Urban renewal: Stayton councilors to vote on downtown revitalization

December, 2009 Posted in News

By Mary Owen

To review the plan
Visit the city’s Web site at www.staytonoregon.gov
City Planner Dan Fleishman can
be reached at 503-769-2998

City councilors nixed voter-approval of an urban renewal district designed to improve downtown Stayton and surrounding neighborhoods.

The proposed plan, which establishes a financing mechanism for carrying out the policies of the city’s Downtown Transportation and Revitalization Plan, squeaked by 3-2 at last month’s city council meeting.
The Urban Renewal District will get a final vote at the Dec. 7 council meeting, and city officials say they anticipate a similar tally.

“I expect there will be another 3-2 vote and the ordinance will be enacted,” said City Planner Dan Fleishman.

“The ordinance becomes effective 30 days later, unless someone gathers enough signatures to refer the ordinance to the voters.”

Most of those speaking out at the council meeting echoed their feelings from a July 20 public hearing that drew mixed reviews. At that time, the plan was tabled until November.

“Since then, staff made an effort to provide some outreach and education,” Fleishman said. “I spoke at Rotary, Chamber, Lions and Kiwanis. It was also one of the topics discussed at the city council town hall forum last month.”

Fleishman believes having urban renewal available will allow the city to stimulate private investment in the downtown area and improve the residential neighborhoods in the areas surrounding Stayton’s core.

“The city’s participation in these improvements would not be possible otherwise without either increasing sewer and water rates or establishing higher property taxes,” he said.

“Though 20 years is a long time, 10 to 15 years following the end of the UR, the city and the other taxing jurisdictions will see positive returns on their investments and new tax revenues that would not exist if it were not for the investments made through urban renewal.”

Mayor Gerry Aboud cited a “yes” vote on the issue to be “extremely important to the long-term health and vitality of the entire city of Stayton. The Urban Renewal District is going to be the catalyst to rejuvenating a deteriorating city.”

Aboud said the city needs to begin working on projects in the old section of Stayton as well as citywide, and not wait for urban renewal funds.

“It will take from five to seven years before we receive enough District funds to begin projects, so it’s important we begin now with small projects so we are prepared for larger projects in the future,” he said.

“Many other cities such as Woodburn, Salem and Independence have shown how even small districts can accomplish a lot toward improving livability standards.”

Councilor Don Walters said he is trying to take the “long viewpoint.”

“If we have urban renewal, the downtown will very probably look totally different than it would if we do nothing,” Walters said. “Do nothing and I’m afraid that in 20 years downtown will be vacant lots and boarded-up buildings. How much tax revenue do vacant lots and boarded-up buildings pay?”

With urban development, Walters predicts a vibrant downtown with new and renovated buildings, small artist shops and cafes, apartments above offices, broad sidewalks, and nice streets “with adequate upgraded services buried in their depths.”

“Nothing is done without a gamble, and it may be that our urban renewal could be one of the tiny minorities of urban renewals that doesn’t work,” he said. “But that chance is very small, and even if it works poorly, we’ll end up with a better downtown than we have now.”

Councilors James Loftus and Steve Frank, however, still want to see the issue go before Stayton voters.

“I want to see downtown revitalized, but not in this way,” Loftus said. “I’m disappointed that it didn’t go to the voters. I’m glad we have the opportunity to do some type of improvement to downtown, but I’m concerned there is no real plan or any discussion throughout the creation of the plan about development.”

Loftus added he is concerned about how money will be spent.

“It’s not going to impact me – or downtown for the next 10 to 12 years,” he said. “We’re almost in the identical situation Albany, Ore. was in the early ’80s when the housing market went upside down. We’re banking on housing and commercial enterprises of downtown that might not be realized.”

Loftus wants the city to seek the advice of a developer and look at urban renewal successes and failures in other cities before moving forward. He believes as written, the plan will “crush this town to grow in a smart way.”

“What they’re doing is shifting responsibility and liability from at-large government to the homeowner,” he said. “I’m for limited government. We don’t need the government to bail us out. If anything, prevent us from doing the things we need to do to revitalize downtown.”

According to Fleishman, if the plan is enacted in the next round, its effective date will be after Jan. 1 and the Urban Renewal Agency will not begin to collect revenue until November 2011, for the fiscal year 2011-12.

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