Committee Backs Lofty Mill Project

Committee Backs Lofty Mill Project
Development Plan Includes Hotel, Marina, Condominiums
By Aaron Nicodemus, Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — An ambitious plan that includes building a hotel, office and condos over a Home Depot-led retail project has been recommended by the committee considering two development proposals at Fairhaven Mills.
Eleven of the 23 committee members making a recommendation to Mayor Scott W. Lang said they favored the plan from the Boston development company of Samuel & Associates. That plan calls for a $150 million proposal with housing, office space, a hotel, preserved mill and marina that offered to pay the city $1 million for its 6 acres at the site.
Urban Investment Associates of Milton, a development company with questionable credentials, had been listed as the lead developer. However, last week, Samuels announced an agreement to purchase a large private tract of land on the site and is apparently the financial and development muscle behind the Urban proposal.
Five members favored the proposal from Dickinson Development of Quincy, which proposed to pay the city $200,000 for its parcels, knock down all existing buildings at the site, and build a $30 million to $40 million retail project with Home Depot, another unnamed retailer, a restaurant and bank.
Seven of the committee members — all city councilors — declined to submit an evaluation. Robert Kaye of the quasi-public state agency Mass Development, representing Mayor Lang, abstained from voting, since Mass Development will likely work with either developer on the project.
Mayor Lang said yesterday that he had not reviewed the recommendations yet, but that he will choose a proposal within a week.
Ward 5 Councilor Jane M. Gonsalves, who favored the hotel/office/condos over the Home Depot, said the larger project was the better proposal.
“I just thought the project more closely exhibited what the city was looking for in terms of an economic development engine,” she said. “I don’t see that putting a big-box retailer there addressed the economic development needs of the area.”
Councilor-at-large Debora Coelho, who favored the Home Depot project, said Dickinson Development had a business plan, while the other proposal was just a design. She did not like it that the hotel/office/condo project was so dependent on city, state and federal financial help, or that while Home Depot would be built in 18 months, the other project could take a decade.
“The Home Depot development addressed two crucial things: the environment, and traffic,” she said. “The other proposal did not address those things at all. I think the neighborhood doesn’t need any more housing. Commercial and business is really the way to go on that site.”
Several of the committee members complained about the way the evaluations were tallied, because simply adding up the responses did not clearly indicate how they felt about the project.
Committee members were asked to evaluate the proposals based on a series of criteria, including experience, design, the completeness of the proposal and how closely it met certain development criteria, like job creation and economic development. A score of four was given when a member gave a “highly advantageous” rank, while a score of one was given to “least advantageous.” Committee members were encouraged to provide written comments, as well.
Ward 3 Councilor Joe F. DeMedeiros was one of those who thought adding up his responses did not reflect how he felt about the project. While adding up his responses put him slightly in favor of the Home Depot project, he said the two projects were even in his eyes.
“The Urban Investment proposal was clearly the superior project, the ideal and best use of the land,” he said. “Home Depot’s a safe bet, and the other one is a gamble. I thought that both projects probably came out even.”
Councilor Denis Lawrence Jr. said that he, too, thought they were even. His evaluation added up to slightly favor the Home Depot project, but he said he “didn’t even add them up” before submitting his evaluation.
Part of the problem for figuring out who favored what was that Purchasing Agent Debra Travers only released the scores of the evaluations, without releasing the entire evaluations themselves. Several committee members said their comments indicated how they felt about the projects strengths and weaknesses.
So based on that information, the voting broke down like this:
Strongly favoring the hotel/office/condo project were Mr. Morrissey, Ms. Gonsalves, City Planner David Kennedy and Historic Planner Anne Louro. Favoring the hotel project were Ms. Travers, City Environmental Planner Scott Alfonse, Community Development director Patrick Sullivan, Assessor administrator Peter S. Barney, and Ronald Labelle, Superintendent of Public Infrastructure. Slightly favoring the hotel project were Superintendent of Public Works Larry Worden and Building Inspector Ronald Durgin.
Strongly favoring the Home Depot project were Ms. Coelho and Normand Audette, the acting city treasurer. Favoring Home Depot was Acting City Auditor Peter Schmidt, while slightly favoring Home Depot were Councilors DeMedeiros and Lawrence.
Councilor David Alves, who did not submit an evaluation, said he was not happy with either proposal.
“It’s too good a site for a big box retail, and it’s too good to wait for 10 years for it to develop,” he said. “After listening to both presentations, I think we can do better.”
Councilor Alves also said he believed that Mayor Lang had made up his mind already, in favor of the hotel/office/condos project.
“I met with a group of investors from New York this morning (yesterday), and the city officials there were talking about the Urban proposal as if it were a given,” he said. Attending the meeting were Matthew A. Morrissey, the executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, as well as Mayor Lang.
Mr. Morrissey said he had not indicated his preference for either project until submitting his evaluation yesterday afternoon, which favored the hotel/office/condo project by a larger margin than any other member.
“I have been very balanced about the project until today,” he said. “I have been very careful in my capacity as executive director to be as unbiased as possible in this process.”
For his part, Mayor Lang said he got to the meeting late and never heard any discussion of the Fairhaven Mills project.
Also not submitting any evaluation were Ward 1 Councilor Linda M. Morad, who said she missed all the meetings because of an illness in the family; Councilor-at-large Brian K. Gomes, who said he would submit an evaluation this morning that slightly favored the hotel project; as well as Councilor-at-large John T. Saunders, Ward 2 Councilor Paul Koczera, Ward 4 Councilor Viola Pina, and Ward 6 Councilor Leo R. Pimental, who did not return calls seeking comment.
Contact Aaron Nicodemus at
Publication date: April 10, 2007

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