Mayor Ed Prévost revealed Monday his administration and Sandy Beach developer Hans Muhlegg have been working on a proposal both sides are hoping will move the project forward.
Details will be made public, Prévost assured the meeting. Nicanco’s representatives had no comment.
The news came at the end of a 10-minute snarlfest between members of council and save-the-beach activist Richard Grinnell.
Grinnell, back from several months out of country, asked council whether it would honour its undertaking to hold a referendum on whether the town should try to buy all or part of the 60-acre wetland from the developer.
“Last fall, I came before the council and asked how many signatures it would require before you held a referendum to see about purchasing part of the Sandy Beach property,” Grinnell told council. “I was told 500. So I’m happy to report that I have 1,273, of which 543 are residents of Hudson. We desire to have a referendum held to see about purchasing part of the Sandy Beach property. Where do we go? I’ve done my part.”
Other than Grinnell’s first petition in December, Prévost said he wasn’t aware of Grinnell’s continuing efforts to sign up residents.
“I told you my policy is ongoing petitioning,” Grinnell fired back. “The director said I needed 500 and I now have more than 500.”
District 5 councillor Deborah Woodhead volunteered that she had put out the number, “not for a referendum, but to open the subject….Because there’s no issue, the town’s not going to hold referendum on an issue that doesn’t concern the town, there’s no reason to have a referendum, the last time there was a referendum it was about a bylaw change that went through. The land is not for sale, Mr. Muhlegg’s vision is that he’d like to build the land.”
Grinnell said he understood Muhlegg’s position and hopes Muhlegg understands his. “Over 500 residents of Hudson have signed the petition knowing that it means there were tax dollars to be spent and there’s a negotiation to be had. And I think there’s a deep concern there, that people would like to preserve that, and they’re willing to spend the money. The only way to find out is to have a referendum.”
Woodhead countered by noting that nobody has offered to donate their own money. “No one has come forward and said ‘Here’s $500. Let’s get the ball rolling so we can buy this land. Not one person in Hudson has come forward with any proposal.”
Grinnell persisted. “I’m saying that there is a desire in this town for this property to be purchased. In order to do that you have to sit down with Mr. Muhlegg and discuss with him…”
“There was one occasion when we’ve done that,” Woodhead interrupted.
“I wasn’t involved in that discussion but somebody else, I don’t know how they got permission but they were allowed to present him with an offer that was unacceptable.”
“Nobody was representing the town,” Prévost interjected.
“I was told that they were…it was in the paper,” Grinnell said.
“You shouldn’t go on hearsay all the time, you know,” the mayor snapped back.
“If that’s what’s in the paper, that’s what we have to go on.”
Woodhead chimed in: “You know that the paper is full of untruths. Full of untruths, every day.” (The room gasped.) “There are errors in the paper, and misquotes and that’s just the truth, the fact of journalism.”
Grinnell was on a roll. “I just want to know what to do with this. I want to know what to tell over 500 people in Hudson who are passionate about it? That nothing will happen, that the town doesn’t care? What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Deposit it, someone on council said.
“I will deposit it but we have to move forward,” Grinnell replied. “I have done my part. I have the signatures. People have signed it. They have said ‘this is the desire that I have.’ That’s a lot of people, over 500 signatures, and they have expressed this desire knowing that it will cost them money. Where do we go?”
Woodhead tried to change the focus. “Mr. Muhlegg has done everything the town has requested of him for the past 15 years while he tried to get his project to…uh some kind of fruition and completion. Everything and more.”
Grinnell wouldn’t be kissed off. “I understand that. I have no argument with Mr. Muhlegg. I like him and I enjoy sitting with him and talking with him and I’d like to buy his property. Whether he’s done everything right is not the point. The point is that…”
“If you and the citizens of Hudson would like to buy his property you have to negotiate with him,” Woodhead interrupted. “You and those 500 other people.”
District 2 councillor Ron Goldenberg waded into the fight. “Excuse me. While you were away, we discussed this several times over the last few months and just to fill you in, in case nobody else did, we questioned the veracity of your question.”
Goldenberg accused Grinnell of deliberately misleading people, scaring them by suggesting they would lose beach access.“It was non-legal, because first of all you didn’t mention that the town would have basically the same access to the beach area itself, which was terribly misleading and secondly, you didn’t mention anything about what the purchase price was or what Mr. Muhlegg had even asked for it. The question should say ‘would you like the town to buy the beach?’Yeah, of course I would like the town to buy the beach!”
“That’s what the question said,” Grinnell replied. “That was the direct question and people signed it, knowingly.”
“For council, it is not a legal question,” Goldenberg continued. “It’s biased, not valid. So how can we hold a referendum on that? It doesn’t make any sense. I understand everybody’s passionate about it. We know that, we understand that and that’s what we’re working on.”
Grinnell repeated his question about what he should do with his petition.
“We did not ask you to put this signature thing together. You presented them to us. We said well, get some signatures and then we’ll talk. We’re talking.”
By this point Grinnell was losing his temper. “No you’re not. You’re dictating.” He quoted a newspaper article citing Goldenberg as saying he had nothing to do with it.
“How can you tell me what I said when you weren’t even here?” Goldenberg barked.
“You’re getting way off base,” Grinnell snapped back. “Ron, get it back under control.”
Goldenberg got it back under control. “We’re not doing exactly what you want but given the situation we’re dealt with, we’re doing the best we can. You might not like it, you may not agree with it…”
Finally, after 10 minutes of increasingly irrelevant exchanges, Prévost exercised closure. “This discussion has gone on long enough. We had a town council meeting and we had a public presentation as well. We have a lot of comments and suggestions, modifications — you name it. We took all these and we met with Mr. Muhlegg and his associate and reviewed all issues to see which ones could fly and which ones couldn’t fly.”
The mayor said the town wouldn’t be bound by anybody’s expectations or timetable. “I have to say you’d be quite pleased the way we had a rapport in terms of give and take…we will of course be reporting on that – it’s not a closed agenda. We’ll be making it public.”
Grinnell reminded the mayor that he, Grinnell, represents 543 residents who are passionate about it. “It’s not just me. You’re an elected official. They’re telling you something.”
“Our responsibility is to the Town of Hudson,” Prévost replied. “Sandy Beach is a part of it, but only a part of it. It has to be scheduled into our other priorities.”
After the meeting I asked Muhlegg and urban planner Marc Perreault whether they had come to the meeting expecting a notice of motion for their latest proposal. They had no comment, so I asked them in whose court the ball now rests. “You could say in both courts,” said a third associate.
I’m on thin ice here, but I think Prévost realizes the razor’s edge his administration is walking on the Sandy Beach project. He should politely ask his councillors to abstain from opening their mouths before putting their brains in gear. From Prévost’s comments and Nicanco’s response, I also think both sides recognize the need to give to get. There’s another factor as well. Neither man is well, with time running out on Prévost’s term and Muhlegg’s ability to keep going.
That doesn’t mean the wily businessman is a pushover. Prévost told me in the past Muhlegg has a good legal case against the town. Muhlegg’s last words to me: “If we can’t build, I’ll sue!”
Words that no Hudson taxpayer wants to hear.