The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

City Council Meeting 09/25/2012, Plus Comments on the Proposed Downtown TIF District

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The Carbondale City Council met at the city hall/civic center at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 25, 2012. As usual, I watched the meeting from home on Mediacom channel 16. A summary and brief comments follow.

After roll call and announcements and proclamations, the council held a public hearing on the proposed sale of land (pdf) in the Bicentennial Industrial Park to Intertape Polymer Group, which has a facility on neighboring land. No one spoke at the public hearing. Intertape Polymer Group plans to use the space for future expansion. No action was taken at this meeting.

After the public hearing, the council passed most of the consent agenda unanimously. Council member Chris Wissmann pulled item 4.6, and council member Don Monty pulled items 4.9 and 4.11.

Item 4.6 (pdf) corrected a mistake made at the September 11, 2012 meeting. Council passed an ordinance raising parking fines, but forgot to pass the resolution raising parking rates. Wissmann pulled the item from the consent agenda because he voted against the ordinance and wanted to be consistent by voting against this resolution. Council member Corene McDaniel joined Wissmann in opposition; all other council members voted in favor of the new rates.

Item 4.9 (pdf), acceptance of grants for water and sewer improvements, passed unanimously. Council member Don Monty pulled this from the consent agenda to highlight its importance. Pulling items from the consent agenda to highlight them is a favorite habit of Monty’s.

One of these grants will provide upgrades to the Cedar Lake pumping station, which should keep the water running if we ever have another derecho. The other grant will provide emergency power systems at some of the city’s lift stations, which should keep the sewers from backing up during storms.

Item 4.11 (pdf), a resolution authorizing purchase of real property and a budget adjustment for the property, also passed unanimously. Council member Monty pulled this item to explain it. If you need an explanation, you can click the link, which explains what’s going on and has a map and aerial photographs of the property being purchased.

In summary, the city is buying three parcels from the Jackson County real estate trustee. The city will keep two lots – one for future expansion of the public works facility and one because it contains infrastructure that makes it unsuitable for residential development. The city will tear down an unsafe structure on the third lot and then try to sell it as a single-family building lot.

After passing the consent agenda, council moved on to the general business agenda, which was mercifully short.

Item 5.1 (pdf), an ordinance annexing property in and adjacent to Lakeland Hills subdivision, passed unanimously. This is likely the first of several annexations that will result in the entire subdivision entering the city limits, as it should. It appears that court action will be required, as several recalcitrant property owners in the subdivision have not signed and returned their petitions for annexation.

Apparently, some of the property owners don’t want to be annexed into the city, though they had no problem signing annexation agreements when the city provided sewer service to the area in the late nineties. It isn’t fair to allow free riders. The city kept its end of the deal and provided sewer service, which saved the property owners a lot of money. Now it is time for the property owners to keep their end of the deal and enter the city limits.

Item 5.2 (pdf), a resolution authorizing the city manager to enter an economic development Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agreement with Bandana’s BBQ, passed unanimously. Bandana’s BBQ is planning to locate in the former Stadium Grille building. To read about how TIF districts work, see paragraphs two through four in this post. I don’t have any problem with this TIF agreement, but I want to use this as an opportunity to explain why the proposed downtown TIF makes me a little nervous.

When I express concern about the TIF District being planned for downtown, I’m thinking of the style of development found in our existing TIF. The buildings are set far back from the street and surrounded by oceans of unnecessary parking. The land is used wastefully. It is sprawl at its worst, by which I mean sprawl in the middle of town where development should be most dense, instead of at the edge of town. Anyone who thinks moving the sprawl to the center of town will prevent sprawl on the edge of town is deluded.

Carbondale foolishly tore down most of its old downtown decades ago. Some of it survived, notably the north edge of the town square, but also the east edge and a strip of buildings running both west and south from the corner of Main and Illinois. Once you get south of PK’s, the buildings are garbage. I sometimes visit other college towns, and I find thriving downtowns in which old buildings are home to new businesses. People are out of their cars and walking around. Whatever else you can say about Carbondale’s downtown, you can’t call it quaint.

Because our downtown has been so thoroughly degraded – nearly destroyed – I agree with those who think we need major redevelopment. I think TIF can play a positive role in the redevelopment. But if the result of a downtown TIF is that the rest of our downtown is redeveloped to look like the existing TIF (picture the First Southern Bank property, whose massive and pointless setback has been a target of my derision before [see the last half of this post], or picture the Stadium Grille property), then we will have completed the project of killing our downtown.

I think we need a comprehensive downtown redevelopment plan that spells out exactly how downtown should be redeveloped and how it should look. We need to adopt a form based code for that area, which could be adopted as an overlay. I think we need at least one downtown parking garage financed and operated by the city, and the garage should (at a minimum) include ground floor commercial space. We need to bury the power lines in the downtown, or at least move them behind the buildings. We need attractive street furniture. I could go on. TIF can play a role, but TIF alone will not solve our problems.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: we do not have to reinvent the wheel here. Other cities have been down this road. We can look at their examples and see what we can learn. Bloomington-Normal have been working on a downtown redevelopment for several years, and it’s been wildly successful. TIF played a role in that redevelopment, but it wasn’t the only piece. Why not look to their example?

I’ll write more on this in the future, but for now I’ll share two links. To read about the folly of auto-orientation in a downtown and the role TIF can play in creating the problem, click here and here .

Comments are welcome.


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