Rebuttal to the Parkside Redevelopment Plan

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Introductory:

The Parkside Redevelopment Plan, or PRP, adopted August 16, 2011, calls for the expenditure of at least $35 million over a period of up to 20 years.

Such expenditure incurs a burden of proof on the proponents for justification. To the extent such justification is addressed, it’s done so through a document produced by the Commission which it misleading calls the “Citizen’s Master Plan,” or CMP.  (In this discussion, CMP is used interchangeably with the PRP.) We respond to excerpts to the CMP, and find that no such burden of proof has been met.

One point in particular: the CMP claims that, through Tax Increment Financing  (TIF,) part of the Plan will effectively pay for itself. We contend this claim to be unverifiable speculation, based on premises that are effectively a shell game.

We don’t deny that the County has a legitimate responsibility with respect to some elements cited in the PRP. We object, however, to the notion that it is the responsibility and competence of the County to “redevelop” some areas over others; we believe that the Commission’s responsibility is to provide a legal framework and physical infrastructure in which not the County, but  private investors can decide which areas to develop, or “redevelop” or not.

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POST SUBMISSION (July 18, 2013) NOTE: Regarding reported oral assurances by commissioners relating to further PRP expenditures, click here

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Rebuttal to Excerpts from the Citizen’s Master Plan

[also referred to as "Rebuttal to the Parkside Redevelopment Plan"]

[Excerpts are in black font; rebuttals are in blue. ]

[Material in green font is that which wasn't sent to the Commissioners in the July 18 emailing, but which has been added subsequently. PLEASE NOTE that, for purposes of petition affirmation, reading this material isn't required.]

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[Title page] Citizens’ Master Plan

 

 Objections to the title:

1- While the proponents of the PRP are “citizens,” as opponents, we are citizens also. The fact that the Commission adopted the plan does not mean that those citizens supporting it represent all citizens. It is not the “Citizens Master Plan,” but the “Proponents Master Plan.”

2- Since the Commission has adopted it and is working in partnership with the proponents; it is the “Proponents/Commission ‘s Master Plan.”

Without making any claims to who the plan represents, it is simply the “Parkside  Redevelopment Plan,” or PRP, which is how it will be referred to here.

 District Redevelopment Plan

We reject the idea that the Commission has the authority and the competence to select particular districts for “redevelopment.” We believe the responsibility of the Commission is to create a legal framework and physical infrastructure in which private parties can determine what areas to invest in or not.

 Page 1

 Key to this process was the Board’s wish to see a private/public partnership formed…

“What exactly does a “private/public partnership” here mean? Does it mean that the private parties put up the money and the public benefits? No, that’s called taxes. What it means here is that the public puts up the money for a select area – Parkside – in which in the residents of Parkside benefit. That’s not a partnership; that’s a subsidy.

 …in which the public would share in the development and implementation of the Citizen’s Master Plan.

 See discussion of section 1.2.2, below.

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1.2.1 Laying the Groundwork

In 2008, Charlotte County began rewriting its Comprehensive Plan, known as the “Smart Charlotte 2050 Plan” or “Smart Charlotte”. Smart Charlotte categorized development patterns into a prescriptive Framework,” based upon the type, format, age of neighborhood, and the percent of build-out. Through this Framework, Parkside was identified as a “Revitalizing Neighborhood.” Preliminary public meetings, stakeholder interviews and surveys performed by staff and representatives of the County’s planning consultant concluded that Parkside should be the County’s first candidate for revitalization…

Saying that Parkside will be “first” implies that the Commission will go through the same process at some time in the future to determine which district goes second, and so on.

