Highland Park Village’s owners and the town’s taxpayers are about to embark on a study that will cost at least $200,000. The question is, how should those costs be split?
NBBJ, a consulting firm based in Boston, has proposed a four-to-six-month study that would set development guidelines for the Village, offer recommendations on its traffic and parking, and provide a thorough economic analyis. The base fee proposal is $223,200, but it could cost $271,200 if the study takes six months.
At Monday’s Town Council meeting, Mayor Joel Williams urged approval of a revised agreement between the town, the Village, and NBBJ. This was a revision most council members had not seen until Monday morning; the mayor hadn’t seen it until Sunday afternoon. Williams said Councilman Andrew Barr sent the revision to him over the weekend after taking time out from his vacation to draft it.
Williams said the original agreement had the town and the Village splitting the cost of the study 50-50. In Barr’s version, the economic analysis would be solely the Village’s responsibility, with the rest of the money split down the middle. Barr said he also added language that will allow the town to do nothing after the study ends.
“We are not bound by what this process produces,” Barr said. “Hopefully, it produces something we can all embrace equally.”
The council approved Barr’s revision, pending further review from town attorney Al Hammack, who said he’d like for the economic analysis to be part of a separate agreement between the Village and the consultants.
The only dissenting vote came from Councilman Stephen Rogers, who questioned why taxpayer dollars would be spent on studying a business. Williams had an answer.
“I don’t view this at all as just another real-estate development,” he said. “It’s certainly private property, but it’s a very special property with a special history in this town.”
NBBJ’s proposal says the Village’s owners are considering reorganizing surface parking, adding a garage, adding second stories to single-story structures, replacing a building with a hotel, and “examining more intensive long-term use” of the parking lot across Mockingbird.
“This is our town center, and we only have one of them,” Williams said, “and if it’s going to be changed, I think the public should have a say in how it’s changed.”
The Village’s managing directors, Ray Washburne and Stephen Summers, were both traveling this week, so neither was available for comment.