Promises not being met at Obici Place

Published 5:58 pm Saturday, March 19, 2016

To the editor:

A year ago, the Suffolk Economic Development Authority strongly recommended a mixed-use development for the old Obici Hospital site.

The EDA presented arguments against the petition of more than 2,000 citizens, who preferred a green-space option, by describing the economic benefits of housing and commercial development. Commercial revenue would outweigh the costs of services and schools for the 224 residential units, the authority said.

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The EDA argued against residents’ traffic concerns by stating the mixed-use development would provide “on-site jobs for residents so traffic impacts would be diminished.”

City council approved this application without seeking answers as to the validity of these statements or seeking any guarantees. Council also allowed the commercial development to be unlinked from the residential development.

So what do we have today?

The apartment blocks are rising and will be ready for occupancy this summer. Roads are going in. Yet there is no activity on the commercial portion of the property. Why not?

The mixed-use development ordnance requires that jobs and apartments go hand in hand. If the apartments are open for renters and no businesses have been built, how can renters find jobs or even shop on site?

If they do not work on site, then the developer’s traffic projections are flawed, leading to further traffic delays on Main Street. If commercial operations are absent, then where is the “net positive” revenue the EDA promised? Apartments alone will burden the city with extra costs for schools, police and services.

I have asked the EDA for an update on commercial development at Obici Place, and the reply was, “The EDA has not taken any action regarding commercial uses or users on the outparcels at Obici Place.“

At the public hearing the EDA told us that businesses where falling over themselves to locate at Obici Place. So where are they now?

A FOIA request reveals that only the back 17 acres of the property was sold to Waverton. Purchase price was a paltry $1,034,000. After the sale, the EDA sweetened the deal by granting Waverton a further $103,627. The net gain to the city was only $990,373 for a piece of land once valued at more than $4 million.

“Big business” has duped the citizens again. Why are our leaders so gullible to believe the speculative PowerPoint presentations that promise the moon but deliver only words?

You may also remember that Waverton promised apartments built like those at their site in North Suffolk. Council members toured those apartments to understand what they were voting for. Has anyone actually checked the quality of materials being used for this development?

I am afraid the buildings may look similar but are actually a downgrade, with inferior buildings materials and siding being used.

I have been encouraged by recent statements by councilors concerning the Green Infrastructure Initiative and the new parks and rec plan. Perhaps better planning will evolve in time.

However, I remain concerned that they are too frequently mesmerized by developers’ golden tongues and the EDA’s pie-in-the-sky projections, approving projects without adequate guarantees on performance.

Council members should look back and be sure they are getting what they think they voted for.

Geoff Payne