 1.2.2 Citizen Leadership

Per the direction of the Board, staff began developing a citizen-based master plan. Staff’s role was to facilitate plan development and to ensure conformity with State statutes and the County’s Comprehensive Plan. On February 3, 2011, the first in a series of public charrettes was held to formally develop the Plan’s content. The first charrette built upon previous citizen work. Citizens formally identified opportunities and challenges within the district and laid the groundwork for development of the district’s vision. In the second meeting, occurring February 17, 2011, citizens identified specific strategies that should be implemented to eliminate the district’s challenges and to capitalize on its assets to transform the area. The final public charrette was held on March 24, 2011. In this meeting citizens reviewed their previous work and verified plan content with staff. Ideas and concepts were validated through a number of county-wide business and citizen surveys performed throughout the charrette process…

 Here are links to the Commission’s record of these deliberative proceedings:

 Parkside Planning Charette 1

Parkside Planning Charette 2

Parkside Planning Charette 3

Those readers who follow these links will find nothing of the reasoning for justification for particular renovations, but primarily pictures or drawings of them of what the citizens apparently decided upon. It is a record not of discussion, but simply conclusions.

Here is this writer’s account of one of those meetings (May 22,) in which three options regarding Harbor Boulevard and Aaron Street were addressed. Upon arrival, I was given a slip of paper about 2″ x 3″ in which I was to write my name and contact information. I was also to use it at the end of the meeting as a ballot for voting on the three options. I was also told that I could write any alternative option of my own on the slip. I was told that the outcome of this vote, involving, at this particular meeting, about two dozen citizens, would of course, be advisory only. (At a prior meeting attended by Dave, he says similar such papers (sticky notes) were (after comments were written on them) stuck on a wall.)This, presumably, is the “survey,” the “citizen input.”

Upon entering the meeting, I saw the three options displayed on posters, displayed on stands, including map areas and an itemization of it it’s elements, in three separate areas of the room. A staff member or other proponent was stationed at each of the three areas to engage in individual discussions with citizens having questions or comments. It was, in other words, at this stage, an “open house” kind of the meeting. Any citizen input was oral, made it an individual level to whomever happened to be stationed or was at the poster display.

The open house lasted for the first hour. In the second hour, there was a presentation by the staff and/or proponents, and questions and comments from  the citizens. Many of the two dozen attendees appeared to be from the Parkside area – naturally enough, since the meeting was located in Parkside, and the renovations were to be made in Parkside. Judging by the online record of prior meetings, there will be no record of the comments made at that meeting. This is the “citizen input.”

[PS -- Another account of such "input,"  not included in the email to the Commission, was provided in an email to this writer by David Kesselring:

"There was little opposition because the public didn’t really know what was going on.  By the time we did there was a meeting with about 200 people and we were told what they had planned.  There was no input allowed.  They gave us colorful sticky notes to write our comments and they stuck them up on a wall (ridiculous)  None of the citizens were allowed to speak or ask questions.  This is the meeting that Tricia Duffy touts as huge support.  Many of the folks at that meeting were dead set against it and a majority were clueless, just trying to get some info."]

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The idea that the expenditure of at least $35 million is based in significant part upon such a haphazard and unrepresentative process, we find to be absurd. The documentary record available on the Commission’s website strongly suggests that the significant input came from citizens, but rather from a April 23, 2010 report (posted 5/3/2010) to the Commission provided by AECOM, a private corporation engaged in providing the services needed for such renovation. (As such, we address excerpts from this report also, in a discussion that follows our discussion of the CMP.)

 2.1.5 District Decline

As few recognized the district’s growth to success, so, too, few noticed the area’s slow but steady decline. Decline first became evident in the residential neighborhoods. Though GDC and the Mackle  Brother’s built strong poured-concrete and cinderblock homes, most were developed in the 1960’s with what by today’s standard would be considered inadequate floor plans and out-of-date features such as louvered windows and other 1960’s-style amenities.

 And how does the CMP intend to address this?

 The Commercial district experienced its first major decline in 1989, when the new and larger Port Charlotte Town Center mall opened just north of the district, in the Murdock area. This larger mall quickly gained prominence over the Promenades. By 2011, because of the inability of the Promenades to successfully lease space, the owners divested themselves of the property. Many other businesses followed in the move to the new commercial center.

Why should the Commission be concerned about the old commercial center over the  new one? Murdock is part of Charlotte County, isn’t it?

