By Jeanie Hankins
The authors of a referendum, which resulted in a failed plan to develop Heritage Square, say blocking the hotel/restaurant/retail shops was not their intention. According to Casey Hanna and Bill Cole during an interview with the The Sun on Monday morning, they wanted to be heard, to have their input considered prior to Town Council approving the project. When that didn’t happen, a referendum was their “only option.”
For several months, Provident Real Estate Ventures worked with the Town and other entities to bring a Cobblestone hotel, a restaurant and new retail shops to the area between the Community Center and E. Wickenburg Way.
A contract between the Town and developer were approved during the May 20 Council meeting. At that meeting, Hanna told Council he had 71 concerns about the language in the contract, and he encouraged the decision makers to consider his research prior to approval.
Rather than “addressing the identified defects,” and “without considering the given information” Council approved the documents, Hanna said.
As a result, in June Hanna and Cole went to work on the referendum. The two formed a political action committee and worked with a team of 12 volunteers who gathered enough signatures to take the decision out of the hands of Town Council, suspend the project and send the decision to voters next year.
Ten days ago, the developer notified the Town that it will not move forward at Heritage Square, making the referendum a moot point.
“We want to put this to a vote, to the citizens, and it’s unfortunate we didn’t get to that,” Hanna said. He anticipated failure of the project as one of the potential outcomes of the referendum. “It’s unfortunate that a deal breaks apart, and I feel for those that had a stake in that. I really, truly feel for that loss… I don’t want anybody to loose. I didn’t go into this exercise as a win or lose exercise, I went into this as being a responsible citizen.”
“The goal was to correct the contracts,” Hanna said.
He describes himself as a certified project management professional with his certification on retirement status. He said during his career he reviewed many projects and had the responsibility of finding flaws and correcting them.
“It appears that the way the contracts were written that there were some statutes that looked like they were violated. I’m not an attorney … As a professional I just read the contract and said, ‘this isn’t something I would advise my client to accept.’”
When Council didn’t take his advice, “I pulled the referendum because the issues were not addressed,” Hanna explained, saying further that if his report had been “properly addressed” he may not have pulled a referendum.
Cole added, “The most unfortunate part is they didn’t do that. I mean, we were like, we’re offering this to you and you’re not going to take advantage of the situation and review the law, you have a town attorney, you know, why wouldn’t you do that? I mean what’s going on?’”
“The loss of the hotel to me is the law of unintended consequences… I knew going in to it that was a possibility, but that wasn’t my focus. My focus was how do we have a healthy government process that produces healthy outcomes,” Hanna said.
“I was part of the process that took the legs out (from under the development), but I wasn’t the only part of that process. Town council, town management, the press and what I consider a small club that thinks they know what best is for Wickenburg, helped take the legs out because again there was opportunities to correct these defects. Not listening to facts, data, information, testimony evidence, not listening to that just because it doesn’t support your case, is not appropriate in good government.”
Next, Hanna predicts he will turn his energy toward furthering community projects which are “hopefully not controversial.”
“Some people want me to run for office. I say, ‘no,’” he said.