Snyder Park still up in air
Local housing officials were reprimanded by the City Council Mondaynight over what Mayor John Bennett said was an “embarrassing”lack of preparation for a presentation about the troubled SnyderPark housing project.The rebuke came after housing staffer Lee Novak first denied,then admitted, the accuracy of a news story about rising costsassociated with the project.The council decided to table consideration of the 15-unit affordablehousing project until March 8, to give the housing office moretime to get its figures straight.”I’m sorry. We’ve got to do better than this,” Bennett warnedNovak and Housing Director Dave Tolen. “This is not building publictrust.”Novak and Tolen were at Monday’s regular City Council meetingto present the final budget for the controversial project, locatedalong Midland Avenue on the east side of town.Shortly after Novak had begun the presentation, however, Bennettasked him about reports that the costs of the project had risento $7.1 million. The council had put the project on hold lastOctober after getting a cost projection of $6.9 million – requiringa $3 million subsidy for 15 affordable units. The council worriedthat the project was too costly, particularly since the unitsare all listed as “Category 4,” the highest price level for subsidizedhousing. Officials hoped the construction costs would come down if theproject were to be put out for bid in the winter, when contractorsare less busy.Novak, when asked about the news story, said the numbers werenot as reported. He started to try to explain, but bogged downand said simply, “The paper’s wrong.”At that point Tolen jumped in, saying he believed that “somethingis missing” from the numbers Novak was looking at. After a hurriedconference between the two men, Tolen said, “the paper is right.”Novak, apologizing to the council, said he had not read the newsstory and was referring to different numbers than Tolen was lookingat.Bennett, visibly distressed, asked the council for a motion totable further consideration of the Snyder project, declaring,”This is embarrassing.”It also was agreed that Tolen and Novak would return to the councilchambers with a more varied “mix” for the project, putting insome lower-priced units so the homes would not be selling onlyto the wealthiest class of local workers.Later, Bennett noted that the housing office “has been under alot of pressure” recently, from elected officials and the public.But, he added to Tolen, “I would spend more time on these presentations”in order to have answers to “obvious questions” and avoid “majortypos of a couple hundred thousand dollars” in the paperwork.Tolen, after the meeting, told reporters he would take “completeresponsibility” for the muffed presentation and for “many of theproblems that have plagued the Snyder project. I have obviouslynot given it the attention that it deserves. We’ve got a lot goingon,” he said.When asked for examples of mistakes he had made, Tolen said hehad forgotten to include a $30,000 school-impact fee in the costestimates.
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