 Changes in the medical profession had also taken place. Technology now allowed smaller medical practices to perform complex procedures that once were confined to the hospital environment. Since clinics no longer required the support of hospitals for these procedures, it was no longer necessary to locate near them.

And how will the CMP change this?

 In 2004, Hurricane Charley made landfall in Charlotte Harbor. The storm was devastating to the homes in the area not only in the destruction of rooftops, but also because storm reconstruction and lack of loan-financing regulations fueled an ever-spiraling housing boom that would later prove unsupportable. Private and public investment was directed to previously undeveloped areas of the County. Reinvestment, expansion or redevelopment of existing homes and businesses was passed over when it became easier to secure financing for new construction on raw land…

Wasn’t this the case not just with Parkside, but all of Charlotte County?

 …A ready market of laborers moved in to temporarily rent or own the existing housing stock.

 The point here is what?

 2.1.6 Mismatch – An Urban Center Configured as a Suburb

Another district challenge is its thin, suburban-style infrastructure that includes narrow and incomplete sidewalks and paths, a lack of connection between single-family residential and commercial areas, the lack of even a single gateway entry feature pointing to or identifying the district, the lack of wayfinding signs to navigate by once you are in the district, the existence of swales and rural style street lights, a lack of street trees, parks with minimal and out-of-date features, and poor pedestrian and automobile site access to businesses. It cannot be overstated that the outmoded suburban-style infrastructure, deteriorating parks, automobile-oriented residential and commercial development have contributed to the district’s decline and will remain a problem until sufficient dollars are invested in the area….

 More and more homes and businesses have been emptied. Many homes are being purchased at low prices by landlords for use as rentals (see Map 3 and Table 1). The quality of these homes is poor and the rents are so low that many rental units are barely returning enough money to pay bills, so property upkeep and improvement are not often the highest priority.

We note that while the prior section discussed the district’s problems, the solutions are addressed in the following section, and there is no attempt to tie any particular solution to any particular problem. For all that mattered to the solutions proposed, the proponents could have simply deleted the preceding section. Again, the burden of proof is on the proponents to show that their measures will solve the problem. They not only fail to do so; they make no attempt to do so.

 To conclude our response to this section, we include the following excerpt from a 2011 Lincoln Institute of Land Policy special report:

 “Many states require a finding of blight for the establishment of a TIF district. Yet, as Lefcoe has noted, truly blighted neighborhoods offer the fewest possibilities for easy increases in property value. Citing an Iowa study that found TIFs to be most successful in ‘booming suburbs and metropolitan areas,’ he commented, ‘After all, that is where costly new developments have the best chance of being financed, built, and adding greatly to the property tax rolls. . . . TIF funded redevelopment built in distressed areas would seldom boost property values enough for the project to pay its own way.’9”

 — Joan M. Youngman, “TIF at a Turning Point: Defining Debt Down”, 322.

http://heartland.org/sites/default/files/youngman_state20tax20notes20-20tif.pdf

 2.1.8 Board of County Commissioners Begins Renewal

On September 21, 2010, the Board unanimously approved the Finding of Necessity to revitalize the district (Resolution 2010-082), and in Ordinance 2010-054 the Board established the Parkside CRA. A complete description of conditions warranting the CRA are available in the Finding of Necessity Report, dated August 21, 2010, which is on file with the Clerk’s office as an attachment to the Ordinance….

Searching “Finding of Necessity Report ‘August 21, 2010’” at the Commission’s website produces no document other than the CMP.  Even if it did, we suspect it would address  one of the reasons going as to why there might not be any necessity. This issue is addressed further discussion at section 2.1.6, above.

 Charlotte County’s Board of County

Commissioners recognized the district is in a great location and has a bright future if reinvestment is made.

An “investment” occurs when someone finances a project and receives the benefit it succeeds and a loss if it does not. Since the “investment” contemplated here is one in which the County puts up the money to be spent and a portion of the County, this is not an “investment,” it is a “subsidy.” (The idea that the County will benefit from this subsidy is a separate issue, and this discussed at section 4.2.)

