Dear Mayor Meeker & Raleigh City Councilors: You'll be pleased to learn that I am contemplating a great improvement of our property at 202 E. Park Drive, which as you know is in a strategically important location for Raleigh's growth, very close to a future transit line if y'all ever put one on Hillsborough Street. I cannot achieve my vision, however, without your help.
No, I'm not asking for a parking deck (lol). But our garage is pretty dilapidated. So, before I can proceed with a fabulous addition to our house, I'll need to replace the old barn with a modern structure spacious enough to accommodate at least five large vehicles. And that's where you come in.
If you will provide me with tax-increment financing (TIF) for the new garage, my wife and I will do the rest, and our modest bungalow will be transformed into a honkin' fine residence that will be worth way more than it is now--and whoever buys it from us (because we won't be able to afford it) will pay way more in property taxes to our fair city.
Your modest investment in five much-needed downtown parking spaces, in other words, will be amply rewarded over time by the greatly increased value of our soon-to-be former home.
I know the logic of this will appeal to at least some of you, given your apparent willingness to entertain John Kane's very similar proposition for North Hills East. Since I noted in this space a few weeks ago Kane's intention to ask the city for $75 million for his parking decks, he's gone public with the scheme and received quite a respectful audience for it, indeed, from our developer-friendly council majority, not to mention our developer-friendly daily newspaper.
Kane says, give me $75 million now, and I'll give you a project that's worth $500 million in additional property taxes--added up over 50 years.
Even those of you who, like Mayor Meeker and City Manager Russell Allen, are a bit dubious about using the TIF approach for Kane's benefit sound wide open to the idea of using COPs (certificates of participation), which pretty much amounts to the same thing, doesn't it?
I mean, TIFs or COPs, either way it's the taxpayers financing the decks--in Kane's case, 5,500 parking spaces, in my case, five spaces--and then we both can go ahead and build those pricey projects that we just could not afford to undertake without a public handout, er, incentive.
The similarities don't end there, of course. Kane's project is out on the Beltline and Six Forks Road, where a future transit route isn't planned. And my project is also on a transit route that isn't currently planned either--but could be.
As for including affordable housing, Kane says he might ("various residential units will be targeted at a variety of income levels"--you can't get more specific than that, right?). Waiters should be able to walk to work at his North Hills establishments, Kane explains.
And I might, too. In fact, I'm hoping to build a couple of affordable (for wait staff) rental units above my honkin' new garage (which is why I need the five parking spaces).
Kane lists "open space" as a public benefit--eight of his 45 acres will be "open," he says, at least in the sense that he isn't putting a building on them. Well, half of my quarter-acre lot will be open as well, even after our big addition and the huge garage.
Here's an idea. Kane wants the taxpayers to put up, what, about 15 percent of the cost of his project? (I'm guessing now, because he doesn't talk about the cost, only the eventual assessed value.) Can the taxpayers get a look at his business plan? And be cut in for 15 percent (or whatever the right number is) of his profits?
Or, in the alternative, that was a good question Councilor Russ Stephenson asked on Tuesday. Why not put this bond issue to a public vote? As City Attorney Tom McCormick points out, the real debate here isn't TIFs or COPs, it's whether the public should build parking decks for developers in the first place, and if so, where? And in return for what public benefits?
And, Councilor Jessie Taliaferro's cheerleading for Kane notwithstanding, the right comparison tax-wise isn't the value of the North Hills East tract now, in the moribund state Kane's got it, versus the bonanza of development he promises if he's subsidized. It is, rather, as Meeker expressed it: What could a "reasonable developer" put on the site, sans subsidy, and what would that be worth, versus Kane's plan with a subsidy?
Which begs the question, is it really a good idea to ring the Beltline--not to mention lining Six Forks Road--with 20- and 25-story buildings and up? Maybe, but I'd think the answer is no, unless the city starts today to execute a transit plan to support them. And how much will that cost?
(And when, if ever, will it happen? Because it's not happening now.)
Otherwise, we're looking at some seriously clogged roads.
And if, at the end of the day, it is a good idea to subsidize a honkin' big development at North Hills East, or at my house, the cheapest way of doing it isn't TIFs or COPs, it's general obligation bonds, which require the approval of the voters.
A year ago, Raleigh voters approved $60 million for road improvements spread throughout the city. Maybe, as Stephenson said Tuesday without any hint of a smile, they'll also approve $75 million for parking decks in a single location, if Kane can persuade them it's in the public interest.
Mulder v. Taliaferro?
Goodness, was Bob Mulder, the former planning commission chair, who was lauded here a few weeks back as one of Raleigh's top "citizens," firing the first shots of a 2007 campaign the other day when he blasted Taliaferro for being "grossly unfair" to him and his fellow Northeast Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) volunteers?
If not--and Mulder says he's not a candidate--it sure sounded that way. Long story short (and to be continued, no doubt), Taliaferro told a reporter for The News & Observer about "complaints" she's heard regarding "the efficiency and effectiveness" of the CACs, and in particular the Northeast CAC, which Mulder chairs.
Well, Mulder shot back in a memo to the City Council and a letter to the N&O both, he's heard Taliaferro say that before, and asked her to tell him what the complaints are and who's making them. She hasn't done so, beyond complaining that the newsletter is no good and the meeting location not central to the NE district.
Neither of those is under his control, Mulder notes. The city's Community Services department does the newsletter and it picks the locations.
"I believe it is grossly unfair to tell a group of dedicated volunteers that someone has been complaining about them, and then not clarify the substance of those complaints," Mulder wrote. It borders, he added, on "defamation."
Soon, Mulder was also blasting the council's decision, by a 5-3 vote with Taliaferro in the majority, to weaken the city's Probationary Rental Occupancy Permit ordinance, known as the PROP.
The PROP was passed a year ago as a way of cracking down, if a bit lightly, on slumlords. Neighborhood leaders have been surprised how well it was working. So they were stunned when the council voted to amend it and water it down even more.
And then Mulder, seeing Taliaferro moving in the direction of backing Kane's $75 million subsidy bid, wrote a note to council calling the "whole proposition simply more corporate welfare."
Mulder lives in District B. Taliaferro represents District B. Stay tuned.
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