COLUMBIA — The boundaries of a proposed enhanced enterprise zone in the city are dependent on what can be considered "blighted."
The enterprise zone discussed at Monday's City Council meeting wraps around more than half the city and encompasses areas possessing "inadequacies that lead to blight."
Solidifying boundaries is the next step in Regional Economic Development Inc.'s push for an enhanced enterprise zone. In an effort to create jobs and foster economic growth, the zone would provide tax incentives intended to spark expansion of existing businesses or manufacturing companies and the development of new, small businesses in "blighted" areas.
Distinguished by unsanitary and dangerous conditions, defective streets and crumbling infrastructure, areas that are considered "blighted" are seen as economic and social liabilities that threaten either public health, safety, morals or community welfare, according to the resolution presented to the council.
Under state statute, areas must be "blighted" to qualify as an enhanced enterprise zone.
Columbia citizen John Nelson said he did not believe any areas in Columbia met the criteria to be considered "blighted."
"I'm opposed to the enhanced enterprise zone happening in Columbia in general. I don't think anything here is blighted. I agree with what (REDI) wants to do, but I do not agree with how they're doing it," Nelson said. "They're using a Missouri statute that does not apply to Columbia."
Nelson said he believes REDI should reconsider how to allow businesses to gain incentives.
"There has to be another way without marking 60 percent of the city blighted," he said.
Although the boundaries of the zone are vast, that doesn't mean that more than half of Columbia is considered economically downtrodden, nor will blight-finding relate to eminent domain, said Dave Griggs, chairman of REDI's board of directors.
"If one specific geographic point qualifies (as 'blighted'), and if we want to include that point, then we have to include the whole census tract," Griggs said.
The previously mentioned statute uses census tracts — demographically homogenous county areas — as a "unit of measure." If a specific site in Discovery Ridge were deemed "blighted," then that entire census tract is the "unit of measure" that must be specified to include that single site of interest, Griggs said.
He said identifying these "blighted" points and their associated census tracts are a "necessary part of the process."
According to the statute, a different method of classifying areas, which doesn't involve census tracts, could be approved.
Fifth Ward City Councilwoman Helen Anthony suggested removing the term "blighted" from the resolution altogether. But in order to get approval from the state to develop an enhanced enterprise zone, the term must be used, City Manager Mike Matthes said.
"At some point, we have to say the area is blighted to the state," Matthes said.
Matthes said that declaring the area "blighted" will not stop investment.
"The official map presented to businesses will say 'enhanced enterprise zone,'" Matthes said. "It will not say 'blighted side of Columbia.' This will focus economic incentives on the city. There's no reason to fear that investment will stop."
Griggs said that "blight" is not an inoffensive term but its use is unavoidable in this situation.
"It's an economic development term, and it's not necessarily appropriate," he said. "But it's what's required by statute."
First Ward City Councilman Fred Schmidt said he saw the term as a non-issue and said the potential economic benefits of an enhanced enterprise zone outweigh the argument about the terminology.
"If the government can help by giving jobs to the community, call me Mr. Blighted," Schmidt said.