 2.3.2 Property Values

Property values have been in steep decline in the district. Within the last twelve months, a modest home on a canal could be purchased for as low as $19,000. A group of single family homes was sold at a price of $9,000 each.

This is anecdotal. Anecdotes don’t meet the burden of proof. Statistically, how do property declines in the district compare with those of the remaining County?

 3.2 SAFE AND ATTRACTIVE

The Plan offers a variety of strategies to improve the district’s safety and attractiveness. Though the most pressing problems in the near term are crime and property maintenance, the Plan works to change the underlying character of the district. This should [underling added] result in not only a quick fix, but also a lasting transformation.

The short-term district strategy is to enhance crime prevention and property maintenance code enforcement. The investment in new and improved infrastructure and the partnership between local residents and business owners and the County will [underlining added] result in the long-term transformation of the area. The following are the strategies intended to ensure that the district is safe and attractive.

No one can predict the future, only probabilities. The first paragraph is the more honest one.

The measures proposed seem hardly sufficient to “transform” Parkside. Upon what basis is this claim made? (The basis that it cannot be disproven?)

3.2.2 Enhance Law Enforcement

The County shall encourage the Sheriff’s office to provide a dedicated Community Oriented Police Officer who will be present full-time within the district until crime statistics are reduced to levels equivalent to the County’s best statistics; alternatively, the County may fund such a position if it chooses to do so.

The area is experiencing a crime rate that is higher than most of the County. It is believed that the district would benefit by having a visible, fulltime police presence. That perceived benefit would be that a district officer would be able to…

The level of law enforcement presence should be determined by the incidence of crime, and that alone.  If an area has a high incidence of crime, that alone would justify greater police presence. To provide a presence beyond that, based, presumably, on future anticipated higher tax revenues, is to base police presence on tax revenues paid by an area, and not by incidence of crime.

3.2.3 Enhance Code Enforcement

The County shall establish a program that provides proactive property maintenance enforcement within the district so that the violations district-wide are reduced to levels equivalent with the County’s best neighborhoods.

Shouldn’t it be reduced to that level in any case? Is a redevelopment plan necessary to achieve this?

3.2.4 Enhance Law Enforcement and Property Maintenance Regulations

The district shall serve as a model and test location for community policing, code enforcement, and other innovative practices. The County, working with its staff, Sheriff and other agency representatives, citizens and business owners/operators shall review property maintenance and County criminal code regulations to determine if these regulations should be enhanced for the district. The County shall consider adopting improvements that they determine appropriate and may also consider hiring a special magistrate to remedy property maintenance case backlog, if a significant backlogs develops.

 A special magistrate simply for Parkside cases?

3.2.5 Implement Neighborhood Watch Program

The County, in cooperation with the County Sheriff’s Office, shall help facilitate district Neighborhood Watch (see Map 9).

And the County will not facilitate neighborhood watches in other districts?

3.2.6 Implement Business Watch Program

The County, in cooperation with the County Sheriff’s Office, shall help facilitate district Business Watch (see Map 9).

                Ditto to prior response.

3.2.7 Implement Park Watch Program

The County, in cooperation with the County Sheriff’s Office, shall help facilitate a district Park Watch Program to promote “eyes on parks.”

                Ditto.

3.3.6 Consider Dedicating Park in Memory of “Younique” Miller

The County shall consider naming one of its district parks “Younique” and consider representing his art in that park or in another area in the district.

Younique Miller was one of many students from the Charlotte County Public School system who participated in the district Art Contest. Students were asked to draw their vision for the district. Younique drew a picture of a fountain in his district Vision. Tragically, Younique died after being struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle in a parking lot five days before CITIZENS’ MASTER PLAN the pictures were presented to the public. The County benefits when it engages the imaginations of its citizens – both young and old.

It is very regrettable when anyone is wrongfully killed. Regrettable as it is, however, it has no place in an argument for treating Parkside differently from the rest of Charlotte County.

