AVON PARK – Avon Park’s effort to expand the reach of one of its economic development strategies and make it official has been put on hold.
At the City Council regular meeting Monday, the council decided to table a final vote on adopting Resolution 14-07, the Main Street Redevelopment Area (CRA), so a workshop could be held to allow those with concerns about being included in the CRA to be heard, particularly relating to the concerns of city code condemnation of land.
The public workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m., July 22, at the city council chambers.
Generally, community redevelopment is an economic development strategy which many local governments are currently using successfully to eliminate and prevent conditions of “slum and blight” in their communities. Some projects, such as infrastructure improvements - streets, parks and community centers, utilities - are generally publicly funded, while others are public-private ventures.
Although it is not a taxing authority itself, the Avon Park CRA works through Florida statutes to receive Tax Increment Revenues generated by properties in the Redevelopment Area. Revenues are used to fund the various projects and activities identified in the Redevelopment Plan or related to reaching the plan’s goals and objectives.
The three Avon Park CRAs - Main Street, Southside and Airport - recoup in special funding some of Highlands County and city taxes paid by residents who live within the CRA boundaries, said Avon Park City Manager Julian Deleon.
One of the reasons a vote was tabled and the workshop was scheduled was due to the presence of an attorney representing clients concerned about their homes or businesses being absorbed into the expanded Main Street CRA district.
Attorney Peter van den Boom, with Frost Van den Boom law offices, Bartow, is representing Councilman Garrett Anderson, his father, James, mother, Sherrie, sister, Brittany McGuire and Parkview Pre-K school, who he said are concerned if the CRA is expanded, their properties might fall into “slum and blight” areas, in turn, decreasing property values.
Van den Boom said their main concern is the school, 107 A. Miracle Ave., would be situated in a slum and blight area. He said they didn’t want the city taking property through eminent domain, then have a developer redevelop the area using CRA grant money and that tabling the resolution was “the best thing to do.”
“You can’t throw in areas that aren’t slum and blight in order to get to the areas that are slum and blight,” he said at the meeting. “How can you make the findings of ‘slum and blight’ when it’s simply not present?”
Avon Park City Attorney Gerald Buhr said city council proceedings are “not the same standards as a court of law” and it’s strictly a legislative decision whether to approve the expansions. He said Van Den Boon’s cases are “just not going to pan out.”
Bob Franke, representing James LaRue, president of LaRue Planning & Management Services Inc, of Fort Myers who compiled and wrote the 79-page Avon Park Main Street Redevelopment Area Expansion draft report, said the majority of the expansions are in “brownfield’ areas - abandoned, vacant or under-used industrial and commercial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by possible environmental contamination.
Franke said “carving out” areas could be done, but it’s up to the city council to determine boundaries and said to pick up blighted areas make the “entire process unmanageable.”
“He (Van Den Boom) characterized the activity as diminishing the property values; not true, studies have shown a CRA doesn’t mean values have gone down,” said Franke, a LaRue associate and co-owner of Plantation-based Urban Visions, a redevelopment planning services company. “This is not unusual. Anytime someone talks about a redevelopment area and property values going down is because they don’t understand the mechanisms for a redevelopment area.”
Council discussed some of the improvements to the city brought about through the CRA districts and Deleon stressed CRA funds could help fund infrastructure. He cited how the Main Street CRA has rehabilitated damaged sidewalks along South And North Lake and added decorative street lighting. He said Donaldson Park has benefitted from an eight-feet wide perimeter sidewalk used for exercising and recreation.
Deleon said neither the city nor CRA has taken over any property through condemnation.
“I don’t understand the rationale or reasoning of not wanting to be in a CRA district,” he said. “It benefits the community through upgrading infrastructure that’s outdated, improvements to lighting and for businesses to improve their exterior appearances,” said Deleon.
The LaRue report concluded the CRA expansion study areas have conditions of “slum and blight,” so the study area meets statutory requirements showing the current redevelopment area can be “created or expanded,”
In other city council action, the city added another 22.5 acres to its limits of undeveloped land on the south shore of Lake Glenada. Although vacant, the property has more than 1,000 feet of lake front area. Within the next year, Deleon said the city will put in water and sewer lines to provide infrastructure for possible development. The proposed facilities would also bring redundancy throughout the utility system by providing “looping” of the network and alternate service paths during outages for repairs or maintenance.