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Posted on November 29, 2015
In the end, the All Saints District neighborhood received kind words from City Commissioners about their neighborhood activism, but ultimately it appears the outcome was decided before the vote.
The group had gathered more than 1,500 signatures in a grass roots effort to stop a development proposal for a city-owned vacant lot off of Gaines Street they claimed would dilute the artsy character of the area and hurt homegrown businesses.
You can read an earlier report about the issue here.
Instead, the City Commission voted last week 5-0 to allow a developer to proceed with an agreement that will put a chain hotel, rumored to be an Hampton Inn, at the corner of Gaines Street and Railroad Avenue. A hotel that will take up parking that many say will hurt their businesses. (Ironically, the City Commission voted not to allow a developer to build a Hampton Inn at the corner of Tennessee and Monroe back in 2013.)
Over 20 people chose to speak against the project and more showed up to the meeting.
The conflict arose when members of the All Saints District got the feeling the project was fast tracked and they were not involved in the decision making process even though the city had previously promised to keep them in the loop.
This concern seemed to be validated at the meeting when city staff told the City Commissioners that any vote against the development could open up the City to a legal challenge by the developer.
How did this happen?
The City Commission had previously voted to sell the property to the developer, but the contract included a provision for the City to retain approval of the final property use.
However, it appears City staff, at the request of the developer, changed the property use from retail to hotel without seeking approval from the City Commission.
Therefore, a vote to stop the development based on property use would be in conflict with the agreement between the developer and the City and could lead to legal action.
What was not reported by the local media were the ties that the developer, Summit Holdings XV (Summit Group) and their affiliated companies have with the elected officials.
Campaign records show that, within the last four years, these companies have made campaign donations to four of the five City Commissioners, including Mayor Andrew Gillum.
Recently, TR has reported about a vote by the CRA that awarded a no-bid contract to a developer that had made campaign donations to CRA members. That report can be read here.