July 9 2018 Town Council Meeting

The Tequila Grande (444 Maple West) MAC project was discussed at the July 9 2018 Town Council meeting.   The room was filled to overflowing, nearly 60 citizens spoke, and more-or-less everyone hated the proposed building.  Here’s what I learned there, in my estimate of order of importance:

First, when the excitement was over, the Town government proceeded with business as usual.  The Town Council then voted to close public comment.  Two council members objected — Majdi and Springsteen.  They were overruled.  That was your one and only opportunity to speak out to the Town Council.  If you have anything else to say, please attend the July 30 Planning Commission meeting, or put your comments in writing and send them to the Town by August 15th.  See schedule below.

Lesson learned:  Looks like they are going to forge ahead with this no matter what.  The packed room, the number of speakers, the uniform dislike for this proposal — none of that mattered enough for the Town even to allow for a second public comment session.  They “checked the box” on their legal obligation to have public comment, and they are moving on.

The schedule moving forward looks like this:

July 30:  Planning Commission meeting, 8 PM, to consider amendments to the MAC zoning rules, 8 PM in Town Hall.  You have the opportunity to speak.  If you intend to speak, it is polite to notify Town Staff of your intention.  I will try to figure out which person should be notified, and post that here.

August ?? (8?):  Planning Commission meeting to consider amendments to the MAC zoning rules, 8 PM in Town Hall.  Not clear whether you will have the opportunity to speak.

August 15:  Last date for the Town to receive written comments from citizens.  I will look into the details of how you are supposed to do that, and post that here.

August 20:  Town Council meeting, 8 PM, for final discussion of 444 West Maple.   This is the meeting where they must vote for or against the Tequila Grande/444 Maple West proposal.  You will not have the opportunity to speak, but PLEASE ATTEND.

August 31:  If the Town Council has failed to act by this date, 444 West Maple is automatically approved by law.

Second, due to one citizen speaker, I learned that the Town is taking on an unusually large amount of debt.  The Town had a roughly $4M cost overrun on the new community center (planned cost $9M, actual cost $13M).  So the outstanding debt for the community center is much larger than anticipated.  Despite that, the Town is planning to take on a further $4.5M to fund the creation of a parking garage.  And they are planning a renovation of the police department building at a cost that was so large, I need to verify it (I think I heard $20M, but that does not seem plausible.)  Once I learn who that speaker was, I will present more detail here.

Lesson learned:  The Town is going to need a lot of new tax revenues to service the planned debt load.  Where are they going to get the money?  My vague recollection is that the only way the Town can easily raise more money is to raise the meals tax from 3 cents to 4 cents.  With the amount of debt that was mentioned, I don’t think that could possibly pay for the increased debt service.  I now wonder if they actually need these huge new MAC developments to provide the tax revenues for the capital projects they have decided to do.  I will devote a separate page to this topic.

Third, the protest petition by the citizens most directly affected by this development was accepted.  Congratulations and a debt of thanks is owed to the people who organized that and carried it out.

Lesson learned:  With this, approval of the Tequila Grande/444 West Maple project requires a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority.  So, instead of being able to pass it 4-3, I believe they now must pass it 5-2.  In other words, if three Town Council members vote against it, it is defeated.

Fourth, there was a HUGE turnout.  There were more people there than I have ever seen before at a Town Council meeting.  The Robinson meeting room was packed.  People were standing against the walls, people were sitting in the aisles.  The adjacent hallway was packed.

Lesson learned:  As I suspected, the reason few people had kicked up a fuss about this before was that nobody knew what the Town was doing.

Fifth, the developer clearly had prepared a presentation designed to take as much time as the Council would allow.   I saw the presentations given to the Planning Commission meeting, but this one was set up to be easily five times as long as those.  It included not just the current building, but the complete history of how they arrived at that building.  And on and on.  The Mayor allowed him to go on (and on and on) until the crowd literally started shouting “NO” when he went to transition to the next part of is speech.  It actually took two rounds of that before she finally shut down the developers.

Lesson learned:  If the crowd hadn’t gotten disorderly, the entire meeting could have been taken up by the developer’s talk.  If that’s literally what determines how these Town Council meetings go, I’m going to feel a lot less constrained about shouting out from the crowd.  The other lesson is that the Town didn’t even bother to give the developer a time limit.  I don’t know if that’s normal, or if the Town Council did that in the hopes that if he took as much time as possible, people would get tired of it and leave (as some did.)

Sixty, this was not just NIMBY — people from all over the Town showed up.   Even people who are already stuck with the Marco Polo development in their backyard showed up to lend support.  People from the east side of the Town showed up.  People of all ages spoke.

Lesson learned:  People have woken up to the fact that this is going to disfigure the entire downtown.  It’s not just in my backyard, it’s in our collective backyard.