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GEORGE KENNEDY: In the wake of TIF rejection, city officials weigh the next move

Thursday, February 20, 2014 | 7:09 p.m. CST

Just a month ago, after listening as Mike Matthes briefed his City Council bosses on his plan to finance downtown infrastructure improvements with tax-increment financing, I wrote in praise of his political skills.

Monday night he (and we) learned that, like a Democrat in the Missouri legislature, he didn’t have the votes.

I gave Mike and his right-hand man, Tony St. Romaine, a day to lick their wounds before bothering them with two questions: Was the council rejection a surprise? What now?

Separately, they agreed that the 5-2 vote against pursuing TIF found them, in Mike’s words, “not overwhelmingly surprised.” Both noted that several council members — most vociferously Karl Skala, but also Ian Thomas and Barbara Hoppe — had publicly expressed doubts if not outright opposition.

I was surprised that only Michael Trapp joined Mayor Bob McDavid in supporting the proposal. In retrospect, I overestimated the appeal of a device that would have used the increased tax revenue from new development to pay for the necessary sewer, water and electricity upgrades and underestimated the influence of a strongly negative reaction from the vocal segment of the public.

Council members’ objections ranged from the recurring question of whether developers are paying their fair share of the costs they impose on the existing community to problems of process, especially what Ian Thomas and others saw as a lack of public involvement.

As Andrew Brown reported in Thursday’s Missourian, alternatives to TIF are already being floated. All would take a piecemeal approach to addressing the array of immediate needs. All present problems of their own. None is likely to be implemented as quickly as the TIF would have been.

Robert Hollis, an attorney who represents several developers with plans on hold, told the council Monday that he and his clients are agnostic as to TIF. They just want the capacity problem solved quickly.

He made no threats of withdrawal, but Mike Matthes told me Wednesday that he heard from the three biggest developers before Monday’s meeting that unless a solution was agreed to, they would pull out.

After Ian and I missed connections by phone, he sent me a pair of statements that outline both his objections to TIF and his proposal for moving ahead. It’s the most detailed I’ve seen.

He wants to move quickly to implement three strategies endorsed in the city’s most recent comprehensive plan: neighborhood planning, a change from the current anything-goes zoning downtown and creation of a plan for “fiscally sustainable growth.”

He also proposes creation of a “Downtown Infrastructure Capacity Deficit Task Force,” including city staff, developers and council members, to fill what he and others see as a deficit of hard information and to devise a better plan.

There’s a kind of irony in the current stalemate. A year ago, her colleagues refused to go along with Barbara Hoppe’s attempt to impose a six-month moratorium on downtown development.

By their action Monday night, they pretty well guaranteed that the de facto moratorium now in effect won’t be lifted soon. Ian’s proposal, which I’m sure will be one of many, envisions a timeline of six to nine months for implementation.

A guy with ties to the developers suggested to me another complication. Several influential owners of downtown property already occupied are quietly lobbying to delay or prevent the approval of more competition, he said.

Reflecting, at my request, on Monday night’s defeat, Mike Matthes was philosophical. He didn’t take it personally, he said, adding, “In a way, the outcome highlights our form of government.”

I thought I detected a note of insincerity, but that may have been my imagination.

In any case, he said, “We won’t cry in our beer too long. We’ll get started looking for those alternatives.”

Of course, the alternatives suggested by council members so far — drawing down cash reserves, delaying projects promised in last fall’s sewer bond issue, raising impact fees, taking another bond issue to the voters — appear to be the very ones he and the mayor have already studied and found inadequate.

I’m reminded of the curse variously attributed to the Irish and the Chinese: “May you live in interesting times.”

After this week, interesting times are surely upon us.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. He writes a weekly column for the Missourian.


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Comments

Bill Weitkemper February 20, 2014 | 10:40 p.m.

Mr. Matthes and Mr. Glascock propose to accommodate new downtown development by constructing a $6.75 million Flat Branch Relief Sewer.

This is a mistake that will result in significantly more overflows at the “bottleneck”. The “bottleneck” is where the Flat Branch Trunk Sewer, the Lower Hinkson Creek Outfall Sewer and the Upper Hinkson Creek Outfall Sewer connect (just east of the MKT Trail south of the University golf course). In FY13 26% of the 169 sanitary sewer overflows (SSO’s) the city reported to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) occurred at the “bottleneck”. Frequently there can be as many as thirteen manholes overflowing simultaneously at the “bottleneck”. The volume of sewage overflowing at the “bottleneck” frequently exceeds several million gallons a day and the duration of each overflow frequently lasts for several days. Should a relief sewer also be constructed from the “bottleneck” to the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP)?

The situation doesn’t get much better at the WWTP. 23% of the SSO’s the city reported to MDNR in FY 13 occurred within sight of the WWTP. Should the capacity of the WWTP be expanded, again?

The answer to all of the above questions is no. The problem is not sewer capacity that can be addressed by constructing bigger sewers. The problem is excessive I/I that will only be addressed by the city taking over responsibility for all service connections and the lower portion of every service lateral - from the sewer main to the edge of the R/W or easement. The city ignored I/I for decades, it may take decades to fix all the problems causing excessive I/I.

(Report Comment)
Karl Skala February 21, 2014 | 4:34 p.m.

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Mr. Kennedy,
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I do not favor the establishment of another Infrastructure Task Force. We must take advantage of this window of opportunity, and the amount of time it would take to educate the members of the task force with a comprehensive infrastructure review would greatly exceed that window. I believe it is incumbent on the Council and Staff to assess and determine potential solutions (i.e., as described under Policy One (below) in order to effectively address the downtown infrastructure exigency in a timely manner.

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My thoughts on solutions to the downtown infrastructure exigency are also appended below ...

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From: "Columbia Imagined" Comprehensive Plan Implementation Table p. 145

HIGH Public Prioritization for Land Use and Growth Management
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Policy One - Plan for fiscally sustainable growth:

"New Development will pay a fair allocation of infrastructure costs" -- to be determined by consideration of the pending staff request for more information and cost benefit-analyses regarding the downtown infrastructure exigencies (that must include a review of our assets, asset deficits, and projected needs, short and long term, as they relate to all downtown infrastructure, i.e., sewer, electric, water, storm water, parking, police & fire) and then, and only then, determination of potential solutions or combinations of solutions including 1.) development impact fees; 2.) development dependent/user-based fees (based upon the road infrastructure trip generation model proposed by the Infrastructure Task Force in it’s Minority Report of June, 27, 2011); 3.) conventional tax increase and bonding options; & 4.) sewer bond project deferral of the Midway Sewer Extension and/or Hinkson Sewer Extension project projects in light of passage of Comp Plan “Urban Service Area” guidelines).
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Policy Three - Prioritize infill development:

"Develop specific development guidelines and standards that address common concerns related to impacts of infill development, particularly in relation to existing residential neighborhoods” -- including first, a review of recommendations and a determination of policy regarding a C-2 Zoning Overlay (especially as it relates to high density residential development, but also including downtown neighborhood planning) and then, and only then, a downtown form-based code development and general neighborhood planning model as secondary priorities for Clarion’s efforts to recommend comprehensive zoning and subdivision revisions.
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Best Regards, Karl
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(Report Comment)

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