Effort to start negotiating sale of Downtown Phase II land fails
City Council members deadlock on motion; discussion on future of property is Sept. 22
HUDSON — A move by a council member to take a first step toward a potential new Downtown Phase II project was defeated after legislators deadlocked on a vote to start negotiating the sale of the property to the developer who presented a concept plan to council.
Council member Hal DeSaussure (At Large) made a motion at Tuesday's meeting to instruct city staff to begin negotiating the sale of the Phase II property to Fairmount Properties to undertake a residential development "consistent" with the concepts Fairmount recently presented to council. The motion said Fairmount's proposed development would be subject to approvals of the planning commission and the architectural review board.
The motion failed by a 3-3 vote, with DeSaussure, Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) and Council member Kate Schlademan (Ward 1) voting "yes," and Council members Beth Bigham (Ward 4), Chris Foster (Ward 2) and Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) voting no.
Council is scheduled to discuss the Phase II property at its next workshop on Sept. 22.
Randy Ruttenberg, principal of Fairmount Properties — which developed First and Main — offered two concept plans to council on Sept. 8 where he proposed building anywhere from 112 to 128 two-story and three-story homes north of Owen Brown Street. The concept plans also included two three-story apartment buildings with a total of 140 units and 24,500 square feet of office space on land south of Owen Brown. As part of his proposal, Ruttenberg said he wanted to purchase the land for the project he envisioned.
Council members said they wanted to discuss the idea more and figure out how they wanted to engage the public. Ruttenberg followed up with an email to the administration saying he would not take more steps until council decided what they wanted to do with the property.
"It does still appear that council, as a group, [has] differing opinions on how these sites should be developed or for what purpose," wrote Ruttenberg in an email to City Manager Jane Howington on Sept. 11. "As opposed to us continuing to try and guess at what city council wants here, and face a 'bar' that continues to change, we would ask that they go through whatever process they wish to go through and reach out to us, or not, when they’ve reached some sort of consensus."
DeSaussure on Tuesday said he felt the city was at "a crossroads" on the issue. He surprised at least some members of council when he made the motion during the "Council comments" portion of the meeting agenda to start property sale negotiations with Fairmount Properties. He noted had submitted the motion to city staff about an hour before the me
DeSaussure noted council has had two discussions with Ruttenberg on his ideas for Phase II.
"We just need to look at the issue squarely and vote that we're going to proceed with it or not," said DeSaussure.
Council members' opinions were divided on DeSaussure's motion.
"I think it's presumptive to throw something like this out at a … meeting without having discussed it, knowing that … in the matter of seven or eight days, this body is supposed to have discussion about Phase II," said Foster. "We have not actually sat down and discussed what we think we should do with that property."
Bigham asked whether DeSaussure wanted to move forward on a project without getting public feedback. DeSaussure said he wanted to start the process and have public input "go through the planning commission and the [architectural] board [of review] as a lot of different developments do."
Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) said he felt he and his colleagues need to "face up to doing something" regarding Phase II, and added he supported DeSaussure's motion.
He added city leaders began working on a downtown development 25-30 years ago.
"First and Main was the first step in that process," said Wooldredge. "I've always felt strongly that the second step made a lot of sense and that we should have the second step."
Noting that Ruttenberg's Fairmount Properties was the developer of First and Main, Wooldredge said he felt it made sense to have that same firm handle Phase II.
"[Ruttenberg would] be a very logical person to do Phase II," said Wooldredge. "I say that because he has such a strong interest. He did such a capable job in Phase I and he's done a very capable job in other projects he developed."
Council member Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) said he was a "bit blindsided" by DeSaussure's motion.
"It's a bit of a shocker," he said.
Sutton said he thought it was, "wildly premature to even have the conversation on selling [the property]."
"I think we need to have more conversations with the public," said Sutton. "This is their land, it's not ours …We need to understand how the community wants to move forward with this."
Sutton said he thought Fairmount's proposal was a "good start," but felt there were "a few refinements" that could be made to it.
Observing that Ruttenberg was "pushing for the absolute maximum that he could put on that land," Sutton stated, "I'm not convinced that's what the community wants."
Council member Kate Schlademan (Ward 1) said she supported the motion.
"I think it's time for us to move forward, we need to start negotiating, we need to figure out what we're doing," said Schlademan. "There will be public input. We will get lots of feedback. This is just a very initial step."
Foster added he felt Ruttenberg made a "wise" decision to step back and let council decided what it wanted to do with the land.
DeSaussure said he knew Fairmount would be "cognizant of, and respectful of, the traditions we have in this town."
Desaussure emphasized he was, "tired of just sitting here and having lip service given to what's going on," and said he felt it was time for council to say it was "prepared" to work with Ruttenberg. He also noted any proposed sale would have to come back to council for its final approval.
Council is slated to discuss the future of a possible Downtown Phase II development at its workshop on Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.