COLUMBIA — A report from Regional Economic Development Inc. that's intended to address the consequences of rescinding the blight decree necessary to establish an enhanced enterprise zone will be up for discussion at Monday night's meeting of the Columbia City Council.
At the council's April 2 meeting, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony proposed overturning Resolution 20-12, which the council passed Feb. 6. The resolution certified that a portion of Columbia "qualifies as a blighted area, or contains inadequacies which lead to blight."
The council on Feb. 6 also established the Enhanced Enterprise Zone Advisory Board, a group of representatives from various taxing entities appointed to advise the council as it works through the city's application for and potential creation of an enhanced enterprise zone.
After the council showed its support for the blight resolution in February, a group of concerned citizens formed Citizens Involved and Invested in Columbia, or CIVIC, a political action committee with clear objections to the enhanced enterprise zone and the required blight decree.
CIVIC members hold that the blight decree could lead to eminent domain abuse and declining property values for homes within the zone. Members also are skeptical about whether the economic benefits advertised by REDI will actually occur if the enhanced enterprise zone is established. REDI has said the zone will encourage job growth and increased development.
CIVIC members also are concerned about the legality of the blight resolution itself.
On Monday, members of CIVIC began circulating an initiative petition calling for the council to rescind the blight decree and dissolving the advisory board established by the February resolution. Using Article II, Section 15 of the City Charter, which states that the council must enact "legislative business" by ordinance rather than resolution, CIVIC said in a statement that the council's decision to act by resolution "deprived the broader public of any meaningful input in the process."
City ordinances, the statement noted, require multiple readings and opportunities for public input, while resolutions do not. Because the blight decree was the first step in a long application process, rescinding the February resolution would force the council and REDI to start over in the pursuit of an enhanced enterprise zone.
Although Cavanaugh Noce, assistant to the city counselor, could not be reached Friday for further comment on the blight resolution's legality, he said in a Missourian article earlier this week that CIVIC's argument could be "a real legal issue."
In its report to the council, REDI holds that "the process to establish an enhanced enterprise zone in Columbia has followed proper procedures and has allowed for public discussion on the proposed program." To rescind the resolution, the report said, would eliminate "all of the work and effort that has gone into this process, all of which has been done in good faith effort."
According to the report, the process is working. At the Feb. 6 council meeting, council members asked that REDI review the boundaries of the proposed zone to see whether it could be pared down in size. The Enhanced Enterprise Zone Advisory Board has been reworking the map for several weeks. At its meeting on Wednesday night, it presented new maps — a smaller version of the original and a map with two separate enhanced enterprise zones instead of one large zone.
The original map encompassed 26 census block groups that covered more than half the city and included residential areas. The smaller version of the original map that Bernie Andrews, vice president of REDI, presented at Wednesday's board meeting contained 18 census block groups; eight highly residential areas with little attraction for industrial development were removed.
The map containing two separate enhanced enterprise zones reduced the number of census block groups to 11 and excluded Stephens Lake Park from the zone.
Rosie Gerding, an advisory board member appointed by the Columbia Library Board, said two zones would give the advisory board more flexibility in determining where businesses should develop.
Andrews also guided advisory board members and a handful of residents through a PowerPoint presentation that displayed the specific locations where businesses in the zone would expand and develop. Andrews called these locations "certified sites," meaning the infrastructure necessary for manufacturing is already in place and ready for building.
Gerding said the sites seemed very attractive.
Despite these revisions, however, the final version of the map is still in the works.
"City Council will have to approve the revised (enhanced enterprise zone) map prior to submitting the application to the State Department of Economic Development," Mike Brooks, president of REDI, wrote in a report to the council.
Through an ordinance, the report notes, the council still must confirm what kinds of businesses will be eligible to receive the incentives of the enhanced enterprise zone, the level of tax abatement for those eligible businesses and the final map, once it is determined.
The original map, the report continues, "will be rescinded and replaced by the new map in the ordinance." This ordinance "will provide the opportunity for the community to respond to the map as requested."
John Clark, a Columbia citizen who attended the advisory board meeting, said he found REDI's presentation impressive. But he urged REDI to do more research on how effective enhanced enterprise zones are at creating jobs and spurring economic growth.
"The state hasn't done any real research on how effective these programs are," Clark said. "That's reason enough to go slower. We simply do not have evidence to prove that this will work."