Last night’s city council meeting

With little news from last night’s council meeting, I will give an update on Downtown Stow, in the form of Frequently Asked Questions:

What’s it called?

There was an article in the newspaper about the death of the term “Downtown Stow.” You can call it “Project X” for all I care. It’s still on the tracks, and there are more and more reasons to believe it will come to fruition.

What is going in?

  • For certain: Both a commercial element and a public element.
  • Very likely: There will be an amphitheater, playground (successor to SKiP), and large greenspace for events.
  • Likely but not confirmed: Rec center, boutique retail shopping, and owner-operated restaurants.
  • Possible: High-end loft apartments, if necessary to encourage developers.
  • Definitely not: A bunch of bars, chain restaurants and chain stores.

Where is the process?

We are in discussions with several accomplished developers, who have different visions for the 16 develop-able acres. It’s not a process we are going to rush, but pieces are falling together. I’m hopeful we are going to approve a master plan in the next 6 months, after extensive public input and comment.

What about the residential property the City wants to buy?

Last night, council heard a first reading on legislation to purchase a residence between the Post Office and the Senior Center. See the white-outlined property in the photo below.

Does the City need to buy it?

By buying this 1.5-acre tract, the city would expand the possible uses on the north side of the water tower. The various elements of Downtown Stow should be contiguous. Practically speaking, parking will be a challenge if we can’t connect the development. This residential parcel is one of two barriers to contiguity (also the Post Office). Buying this land is not an absolute necessity, because we can connect everything by a walkway through the city’s property to the west. But it makes a lot of sense.

Does the City need to buy it now?

This is a better question. It would be logical to wait until there is a tentative plan for development of that land before diving into this investment. But then again, you can lose a deal by not striking while it’s on the table.

How about the price?

The City has negotiated a price of $231,000. On the one hand, it’s significantly more than the property would be worth to a home buyer. On the other hand, it’s less in today’s dollars than the City spent in 2002 and 2004 for the neighboring Senior Center parcels.

Can we do it without taxpayer dollars?

This is a fair point. Instead of buying the land ourselves, a developer could front the cash. That would seem to be a superior plan. But either way, the economics don’t change. The original idea was to use the city’s land value to leverage millions of dollars of development, giving free or reduced ground rent as the city’s contribution to the project. And that concept remains in place. Whether we pay up front, or the developer does, it works out the same way in dollars and cents.


Last night’s city council meeting

Here are my notes from last night’s meeting:

Funding for Road Repair – I’m happy to report a very positive development for those of us who really want good roads. Council is poised to bring Stow’s roads up to a high standard, once and for all. It’s going to require a significant investment. But if we can’t fix them now, when the city’s finances are in A+ condition, when will it happen?

The first question is: What does it mean to “fix” them? Cities operate on an objective rating system, giving each road a grade from to 100. Every year, the city repaves the roads that need it the most. If we had unlimited money, we would fix all of the roads rated “poor” or “failed.” But we haven’t had enough money to do that–ever since the city stripped the road budget in 2008-2010. That has forced us to play catch-up for the past decade. The answer to the first question is: We invest enough money so that no resident has to live on, or travel through, a road that is rated as poor or worse. In the next week or so, we should have a grasp on what the exact dollar figure is.

The second question is: How do we pay for it? Given the city’s stable finances, we actually have a few options, and none involves raising taxes. (1) We could dip into our rainy-day fund, which holds an all-time high of $5.56 million. (2) We could sell notes and bonds. Our city debt load has dropped from $32 million to $14 million in the past decade. Or we could do the option that I have been advocating … an inter-fund loan. Our water fund is flush with cash, but it can only be used on water projects. Loans, however, are permissible. By borrowing X Dollars from the water fund, we could finance the entire job, and pay ourselves back over, say, 10 years. This is preferable to me for two reasons. First, it allows us to maintain the great security of the rainy-day fund–which will be indispensable when the next recession hits. Second, by borrowing from ourselves, and not the market, we can avoid $50,000 of transaction costs to bond lawyers. Third, we are paying interest, but we’re paying it to ourselves. My answer to the second question is: Borrow it from the water fund. The idea is somewhat novel, but not unprecedented; we borrowed from the water fund for a storm-water project last year.

New Commercial/Industrial Projects

One of the reasons we are on solid financial ground is the growth of our tax base. We did this by keeping tax rates low (it was a huge help for voters to reject the proposed income tax increase in 2015), and by aggressively pursuing opportunities to bring good-paying jobs to town.

As chairman of the Planning Committee, I was thrilled to hear about these new projects last night:

  • There will be a fourth Fogg building at the southeast corner of Route 8 and Seasons Road. The first two are filled. The third is half-filled, and occupancy is growing. So the developer continues to bet money on Stow, by building a fourth spec building (i.e., no designated tenants yet). It will be the largest of all four, with 213,000 square feet.
  • Taking cues from Fogg, another developer is constructing a 101,000 square foot spec building on Allen Road. Construction will begin in the spring.
  • The Vizmeg building on McCauley will be expanding by 10,048 square feet to accommodate the company’s operations.
  • Stow Muffler Shop (on Kent Road, next to Marty’s Bike Shop) is upgrading its building and adding a 1,000 square feet addition.

2019 Budget

Stow passed its budget by a 5-0 vote. For more information about it, please review my post from last month.

Route 8 Construction

Beginning Sunday, Route 8 will drop to one lane in each direction, as workers erect median barriers.

Next Meeting

Council will meet next on April 11.

Meeting Notes

Press Releases