The citizens are going to decide after all.
Sandusky commissioners unanimously agreed Monday to leave the fate of the city hall redevelopment project up to the people.
The decision to let the people decide comes after months of defending their right as elected officials to make the final call with the exception of Commissioner Brian Crandall who has argued all along he wanted citizens to decide.
Leading the way, Commissioner Dennis Murray made the motion. Commissioner Dave Waddington seconded it.
Murray explained that there are two points of view on how to proceed and who should vote.
"I think we need to focus on whether or not we should be proceeding on the Marina District," he said. "And I think we need to get past the issue on who makes decisions. I'm confident the public will overwhelmingly support this project."
Murray said there are those who see the commission not making the decision as "passing the buck" on a job voters hired commissioners to do.
But others see a need for the public to vote on the matter because it is of special significance, he said.
The proposed 30-acre development of waterfront property would include the city hall building site at 222 Meigs St. and neighboring properties including Battery Park.
The development would be 50 percent private, 50 percent public and include condominiums, retail, restaurant, a hotel and an indoor sports arena. The public portion includes the gated Sandusky Sailing Club.
Carl Wolf said the commission is balking at making a controversial decision. He is a member of Citizens for Sandusky's Future, a group in support of the project and commission making the decision.
"As a citizen I think that is what they were elected to do, they're shirking their responsibility," he said. Wolf emphasized that he was talking as a private citizen and not on behalf of Battery Park Marina of which he is vice president and general manager.
Crandall said the ballot vote has been a long time coming.
"I have stood my ground since day one and I have kept my word," he said. "I wanted to see the people decide because we're talking about the people's property."
With the exception of Ex officio Mayor Dan Kaman, who announced Friday he will not vote or discuss the project because he owns property nearby, the rest of the commissioners support taking the project to the ballot.
"It was originally my thought that we could vote on this issue as a commission, but I'm ready to help take this issue to the public," Commissioner Craig Stahl said. "In the end we will now let the people decide. That's the way the Democratic process works."
"It's no secret that I thought it should be the charge of the commission to make this decision," Commissioner Brett Fuqua said. "It's become obvious that it's not anymore. I'd really like to ask the city and the citizens to take a good look at this."
Law Director Don Icsman spoke on Will's behalf at the meeting and said the manager plans to honor that request.
Icsman said the development agreement will be ready this summer by July or August.
Will and Icsman must now construct the ballot language to encompass the different aspects of the development agreement currently in the works. The ballot language would be a part of the development agreement.
Tim Schwanger, a member of Citizens for Responsive Government, hopes the group is a part of crafting the ballot language and asked commissioners to include the group in the process.
Schwanger said that while he is pleased the issue will be on the ballot, he is extremely concerned the ballot language will be slanted.
He said the group is calling for fair, plain and simple ballot language, such as: Should the city redevelop Battery Park into condos, an indoor sports arena, hotel and other residential and retail venues?
Vice Mayor Dannie Edmon said the city should not spend any money to promote the project. The citizen groups who favor and are against the project should campaign, he said.
Schwanger also called into question the commission's timing and motive for supporting a ballot vote.
"It's kind of ironic they don't have enough votes to pass on emergency and then they find the democratic process," he said.
Five commissioners would have needed to vote in favor of the development agreement for it to be passed as an emergency and not be subject to referendum.
In December, Sandusky commissioners authorized 6-1 for Will to negotiate a development agreement for the city hall property and neighboring parcels. Edmon opposed the motion because he is concerned about public access. Crandall supported the December motion, but said he ultimately wanted citizens to decide whether the project was a go or not. Schwanger said at the time that Citizens for Responsive Government would have pursued legal action -- challenging the validity of the vote being an emergency.
But Murray said the number of commissioners voting in favor didn't draw him to the conclusion the public should vote. It did, however, give him some clarity on the subject.
Citizens can now debate the merits and demerits of the project and not also talk about if commissioners or voters should decide about moving forward with the project, he said.
Murray hasn't talked directly to the developer about putting it on the ballot, but has heard they would be open to it. He estimated putting the issue on the ballot would cost less than $10,000; a referendum would cost more.
John Eymann, managing partner of Meacham & Apel Architects, has said in the past he wants to educate the public on the proposed Marina District project. Meacham, as well as CEG Development, both of Dublin, Ohio, are part of the development team. Eymann could not be reached for comment Monday.