NP counil member returns, refuses to vote on $63 million complex measure

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NEW PALESTINE — For the first time since last fall, the New Palestine Town Council had all members present when they gathered on Jan. 4 for the first meeting of the new year. Regardless, once again a vote on a $5 million bond for the Becovic proposed $63 million apartment complex didn’t get passed or denied.

Council member Angie Fahrnow, who has missed numerous council meetings, did return for the first time since the Sept. 21 meeting. However, when it came time to vote on the bond measure, she got up and walked out of the meeting.

Fahrnow returned after the measure was voted on. The measure once again ended up being set aside to the next meeting with two council members voting in favor of the bond — one against and one abstaining.

However, when Fahrnow returned, council president Bill Niemier called for the vote again. This time around, Fahrnow stayed in the room, but abstained from the vote. She joined council member Brandee Bastin who has abstained from the start, making it impossible to pass or deny the measure with a 2-2-1 vote.

Fahrnow stated she didn’t want to vote on the passage of the bond because she wasn’t happy about a recent increase in the town’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) area, something that was discussed, voted on and passed during first reading at recent board and commission meetings Fahrnow missed.

“I have questions about things since the last time I voted,” Fahrnow said.

Fahrnow went on to tell Niemier he shouldn’t be sitting on the town’s redevelopment board because she doesn’t like the way it looks with Niemier, a real estate attorney, representing a land owner where the TIF area was increased.

She also had an issue with the land owner speaking at a recent RDC meeting when community members were not given the same chance. The expansion of the TIF area ended up passing all town boards and commission on the first reading with only one board member objecting during the process.

Niemier told Fahrnow the increase in the TIF area had absolutely nothing to do with the bond issue on the Becovic apartment complex and the two were completely separate measures. In the end, the bond resolution was once again was put on hold until the town’s next scheduled meeting in late January.

During council comments, Niemier addressed the apartment bond issue yet again and noted the developer is working on ways to move forward with the project regardless of the $5 million bond they’ve asked for. Niemier stated the developer is considering adding more units to the design and changing or eliminating the upgrades they hoped to add to make the complex unique.

“It is what it is,” Niemier said. “I’m just relaying what the developer has said to the council — they are engaging in what is called ‘value engineering’ and what we’re going to end up with is higher density and lower quality.”

Niemier went on state that he is not benefiting “one penny” from the apartment complex deal, something Fahrnow has stated she believes will indirectly happen due to his job as a real estate attorney.

“We’ve had the conflict of interest statue read aloud,” Niemier said. “If a council member has a pecuniary interest, meaning a financial interest, then they should not vote.”

Niemier then urged the council to set aside personal opinions and petty differences and move forward in the best interest of the town.

“This apartment project has been way too controversial and made way too personal,” Niemier said.

Fahrnow, who said she’s been out since September for health reasons, also spoke about the bond during council comments. She said she didn’t have a problem with the complex being built and had been fine with a $2.5 million bond, but balked when the bond increased to $5 million.

“At the beginning of this, Buzz Krohn (O. W. Krohn & Associates LLP), said he could explain a $2.5 (million) but could not explain $5 million,” Fahrnow said. “Somewhere in all this that changed and it was never explained.”

Fahrnow also addressed being censured by Niemier during the Dec. 21 meeting and stated Niemier was simply trying to get the focus off himself for being on the RDC and other boards when he shouldn’t due to being a real estate attorney. She planned to address the censure in more detail at the next council meeting.

“He told everyone I was appointed and not elected,” Fahrnow said. “I was appointed because I’m a junk yard dog with a bone — I’m not politically polished.”

Town manager Jim Robinson told the Daily Reporter after the meeting he was going to set up a session with Becovic officials and the town’s newly appointed council president, Clint Bledsoe, as soon as possible. The goal? To try and figure out a plan best suited for everyone to see if officials want to try and move forward with the project.