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July 8, 2014

SAMUEL: Make the right choice on gateway project

I am a life-long resident of Jeffersonville and I want nothing more than for Jeffersonville to reach its full potential.

There are so many positives lined up to propel our city forward — River Ridge Commerce Center, the Big Four pedestrian bridge, which is delivering hundreds of thousands of curious individuals/families into our downtown, two additional Ohio River bridges, heightened interest in public art and a new focus on being a more bicycle-friendly community, only to name a few.

When I was first elected to the Jeffersonville City Council, I considered it a top honor and privilege, and I still do. I accept this and understand that this is a huge responsibility, which I do not take lightly. I also do not choose to respond to every half-truth or misinformation that is in the newspapers or social media, because I do not feel it reflects well on our city.

However, I must take issue with contents of a recent article by Matt Koesters titled “Developer: Time is of the essence for proposed Jeffersonville development” that was in the June 28, 2014, News and Tribune. So, as Paul Harvey used to say ... “and now the rest of the story.”

Sources in the article indicate the city council is doing nothing more than posturing and playing games in hopes to not get a development at the gateway to our city on 10th Street. I am speaking for myself, and I can say this could not be further from the truth.

In my opinion, we have only one chance at making our downtown and gateway the best it can be. I do not think we should rush through anything for the sake of getting a project started. In fact, we should aim for the best and greatest and not settle.

I shared this with the administration back in early April. Not to disparage any fast food restaurant, but every other community across this nation has what we’re being asked to put at our gateway.  

Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said in the article: “The entrance to Jeff has always been a sewer plant or a pump station …” indicating we might as well settle.

I am all for the large hotel portion of this proposal, it’s the fast food that will be located immediately on the right as you enter our city that I take issue with. There will be a logistical nightmare that will be caused by adding two fast food restaurants at an already crazy intersection with five streets converging.

After voicing my concerns months ago, and in an effort to work with the administration, I participated in a meeting April 18 with the mayor, city attorney, a member of redevelopment, the planning and zoning director and a fellow councilman to discuss this exact issue. Everyone in the meeting agreed they’d prefer something more than fast food at our gateway, so we agreed to have a sit-down with the developers to discuss options.

I had heard nothing for a couple weeks, so on April 29, I contacted the administration to ask if the meeting had been set up (they had agreed to set it up for us all). The response I received back was they were to meet with the developer the next day and they were going to do so without council reps initially. After hearing nothing for more than two weeks, I again contacted the administration May 19 requesting an update on when we were to meet with the developer. The response I got back stated that the council’s concerns were shared with the developer and they suggested the developer to meet with the council, but that the developer felt this is the best project to move forward with.

So, after two months, no meeting was ever set up with the developer.

Then I read the article in the June 28 paper, which spoke about a meeting that was scheduled regarding this development — “The meeting was held to address the concerns of some city council members and the council’s appointment to the sewer board, Bill Saegesser, Moore said. Neither Saegesser nor any members of the council attended the meeting … I’m disappointed,” Moore said.

The problem is that, as a councilman, I had been involved to that point and was interested in meeting further, but was never notified of the recent meeting. I have spoken to several other council members, and they had not been notified either.

This is such a big project for Jeffersonville — it will shape our gateway. I feel if any council member would have been invited, they would have attended.

Now, according to the article, we are at a critical juncture with this developer. As a council member, I am being portrayed in the paper and publicly called out by the mayor in an effort to put added pressure to vote for something that I feel needs more discussion.

Again, I am all for continued development, and I support part of the proposed project that includes hotel(s) and sit-down restaurants. However, I feel we need to collectively (administration, city council, and developer) discuss how we can make our gateway unique and not look like every other one in our country.

We have only one chance to make a first impression. Once we settle for a project that is less than great, we will not be able to do it over.

— Nathan Samuel is an At-large Jeffersonville City Councilman

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