Council members attend meeting on Huff Lane property.
Dorchester Court Neighborhood banded together, passed out flyers over several weeks and invited city council members to a public meeting Wednesday night at the VFW on Grandview Road. The 60 or so area neighbors wanted answers.
In March of 2011 Councilman Court Rosen with council members Anita Price and Bill Bestpitch attended a Dorchester neighborhood meeting where Rosen plugged the idea of two hotels on the vacant city-owned Huff Lane Elementary school property. The school was closed in 2010 and students moved to Round Hill. The proceeds from the sale of the 5-acre Huff Lane school property will go to expansion of the Round Hill school to accommodate the transferred students from Huff Lane.
On January 10 City staff, along with Dennis Cronk President and CEO of Poe and Cronk and Steve Albis a consultant for NDRA II, LLC had met with the Dorchester Court Neighborhood Watch and presented their plan for two hotels and a restaurant. Not many neighbors attended the meeting and there was no follow-up by dissenting neighbors.
The property went out for bid. The minimum acceptable bid was set at $1.5 million. Seven proposals were received and the highest bidder ($1.8 million), NDRA II, LLC was approved by council on March 19, 2012. No neighbors dissented.
During the due diligence period an inadequate water supply for the hotel was discovered and an unexpected cost escalation for asbestos disposal. To mitigate the additional costs the sale price was reduced to $1.7 million. It goes before the Planning Commission on December 20 than to city council for approval on January 21.
Meeting at VFW
Wednesday night city council members said that they could not participate in the discussion since there were more than two members present (more than two council members constitutes a public meeting that is subject to public notice). Mayor Bowers and all city council members were there except for Bill Bestpitch. Several members chimed in to clarify some basic information.
Dorchester neighborhood president Pat Corp asked residents to speak up and tell city council members how they felt about the project in hopes that though it is late in the process council would consider some other alternatives. One alternative mentioned several times was the National Business College proposal. That proposal came in under the minimum bid but would have repurposed the school as a “medical careers campus” according to President Frank Longaker (See email below).
Bert Boyd had a list of questions but he and other neighbor’s main complaint was that the trees in the buffer between the 5-story hotels and the neighborhood were not tall enough. Not only that the height of the hotels would block out any view of the mountains. The Huff Lane school is 2 stories high. The adjacent Valley View Mall sits in a bowl lower than the surrounding neighborhood permitting an acceptable view. Mary Bell said, “I won’t be able to see the mountains at all.”
Former city council member and neighborhood resident Linda Wyatt was applauded when she told council that they “need to go back and do their research because there were proffers made (when Valley View Mall was built) … and we were assured absolutely that no commercial building would be done on this side of the road. You better go back and research what the city has committed to this neighborhood before you break your promise.” Calvin Huff spoke up saying “the city lied to us.”
Dorchester Neighborhood President Pat Corp
Jean Tyree a 15-year resident on Greenland along with other residents feared an increased crime resulting from the hotel’s transient guests. Tyree told council members that two schools had been messed up and money should have been found to save both Round Hill and Huff Lane school.
Christina Koomen who lives on Dorchester said she’d like to see a plan “B” – something similar to the Countryside Master Plan that the Planning Commission, Planning Department and neighborhood designed together.
A unanimous show of hands agreed that a multi-story hotel does not fit the neighborhood. They all wanted the property to revert back to a park.
4/25/12 from Frank Longaker, President, National College:
“We felt that our proposal for a medical careers campus was not only more forward-thinking than yet another commercial development, but also much more in keeping with the nature of the surrounding neighborhoods and original school on the site.
There’s more the city can benefit from than simple sales tax revenue when one considers the jobs that future graduates of our proposed campus would bring in. Our current campus in Salem has an annual economic impact of approximately $25 million annually; our proposed new location would, within a few years, have a comparable impact.”