‘People don’t want more of the same’

Published 9:07 pm Friday, May 15, 2015

To the editor:

Regarding the pending sale of the former Obici property: On one hand, the plan would unload a liability of 10 years and generate about $500,000 in taxes per year, while adding needed housing.

But the people don’t want more of the same.

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The Obici Park idea is just the beginning. The whole area from the Kimberly Bridge to Elephant’s Fork on the east side of North Main Street needs vision and planning.

The city prides itself on what was done with the properties on the west side of Main Street. The people see strip malls and chain stores. But behind the stores, there is beautiful water-view property. From the other side of the river, you see only the backs of those strip malls.

This is not a winning design from any angle, but it could have been win-win with a little vision and planning.

The city may need more housing downtown, but we see unfinished developments. For example, the people supported Center 800 West Washington, which was originally approved as a mixed-use development with 137 condos and storefronts facing Washington Street. This somehow became just 24 apartments and no storefronts. Beware the bait and switch.

Similarly unfinished developments are Prentis Place on East Constance Road, loft units in the 100 block of North Main Street and other projects around downtown.

Would council members sell our future for short-term gain, or do they represent the people who will have to live forever with their decision?

This is a good chance for our leaders come forward with visions of a beautiful, well-planned green space that will serve the people and the city’s tax needs. Both can be accomplished.

I believe a better plan for the Obici property would include the adjacent VDOT land, as well as the property from the Kimberly Bridge, across from the Hilton, and along the river behind the stores.

Properties could be connected from Constant’s Wharf to Obici Park, with additional green space and trails across the street along the river and lake.

Beautiful green space could attract good development downtown and make Suffolk a fine example of what a city should be.

I hope council will look beyond the need for immediate money and look for a win/win solution. Why not build up, instead of out, with the apartments and still have room for green space and storefronts? Tie it all up with edible landscape with gardening help from schools and clubs, and trails funded by GoFundMe and grants from local trusts and foundations. Make it a learning experience.

This long-term solution would make a better city that works for the people and for future generations, rather than a short term monetary gain.

Fifty years from now, I hope Suffolk’s residents won’t say, “What were they thinking?” when it comes to what remains of our downtown riverfront.

Bucky Hurley