Farmington city council members on Monday asked city staff and consultants to talk more with three of four companies interested in redeveloping the Maxfield Training Center property.
The move frustrated council member Steven Schneemann, who advocated for officials themselves to sit down with representatives of PVL Farmington, River Caddis Development, Robertson Brothers Homes, and SDC Ventures. The four responded to a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) designed to secure a private partner for the long vacant, 3-acre parcel on Thomas Street.
The RFQ laid out the city’s desired developer qualifications, explained available incentives, and asked for concept developments and proposed financing. City officials reviewed the submissions last week, but decided to give them another look on Monday.
Consultants Carmine Avantini and Justin Sprague of Community Image Builders (CIB), and Eric Helzer of Advanced Redevelopment Solutions (ARS), have worked with city staff and officials on the project. Proposals were split between owner-occupied and market-rate lease homes.
The River Caddis proposal for up to 124 leased units and the Robertson Brothers proposal for 59 owner-occupied townhomes emerged as preferred options, Sprague said.
“What we’re asking for is the council’s blessing to move forward with one of the development teams to negotiate site amenities, public features, how it fits into the neighborhood, and a detailed financial pro forma so we can understand how financially viable these projects are,” he said.
Schneemann said that he was “kind of shocked” by the dramatic differences among the proposals. The lowest density is 39 owner-occupied homes proposed by SDC Ventures, and the highest is up to 185 units in the PVL Farmington proposal.
“I’m wondering why it wouldn’t make sense for us as council to basically meet with each of the developers and go through with a fine-tooth comb and ask detailed questions of each of them,” he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Joe LaRussa felt officials should move forward with the consultant recommendations, and city manager David Murphy said that consultants “worked very, very hard to get to this point.”
“I don’t like the idea of throwing that aside, I certainly value our consultants. But ultimately, it’s up to council,” he said.
Council member David DeLind agreed with Schneemann and said he’d like more time to get feedback from the community. While council member Maria Taylor wasn’t opposed, she pointed out that officials “all kind of gravitated to two (submissions) at the last meeting.”
Avantini said considering a proposal with 185 units would weaken the early work done on the project. Helzer pointed out that the RFQ specifically mentioned up to 124 units. “We’ve gone through a lot of time with council and with our team to get that right.”
Schneemann said ideas in all of the proposals might be useful when officials negotiate with their final choice, but Taylor objected to “stringing developers along.” That also concerned Avantini.
“We want to come out of here with the development community having a good impression of what happens here, because …these same developers might be interested in other sites,” he said.
“Going with all four strays from the scope of what we asked our consultants to do,” Mayor Sara Bowman said. “I am very comfortable moving forward with the two developments we, as a council, recommended. However, I don’t want anyone to feel they haven’t been heard.”
LaRussa felt council was “swirling” because PVL Farmington has local connections, with former council members Tom Buck and Jeff Scott on the development team. He said that team should “take a hard look at their submission, in order to continue to be considered.”
‘Further clarifying step’
LaRussa then made a motion directing city administration to talk with PVL Farmington, Robertson Brothers, and River Caddis about the financial aspects of their proposals and “determine whether there is an interest in the part of the city to move forward with a development agreement.”
He, Bowman, and DeLind voted for the motion. Taylor later said she voted no because only two developers met the RFQ’s conditions. She said she would have supported talking with all four.
Schneemann said he voted no because “I have a tendency to personally want to gather more information and understand things better and look at all different view points and angles.”
LaRussa said he was interested in city staff gathering additional financial and design details, as a “further clarifying step” to see who would bring the best offer to the city.
“If that’s the case, I’m going to be fighting every step of the way in this process, because I think the fact that council is being prohibited from speaking with developers…is just the wrong approach,” Schneeman said. “There’s no way I can select one developer without ever talking with any of the others.”
DeLind said later in the meeting that he agreed with Schneemann and understood city council members would interview developers directly, rather than depending on consultants.