4.2 DESCRIPTION OF TAX INCREMENT FINANCING

In 1977, the Florida Legislature authorized the use of Tax Increment Financing as a method to pay for redevelopment within CRAs. The regulation is §163.387, Florida Statutes.

TIF is a tool that uses future tax revenues generated in excess of the base tax existing at the time the TIF is formed to fund district improvements. The assumption is that, as public projects within the district…  are completed, there will be an increase in the value of surrounding real estate. New investments (e.g., new and rehabilitated buildings) are also expected to have this effect on property valuations. The increased site values and investments generate increased tax revenues, known as the “tax increment” (see Figure 14).

Tax Increment Financing dedicates that CRA’s tax increment generated within the district back into the area to help pay for Plan improvements. Without these revenues, full implementation of the Citizens’ Master Plan might not be possible.

TIF is a process that originated in California some decades ago; after utilizing it extensively, the governor and state legislature has halted the practice. While we do not know the specific reasons for doing so, we suspect they fall along the following lines:

1 – If there is an increasing property values, there is no way of proving that they would be attributable to TIF. To cite the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy:

“The inability to predict what would happen in the absence of TIF undermines its theoretical basis as a self-financing device that does not raise taxes. The assumption that tax base growth is caused by TIF justifies earmarking the tax base increment to pay for that development, and lies behind the claim that TIF allows new spending with no tax increase. But it is extremely difficult to prove a specific cause for any change in property value.” —  2011 special report,323.

 

2 – TIF is more about public relations than it is about financing.  Supposedly, under it, revenues that result from increased property valuations are earmarked toward paying off bond issues that were created to finance the renovations that made the increased valuations possible.

Got that? The only question is, what if there was no such earmarking at all? What if the county simply issued a bond and used general tax revenues from the County to retire it? The answer is, since the county still has to cover its expenses, including the expense of paying off the bond in any case, there would be no difference.

So what then is the purpose of earmarking some of its revenues for a specific purpose? It is simply to create the illusion that somehow the Parkside residents are not receiving any preferential treatment, but are paying for the renovations made in Parkside. But, of course, since those payments reduce the amount that they contribute to the general County expenses, this is false. TIF, to put it in simple terms, is a PR shell game.

PS: This is illustrated with several simple diagrams at  http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=7216#more-7216

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3 – Of course, if TIF enables Parkside valuations to rise in any case, doesn’t the County still benefit, if only indirectly? That depends on whether or not there is countervailing effect in the rest of the county. TIF does address this; it simply assumes there won’t be. But, to the extent evidence on this is available, it isn’t supported by it:

“We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF.”

–  2006 study

“A plethora of economic studies have reached no consensus as to the effect of TIF on economic growth. That is unsurprising, given the enormous variety of circumstances, regions, and types of projects at issue. Some studies have even found negative effects for TIF designation.” – 2011 special report, 323.

(A list of further criticisms of TIF can be found at the Wikipedia article for Tax Increment Financing. For a deeper analysis, several articles on TIF are linked at

http://heartland.org/policy-documents/research-commentary-tax-increment-financing.)

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4 – As the County expends resources trying to determine which district needed assistance and which do not, it complicates the process of governing. With greater complication comes greater expense, greater opportunity for malfeasance, and greater possibility for conflict and animosity within the County. [Post Submission: the foregoing point has been illustrated by the filing of two ethics complaints against a commissioner,]

Rather than TIF, we propose KISS. (Keep It Simple Stupid.)

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4.3 TIMING OF DEVELOPMENT

[At this section, a chart appears showing the scheduled expenditures over time. Those expenditures, for the first 5 years, are stated to be $2.2 million.]

The plan was adopted August 16, 2011. 5 months later, the Commission” infused” $9 million.

As noted in the 2011 LILP special report:

“Debt finance has an important place in funding long-term capital projects. However, the TIF experience gives dramatic evidence that the ability to spend against future revenue for unspecified purposes with little oversight presents opportunities for excessive borrowing. 328