Thursday August 20, 2015
South Burlington residents have been hearing about City Center and awaiting their own downtown for decades. However, over the past couple of years there has been concrete movement toward the realization of this goal, which has included visioning, policy work and public outreach efforts by the city to keep residents informed and engaged in the process. Walks through proposed city parkland and marketplace thoroughfares have occurred along with information sessions and public work conversations with consultants to ascertain what people want to see in their downtown. Dreaming big has been encouraged and after the city received an official Tax Increment Finance (TIF) designation, these dreams began to move closer to reality.
In July 2013, the Vermont Economic Progress Council (VEPC) unanimously approved the city’s plan to use tax increment financing to build City Center as a public-private partnership. The TIF District plan clears the path to allow the city to retain 75 percent of the property tax revenue from new development in the district, and use that to repay debt incurred from the public investment. Seventy-five percent of the statewide education property tax will go toward the debt as well. This does not affect the tax rate.
City council will determine which projects to put forward in order to request debt and TIF District financing authorization, and residents could be considering a vote as early as this fall to prioritize and approve the public projects for City Center. Since debt must be incurred for TIF District projects by March 2017, it is necessary to get assurances that the public is behind certain projects, according to Ilona Blanchard, the city’s project director.
Blanchard presented the first reading of the TIF policy to the council at their August 3 meeting, and provided a staff recommendation on a possible ballot item authorizing public projects in the TIF District.
The projects Blanchard suggested for the initial vote include: Market Street, the building for a new community library, and phase I of Dumont Park. Combined, the estimated debt would be $15,402,608. The TIF District financing portion would be $7,720,892, the city portion of the library would be $4,389,552, and the capital campaign portion of the library would be $3,292,164. The library costs combined total $10,973,880.
The smaller projects are being proposed to start since they allow for very little exposure to the city, but the list of potential projects remains large. The Market Street, Community Library and Dumont Park projects were chosen to advance from among 11 projects initially approved in the TIF District plan. “We want it to be the best downtown that private development can support,” Blanchard said.
The TIF policy draft language summarizes the tax increment financing to get people up to speed, and is publicly available for review. The introduction states that, “The City Tax Increment Financing District was approved by the City of South Burlington and the State of Vermont to support development that would not otherwise occur but for public investment. The intention is to support a new urban land development market that results in a South Burlington downtown. The TIF District Plan includes public projects that directly benefit private development in order to remove financial barriers to the development of a downtown for South Burlington. This draft policy outlines the criteria by which projects will be considered eligible for City partnerships to directly benefit from South Burlington TIF District financing.”
In her August 3 presentation, Blanchard explained that development proposals supported by public investment are expected to meet not just the development standards as outlined by the city adopted land development regulations, which apply to all properties, but also demonstrate innovative design, a commitment to alternative transportation modes, and sustainability.
“A successful proposal requires high quality in building materials, architecture and site design to achieve visual interest and human scale. Successful projects will place a premium on developing land efficiently and enhancing the value and function of adjacent properties,” the TIF summary document reads.
Councilors were in agreement that the three proposed projects should go to a public vote this fall or winter in order to ascertain support for moving forward. They will hold a public information hearing in the South Burlington Community Library, on Tuesday, September 8, at 7 p.m. to obtain public comments regarding proposed ballot language.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent