Monday, December 20, 2010

Week in Review 12/11/10 - 12/18/10

Last Saturday I had the honor of participating in the Cary Jaycees Annual Christmas Parade in Downtown Cary. Unfortunately Mother Nature didn’t cooperate and it rained all day, but a great crowd still braved the cold to come out and watch. This was a lot of fun and congratulations to the Cary Jaycees, volunteers, sponsors and businesses for another job well done!

Tuesday evening the council held a worksession to discuss two items; Tax Increment Financing and Land Dedication requirements.

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a public financing method typically used as a subsidy for redevelopment and community improvement projects and relies on projected increases in tax revenue from new development to fund current projects. When public amenities such as an arts center, a town park or other public amenity are developed, there is often an increase in surrounding property values and increased private investment. Increased values lead to increased tax revenue. The “incremental” increase in revenue is committed to finance the debt of the public amenity, which – in theory – incented the new development and associated revenue increase.

Yes it’s complicated – and risky. We’ve all heard the phrase, “if you build it, they will come”. Well, sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes things work out as planned and a $30 million public investment nets $400 million in new development. And then sometimes projections are wrong or the private sector doesn’t respond as anticipated – or the economy goes south or financing falls through or… well, you get the idea.

Obtaining the necessary approvals from the state, the Local Government Commission and Wake County is time consuming and costly, and TIF interest rates are higher than that which we can obtain through traditional debt financing thanks to Cary’s excellent credit ratings and fiscal health.

The bottom line is that while TIF might work in some instances for some communities, it doesn’t work for Cary.

Council also reviewed new legislative authority granted to Cary that would require land dedication as a component of multi-family housing development. Our current ordinance and practice has only applied to single family housing. The council saw this as an equity issue – one type of residential development is paying for their “impact” while the other is not. The council directed staff to begin drafting an ordinance requiring land dedication of all residential development.

Our Council meeting on Thursday lasted six hours – four of which was spent on a special use public hearing for a cell tower at the intersection of Cary Parkway and Old Apex Road. This was a quasi-judicial hearing so the council acts as judge and jury and can only receive factual information. Both sides – for and against – are allowed to make their arguments, rebut and cross-examine witnesses. There are no time limits on presentations or length of comment like regular public hearings.

After all was said and done a motion to deny the tower passed 5-2. I voted against the motion as I could not support one of the motion’s findings of fact. I could have voted to deny the tower based on their request for set-back reductions. We have set-back and buffer requirements in this town for a reason, and this proposal was asking for a significant waiver of that requirement.

I have a whole new respect for Judges after this hearing.

Other notable items on our council agenda included the adoption of our new ethics ordinance, Land Development Ordinance amendments, a Comprehensive Transportation Plan amendment, and whether or not to opt out of the 2009 Permit Extension Act.

The North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation requiring municipal governments adopt a code of ethics. Cary already had a code of ethics, but it did not meet the criteria set forth in the NCGA’s legislation. While I agree that governing bodies should have a code of ethics, I find it just a wee bit odd that the elected body in North Carolina whose had more members in prison than we have on the council is legislating ethics…but I digress…

After revisiting the decision of whether or not to opt out of the 2009 Permit Extension Act, the council supported a modified plan that would honor the approval of development plans except site and subdivision plan approvals, and that buildings must meet current building code.

Lisa, Elizabeth and I left for Florida early Friday morning to attend our son, Jordan’s graduation from the University of Central Florida. We heard ya’ll got some snow? It was 70 in Florida…but it rained. CONGRATULATIONS JORDAN!!! We are so proud!