Citizen queries city officials on halting Watson Road design work

Developer obligated to pay $1.5 million for road project

Kris Simpson

Kris Simpson

By Mike Anthony

A Crestwood resident recently questioned city officials about why they asked an engineering firm to halt design work for improvements to Watson Road.

The Board of Aldermen voted last September to award a nearly $100,000 contract to Horner & Shifrin for planning and design work for Watson Road improvements, including the removal of the roadway’s median from Grant Road to Sappington Road.

Horner & Shifrin began the planning and design work, but stopped the project at the request of city officials in late November, according to City Administrator Kris Simpson.

The planning and design work was being funded by UrbanStreet Group of Chicago as part of the company’s agreement with the city for a $104.3 million redevelopment of the former Crestwood mall property at Watson and Sappington roads.

Under the pact, UrbanStreet is obligated to pay up to $1.5 million toward the Watson Road improvements. Funds will not be generated from a transportation development district, but are a straight cash reimbursement to the city.

City officials asked Horner & Shifrin to halt work at the request of UrbanStreet.

UrbanStreet’s request to halt the work was made during a Nov. 22 meeting attended by Bob Burk and Pamela Wucher of UrbanStreet, City Planner Adam Jones and Simpson. Jones asked Horner & Shifrin to halt work on Nov. 28.

At a Board of Aldermen meeting June 27, resident Martha Duchild posed specific questions regarding the request for Horner & Shifrin to halt work.

“… According to the city administrator, the city did not ask UrbanStreet why they wanted the city to ask Horner & Shifrin to suspend the work,” she said. “The Board of Aldermen approved the contract in September of 2016 and the term and time of the completion for that contract was from Oct. 1, 2016, to May 31, 2017 … A question for the city administrator: Did the city administrator inform the BOA (Board of Aldermen) at that time that work on a contract was suspended?”

Simpson said, “I don’t recall off the top of my head. I’d have to look at my records.”

Duchild said, “OK. And did you inform the city attorney or anybody from her office that work was suspended on a contract?”

Simpson said, “Same answer.”

Duchild said, “OK. The reason that I ask that question is that according to the contract, under Article No. 6, the work shall be completed between Oct. 1, 2016, and May 31, 2017. All time limits stated in the contract documents are of the essence.”

She also cited a section of the contract regarding changes to the pact that states, “The city may make changes to this agreement, provided that no changes may be made to the scope of work, time of performance, compensation or any provision which may affect the cost of the work, without a written amendment to this agreement executed by both parties. Any amendments to this agreement mutually agreed to shall be in writing and signed by the city and the contractor.”

“Would you agree that suspending the work is a change to the time of completion?” Duchild asked.

Simpson replied, “I don’t really have a response to that at this point.”

Duchild said, “OK. When I checked with the city administrator, he acknowledged that the request from the city to Horner & Shifrin to suspend the work was not made in writing, but was made verbally by Adam Jones, the city planner, even though the contract designated the public works director as the city’s representative. While the contract allowed the city administrator to designate a different representative, the city was obligated to notify the consultant in writing of this change. Was this written notification provided to Horner & Shifrin?”

Simpson said, “… You got a lot of questions, unfortunately I …”

Duchild said, “This is my last question.”

Simpson said, “OK. Not having any advance notice to the questions, I really can’t answer them. It was such a long time ago …”

Duchild said, “That’s fine.”

Mayor Gregg Roby said that answers to Duchild’s questions “are not really required tonight … We can get back to you on that …”

Duchild said city officials could provide answers to her questions at a later date.

When she first followed up by email July 17 for those answers, the city administrator wrote, “Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention. We have already responded to and fulfilled your request for public records regarding this issue.

“Additionally, I have 12 email exchanges with you on this topic dating back to last year. I have nothing further to add to what we have already discussed. I appreciate your commitment to the city and positive contributions to making Crestwood a better place to live.”

Simpson told the Call that city officials asked Horner & Shifrin to halt work because they want to maintain the excellent working relationship they have with UrbanStreet, as they believe the developer will be a major presence in Crestwood for years to come.

Asking Horner & Shifrin to resume work should not be an issue, he said.

The redevelopment agreement also states that UrbanStreet is not required to make any payments toward the Watson Road improvement project until an initial site plan has been approved for the project.

That has not occurred, Simpson said, noting that UrbanStreet has had difficulty in obtaining anchor tenants for the mall redevelopment project.

In December 2015, Burk told the city’s Tax-Increment Financing Commission that no commitments from potential tenants for the mall redevelopment could be secured until economic assistance was granted for the project. Aldermen approved the developer’s request for $25 million in tax incentives in March 2016.