932 total votes) was higher than last year’s May election (around 4,500) and in 2017 (2,865).
Bigham said she felt the turnout was "significant" for a May election, but Hanink said he did not feel the outcome gave city leaders a clear course of action.
"We did not get a mandate either way," said Hanink.
DeSaussure said the city had already invested $8.2 million in the project. The debt the city is incurring was planned to be paid down through tax money generated by the development.
"That debt is not going away," said DeSaussure. He added that he "cannot in good conscience [say] that everything should stop."
Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) added he felt it was important for the community to "come together [in a] collaborative way."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.