By Matt Artz
Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 at 6:28 pm in Uncategorized.
Shame on me. I didn’t realize the council meeting started at 6 p.m. today. I missed an hour discussion on the general plan. Shucks.
Now they’re talking about Centerville. Councilmember Chan is asking her questions. Dirk Lorenz is here as is his wife, as is the Chamber’s Nina Moore, as is a lass in very short shorts. I’ll try to look straight ahead at the council.
Councilmember Natarajan says she’s opposed. Things just got interesting. I think it’s going to be up to Wasserman.
It’s not over, but it’s over. Wasserman supports the project. Harrison and Chan will follow suit. It’ll pass either 3-2 or 4-1.
Yup, 3-2. The Centerville project moves forward. Wasserman Chan and Harrison vote in favor of it; Natarajan and Wieckowski vote against it. First time since Sue Chan took office in 2008 that her election matters.
I don’t have the will to transcribe a lot of the give and take.
Natarajan was very aggressive with her questioning. She wasn’t convinced the project will be high quality or provide a lot of needed retail.
Brad Blake of Blake Hunt argued that his company could afford the type of tenant improvements that would bring in higher-end tenants.
Here’s what two of them said before casting their vote:
I’m struggling at seeing the value of doing this project at this time. I don’t want to settle for something that we have to do especially at a time like this.
It has been a long, long time; a lot of money has gone into this. It’s time to either do something or pull back your chips, one or the other. I know the Centerville Community wants to see this project has wanted it for 15 years. I don’t want to throw anymore obstacles in there way.
Meeting adjourns at 8:50 p.m.
We’re about a half-hour from tonight’s City Council meeting, which, going on precedent, will likely be fairly boring.
Centerville is the biggest issue tonight, so I thought I’d give an abbreviated version of how Fremont ended up with the Blake Hunt project going back to when I took over the Fremont beat.
The year was 2007. Barry Bonds had just become baseball’s home run king, the Yankees only had 26 world championships and Fremont was taking it’s fourth shot at developing the vacant 6.6-acre lot in Centerville.
Six firms submitted bids to develop the lot, all of which proposed mostly housing except for Blake Hunt, which said it could deliver a supermarket.
Two bids were presented to the council: Blake Hunt’s and one from the development team Opus West and Regis Homes.
City officials advised the council to sleep on it for a week, but a large contingent of the Centerville Business and Community Association said they wanted a supermarket. Mayor Bob Wasserman and councilmembers Bill Harrison and Steve Cho gave the people what the wanted. They were the majority in a 3-2 vote to negotiate exclusively with Blake Hunt.
But as constultants had previously told council members, the kind of supermarket Centerville/Glenmoor wanted didn’t want them. The only interest Blake Hunt got was from discount markets, which was a non-starter.
So Blake Hunt came back in 2008and proposed precisely the type of development that their competitors pitched a year earlier. The main difference was that the competitors had experience building housing developments and Blake Hunt didn’t. Since it’s a commercial developer, Blake Hunt needed to find a partner to help out with the project, which would now have a lot of housing and not much retail.
But the council didn’t want to go back to square one, so it let Blake Hunt keep the project.
Blake Hunt teamed up with BRE Properties and came up with a proposal for 300 housing units and 35,000 square feet of retail, which council members supported.
But BRE pulled out of the deal, so Blake Hunt came back to the council last year without a housing developer. But it did have a new plan that wasn’t warmly received. The proposal scaled down the development to about 160 apartments, built to rental (less affluent) standards and 35,000 square feet of retail.
That meeting got a little testy.
Councilmember Anu Natarajan said, “I’m really underwhelmed with what we’re seeing.” Meanwhile Blake Hunt’s Brad Blake let the council know that he was frustrated with their lack of a clear vision for the project. But fences were mended and the council decided to keep negotiating with Blake.
So Blake Hunt parnted with a former BRE executive, and has pitched yet another proposal, this one for 166 apartments and 26,500 square feet of retail — the lowest amount yet. No one on the council seems enamored with the plan, but no one seems to want to go back to square one and wait out the recession.
What will they do? We’ll find out in a couple of hours.