January 7, 2010, Northampton, Massachusetts—City Planning Director Wayne Feiden provides the newly-seated City Council with an update on the beleaguered Hilton Garden Hotel, a project planned for the so-called RoundHouse Lot, a formerly city-owned piece of property located behind Northampton's downtown Pulaski Park.
Feiden expresses unequivocal support for the controversial project, which has been granted six deadline extensions by Mayor Mary Clare Higgins since it was first approved by the Planning Board in 2007.
Lawsuits, protracted environmental remediation, and economic conditions all contributed to delays in breaking ground, according to Feiden.
The hotel developers had been granted a special permit for the project before site plan review was in hand, a violation of city zoning protocol. Hundreds of citizens packed into crowded public meetings during the summer of 2007 to express their outrage with the flawed process.
An unimaginative Request For Proposals (RFP) had been crafted, with next to no media coverage, in a series of closed-door meetings between Feiden, the Mayor, and city Economic Development Director Teri Anderson. The inflexible stipulations of this RFP, and the general lack of transparency in the planning process for the RoundHouse Lot, fueled citizen anger.
In this video, Feiden defends the city's violation of its own zoning procedures, faulting the city's zoning code, and not the city officials who ignored it. Feiden also claims that media coverage of the hotel planning process was robust, and he is backed up in this revisionist assertion by Ward 1 City Councilor Maureen Carney.
(In 2007, A blogger known as The Northamptonist documented the newspaper coverage of the hotel planning process, and found only small, hidden announcements buried deep within the inner pages of two local print dailies—nothing like the "front-page coverage" that Feiden and Carney refer to in this video.)
The Pioneer Valley Hotel Group has been given, by Mayor Higgins, until February 15 to come up with a $12 million performance bond to guarantee the project.
Citizens are circulating a petition which instructs city officials to stop granting extensions to the hotel developer, and to start anew with the planning process for the site.
Video courtesy of Northampton Community Television.