Resolution to create enhanced enterprise zone deems large portion of Columbia 'blighted'

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 | 12:13 a.m. CST; updated 4:35 p.m. CST, Friday, March 9, 2012

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.

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Allan Sharrock February 7, 2012 | 1:11 a.m.

There will be abuses of Eminent Domain in the future with this plan. Everyone that owns property in this track will soon be giving up land value rights when easements start to occur and the city will not have to consult because once it is termed blighted then the courts will no longer have to hear each case.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin February 7, 2012 | 10:17 a.m.

Indeed. What proponents of the enterprise zone failed miserably to explain is that the blight declaration itself is a separate animal from enterprise zone status, which must be approved by the state and is anything but assured.

The enterprise zone could go away tomorrow, but the blight decree remains. And under state law, it's a loaded weapon that can blast the lock off the Pandora's Box of eminent domain abuse.

More on last night's meeting:

"CALL ME MR. BLIGHTED": Councilman Schmidt leads charge to declare Columbia "blighted"

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 7, 2012 | 1:58 p.m.

Will the county assessor significantly reduce property taxes for all those "blighted" properties?
How do our realty brokers feel about selling homes in these "blighted" neighborhoods?
Why don't we just call our entire town blighted?
I say we place city hall under the wrath of a citizen eminent domain decree and throw all those "bloated" politicians out of office.
What an abuse of power!
Have they no shame?

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders February 7, 2012 | 2:35 p.m.

Funny how City officials look to "serve the public" by stealing property from them.

If they truly wanted an "enterprise zone" then they would stop their predatory conduct and one would occur naturally. Of course, since all of their conduct is predatory, it's never going to happen. Instead, they will destroy. All while using the current destruction as the mandate for their next scam.

Maybe... just maybe though, people are starting to realize they cannot expect criminals to proved efficient goods and services as all these "servants" can do is to first steal them from the productive people.

Honestly, every one of these people should be sent home and told to mind their own business, rather than to further undermine society with their "solutions."

One person's "blight" is another's "gold-mine."

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice February 7, 2012 | 2:39 p.m.

And once an area is "blighted", there's really no reason to invest public dollars in infrastructure until a "transformational" project is initiated. Thus, the spiral of eminent domain via intentional neglect is formally recognized, but in most cases simply continues.

By the way, the idea that census tracts are "demographically homogenous" is flat-out incorrect in a way that is hard to truly articulate without the use of unladylike language. Census geographies are "demographically" homogenous (whatever that means) ONLY in the sense of sharing a similar population count. Census tracts can range in size between 1200-8000 persons w/ a goal of 4k. Here's a link to the CB's 2010 definition:

Note it says NOTHING whatsoever about census geographies sharing homogenous demographic characteristics. I believe what you're referring to is called "redlining". If one wants to understand the demographic characteristics of small geographies like neighborhoods, census block groups and blocks are most useful in communities with a range of population density like Columbia's.

While I'm glad to see this important issue receiving coverage, it is a very complex issue. To get a grasp of the nuance and intentionality with which local and state governments can promote one type of land use over another - even when it means forcing owners off their property and changing historic patterns of land use, I encourage you to read "Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage" about Suzette Kelo v. New London. This is among a handful of land use cases that have set the stage for local gov't to work in concert with development interests to take property for private investment under the ruse of economic development and job creation.

If you would like to enhance your understanding census tools, American FactFinder, the bureau's helpdesk, and the Missouri Census Data Center have many tools available.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin February 7, 2012 | 3:05 p.m.

I'm sorry to say our elected representatives and the special interests that rule them reached a sleazy new low last night.

I felt like I had to take a bath after the proceedings, especially watching all the furtive glances and tie adjusting and nervous hands and downcast eyes, dispersing pure B.S. in disguise.

A couple of people also looked inebriated, which in the camera lights added an oily little sheen to the sleaze.

What oh what is becoming of our town?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 8, 2012 | 5:03 a.m.

First, this is a situation where a map is definitely called for. Without a map it's like a bunch of blind persons feeling a camel and debating whether it might be a horse.

Ray Shapiro asks, no doubt rhetorically, whether once included in a "blighted area" one's property will have reduced taxes. Yes, Ray, and that will happen on the same day that pigs start flying (just saw one cruise past my home office window).

PS: In the absence of a map, do any "blighted" areas include non-taxable real estate immediately south of downtown Columbia? [Sorry, the Devil made me ask that question.]

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 10, 2012 | 1:21 p.m.

Sort of feels like city council's new version of redlining.
It's my misunderstanding that the city council passed an ordinance to force all residents living within the blighted zone to wear a star on their outerwear with the letter "B."
These people will be known as residing in the Anatevka region of Columbia.
I also wonder if the neighborhoods within the blighted zone should find something deemed and valued as necessary, such as a Yokumberry tree for Yokumberry Tonic or a civil war hero statue of some notable soldier such as Jubilation T. Cornpone, aka "Wrongway Cornpone" that the gubment men and women will just go away and leave them alone.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin February 10, 2012 | 2:52 p.m.

Not sure what the call for a "map" is about. A map of the entire blighted area is included with the Council Resolution and in a story here on the Missourian. It encompasses much of the city.

(Report Comment)
The News February 14, 2012 | 11:17 p.m.
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