Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Urban Renewal Shelved

Posted By on Wed, Mar 17, 2010 at 12:33 PM

Just this morning, at 9 a.m., the House Revenue and Taxation Committee opened up debate on House Bill 672, the first overhaul of urban renewal statutes since the '60s. If you're not on the up and up about urban renewal, check this week's coverage.

Unda' the Rotunda caught up with Phil Kushlan, executive director at Boise's urban renewal agency (URA), the Capitol City Development Corporation. The CCDC worked closely with the Urban Renewal Subcommittee, which penned a bill of its own.

"That’s the current conversation we’re having over there, we kinda agreed that the rule book we’re playing with hadn’t been updated since 1965," said Kushlan. "There were some changes proposed to modernize the issue."

Rep. Phil Hart of Athol pushed several bills that sought to bring the public into the process, providing for elections of the commissioners on URA boards. However, his provisions didn't make it into the final draft brought by the subcommittee, a la 672.

A dozen people, most of them attorneys, showed up to testify this morning, including Larry Helzel of the Sun Valley City Council, and Jack Sibbach of Sun Valley Corp. The two separately expressed concern about the language of the bill, citing the need for a tax increment financing structure at Bald Mountain.

Rep. Scott Bedke queried Sibbach: "Where's the blight there?" referring to the the reason urban renewal came about in the first place: to refresh blighted areas.

"It's a gravel parking area," responded Sibbach.

Helzel spoke at length about the provision of the bill which stops Urban Renewal districts from expanding. Helzel hopes to utilize Ketchum's existing urban renewal district, annexing the proposed resort location in order to fund the project.

"Please eliminate the restrictive language," said Helzel. He also said:

"It's all about jobs. Ours is a resort-based economy, in an increasingly complex market. New development means more population. 672 exacerbates our problem."

Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman also showed up to testify, citing her residence as 200 W. Front St., which lies within the CCDC's Revenue Allocation area, (a quick Google Maps search shows that's really the Ada County Courthouse where she works.)

Ullman expressed, "great concern about urban renewal agencies, and urban renewal agencies run amok."

Ullman then moved to the "streetcar to nowhere," as she called it, referring to Boise's streetcar debate. Funding for the streetcar had been proposed through a Local Improvement District option, as opposed to urban renewal. [UPDATE: Ullman called to clarify that her point to the committee was that CCDC is in fact involved in Boise's streetcar and has pledged significant funds toward the project.]

Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, who introduced himself to the committee as a lobbyist-who-doesn't-lobby, testified, stating:

"If you're looking to limit government, this does not get there."

Ultimately, Committee Chairman Rep. Denis Lake of Blackfoot decided to hold the bill in committee, subject to call of the chair, suggesting the committee review the issues brought up. [UPDATE 2: Bedke tells citydesk that the bill is not going to be revived this session.]

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