The other shoe drops at Obici Park

Published 6:51 pm Saturday, September 12, 2015

It’s funny how much the noise of $275,000 in public money being shifted to help pay for new roads in the Obici Place development sounds like the clatter of the other shoe dropping. At least, it might be funny if it weren’t so frustrating.

The Suffolk Economic Development Authority recently authorized the use of its funds to add street lighting, crosswalks, landscaping and on-street parallel parking on two new roads that will serve the apartment complex that has been approved for the old site of Louise Obici Memorial Hospital, along with whatever retail and commercial development eventually is built there. The total cost to the city represents about a third of the entire expected cost of roads in the new development.

To be fair, it would have been necessary to build some roads and associated improvements on the property, no matter what the city had chosen to locate on the site. Even the park that a vocal group of citizens had clamored for in place of the apartment complex would have needed a new entry and a lighted parking area.

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City officials have been careful this week to note that the improvements the city has agreed to fund are not for the controversial apartments, but for the other part of the Obici development — the stores and restaurants that are expected to fill a portion of the property.

But the distinction is a questionable one, as the entire site would have been laid out differently under any plan that did not include construction of 224 apartments there. Attempts to couch the new expense as a way of accommodating the wishes of the more than 600 people who responded to a survey asking what to do with the remainder of the property just spin the story in a way that gives the EDA and City Council the merest bit of cover.

What’s worse is the timing of this gift to the site’s developers. If it had been known prior to City Council’s vote to approve the apartment that Suffolk would be further supporting the project with funds that could have been used on many other worthy economic development projects, there’s at least a slight chance that one or more of the votes cast in favor of the apartments might have been swayed into the opposition column. At the very least, the public would have been fully aware of what this project will cost the people of Suffolk.

Instead, months after that controversial vote to approve the apartments, the EDA is only now stepping up to say that public money is necessary to make the project viable. Did members not already know this expenditure would be needed? If not, they should have. And if they did already know, there’s no good reason to have withheld that information from City Council or the public.

We long for the day when developers in Suffolk — and not the taxpayers — are held responsible for the cost of their developments. And more than that, we long for the day when Suffolk’s public bodies recognize they are accountable to the public.