Friday, April 18, 2014

Why the CRA is important...

This letter to the editor appeared in today's print edition of the Palm Beach Post. It gets tiring to read the same lame arguments from people who would rather see Lake Worth stay in the economic backwater and dependent on its residential tax base to support the general fund.

First of all, the city's consultant was not "misdirected." Being the savvy citizen that he is, surely Mr. McNamara realizes that the city has a new set of Land Development Regulations that align with our recently adopted Comprehensive Plan. For eight long years, a long part of which Mr. McNamara sat on the Planning and Zoning Board, the city had an ambiguous set of land development regulations that pointed development elsewhere in Palm Beach County where the process was seen as more predictable and expectations were clearer than they were here in Lake Worth. This apparently suited some folks just fine as it was a de facto moratorium on development. From 2007 to 2012, there was no new commercial construction in Lake Worth. It wasn't until Mr. McNamara was off the Planning and Zoning Board that we were finally able to put regulations on the books that were clear, concise and responded to public concerns about how much and what kind of redevelopment was appropriate and where. The consultant was hired to demonstrate how you could come to Lake Worth and secure your approvals.

Here is slide #43 from that presentation that proclaims just that:
Later on in the presentation, this slide tells the world that you can get through the development review process in 90 days, which is much faster than other municipalities and unincorporated areas in Palm Beach County.
And another slide showed how Lake Worth has the lowest application review fees in Palm Beach County.
So, the most important charge given the consultant was to show that Lake Worth was open for business and ready for more private investment.

As far as the six prototype redevelopment sites, Mr. McNamara is correct that five of the six of them were within the CRA district. The only one that was outside the CRA was the transit (not "transient" as misidentified by the other blogger) oriented development project around the Tri-Rail station, west of I - 95. But the letter exposes Mr. McNamara's unwillingness to understand why the CRA exists in the first place.

First, let's look at the boundaries of CRA in Lake Worth.
The red line on the above map shows the boundaries of the CRA. It includes properties that front on the city's commercial corridors, downtown and some residential areas west of Dixie Hwy. These are long-standing boundaries. When the CRA was formed, under a state statute where it calls for CRAs to eliminate "slum and blight," its base property tax value was locked in and it was able to capture any tax increase over the base in order to achieve its purpose set out in the statute. Since that time, the CRA has been able to utilize that money to fund public INFRASTRUCTURE projects within the district. You can read about all the successful projects the CRA has undertaken here.

Having a CRA in place will allow "the financial burden of infrastructure and concurrency" to not come from the general fund, as claimed in Mr. McNamara's letter, but it would come from public improvement projects funded by new revenue captured from the development that the new infrastructure would support. That same infrastructure is also relied on by residents as they go up and down Dixie Hwy. turn on their water faucet or other public utility. In short, the CRA exists so that the burden of redevelopment is not on the general fund.

There are other benefits from redevelopment unrelated to the new taxes generated by a project. These include additional local jobs, retail stores that presently are not in Lake Worth that require us to get in our cars rather bike or walk to them if they were in the city, better use of resources like turning to face (rather than back-up to) the C-51 canal to take advantage of new "waterfront" property and more. Eventually, the success of the CRA will culminate when it fulfills its purpose, all the creditors are paid and property can return to the regular tax rolls and the city will then enjoy all the tax revenue produced by these projects - and deposit that revenue directly into the general fund. New redevelopment projects would also increase the number of utility customers - something that provides 2/3 of our operating budget now. Doing so would shift the tax burden more towards commercial properties and lessen the burden on non-homesteaded and higher value residential properties.

All that being said, there are significant parts of the city that are outside the limits of the CRA where redevelopment could immediately benefit the general fund. Chief among these are vacant properties along South Federal Hwy. These are larger properties that would not require assembly of ownership of some of the other prototype sites included in the presentation and are not contributing to the tax base in any meaningful way. Their vacant condition is also a blighting influence. If there was a weakness in this presentation, it was not including a potential redevelopment site in this part of the city.

I'll be picking out more parts of the presentation and talking about them here over the coming weeks.

Added later: Don't forget that part of the CRA tax capture includes the millage that Palm Beach County government levies to all municipalities. Without the existence of the CRA, that money would not stay in Lake Worth.