HUDSON —Though a major step was taken on the Downtown Phase II project this week, a lot of work still needs to happen before ground is broken.
City Council on Tuesday night voted 5-2 in favor of a large part of the residential portion of the Downtown Phase II project. Council members Alex Kelemen (Ward 3) and Beth Bigham (Ward 4) cast the dissenting votes.
The majority of Council signed off on Testa Cos.’ plan to construct 82 residential units north of Owen Brown Street near Morse Road. The plan calls for 36 single-family detached homes, 10 detached homes in a pocket neighborhood, 22 single-family attached homes and 14 attached townhomes.
The city and the developer will now work on the financial agreement which will spell out the fiscal responsibilities of each party, said city spokesperson Jody Roberts.
"The city plans to recoup any city costs through a Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) agreement that allows for new taxes generated by the development to pay for the city’s out-of-pocket costs," said Roberts.
When the residential architectural designs are finished, they will be sent to the Architectural and Historic Board of Review for their review and approval, according to Roberts.
Council’s approval on Tuesday included a condition stating that any changes to the number and/or configuration of the planned units or lots must return to planning commission for its approval.
Two council members offered opposing views on whether or not a financial agreement with the developer should be in place before they voted on the 82-unit residential plan.
Bigham said the lack of such an agreement was an "underlying and remaining significant concern" for her.
"We have been told by city administration and Testa that in order to find out how much the city needs to contribute to this plan, we must first pass this and accept the preliminary plan," said Bigham. "I’m confused [about] why we must pass this prior to understanding what our exposures and responsibilities are. What is the urgency? At a minimum, we should have the terms and conditions established because this is the framework that will underpin the future success or failure of this project."
However, Council Member Hal DeSaussure (At Large) said before city officials can put together a financial agreement, "we have to know what we are approving. We have to know what we are negotiating with the contractor."
He explained that approving the plan was the first step in negotiating the financial agreement.
"…We’re moving forward with the concept of the plan so that we can go to Mr. Testa and he can come to us, and say ‘OK, now we know what we’re negotiating the development agreement about,’" said DeSaussure. "If we don’t come to agreement there, then this plan isn’t going anywhere."
Council Member Lisa Radigan (Ward 2) said she’s spoken with many residents and has found "overwhelmingly the response that people have conveyed to me is that they want to see us move forward." She noted that most of the people who she spoke with who voted against the earlier plan in May are "satisfied" with the changes that were made, including the reduced density and variety of housing offered.
Council Member Dr. J. Daniel Williams (At Large) said he felt legislators had taken "a very slow and transparent approach to this project."
After receiving a lot of public feedback following the May advisory vote, Williams said council has "drastically reduced" the project’s density.
"I believe these changes have addressed most of the major concerns that I have heard," stated Williams. "Delaying the project any further will really not change anything. There’s no more information that’s going to come out."
Kelemen said he disagreed with Williams’ assertion that no more new information would be learned at this stage. He also said he feels the financial agreement should be handled by the new council that will be in place following the November election, as he and Ward 1 Council Member Dennis Hanink are not seeking re-election. Also, the other two ward council members — Bigham and Ward 2 Member Lisa Radigan — are both facing challenges in their re-election bids.
As the other lame duck on council, Hanink countered that he was "not about to give up my vote with the time I’ve invested [in this project] over a number of years."
He added he supports the plan, but feels the city should have been "farther along" on a financial agreement outline and noted the Architectural board needs to approve the home designs before any shovel hits the dirt.
"There’s a long way to go," said Hanink. "I’m ready to vote forward. Let’s get on with it."
Mayor David Basil said the Architectural Board must ensure "that this area is consistent with our downtown area and similar homes and structures in terms of look-alike requirements, composition and material."
Yet to be considered for Phase II are plans for condominiums and the commercial development.
Testa is expected to later submit a proposal for 20 condominiums and then an application for the office/commercial portion south of Owen Brown. The developer is planning to have 93,950 square feet of office/commercial space and 16,500 square feet of retail/service space.
The Downtown Phase II project is an estimated $80 million public-private development between the city and Testa on about 20 acres of industrial land in the center of town. It is meant to include Class-A (top quality) office space and housing for empty nesters and young professionals. The plan was scaled back after an advisory vote of residents in May narrowly expressed disapproval of the prior plan.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.