Reader: Proposed development at former Oleson’s site is a land issue


The local controversy of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) at the former Oleson’s site is swirling the bowl refusing to go down. It provides for low-income housing and a senior center. As the water goes round and round it has acquired the murky taint of culture war. Come on people. It’s a land use issue!

There is no controversy over the plan’s new senior center. It’s the PUD funding mechanism to achieve it that causes all the recent folderol.

An immediate question comes to mind: if the Council on Aging didn’t need a new senior center, would we be debating the intricacies of a PUD? Of course not. The senior center is the catalyst for the entire issue.

Also, when was the last time you saw a low-income housing unit built on a waterfront site? Never. That would be an upside down world.

So it would seem that the desirability of a senior center in the PUD was, alone, reason enough to approve the plan.

But, there are implications. In the public/private partnership that is low-income housing, the local government is expected to participate. Its part provides a subsidy of full rate property tax for the developer by allowing a payment in lieu of taxes (annual service charge) for 35 plus years.

If I have this right, the full potential tax, less subsidy, times 35 years, equals a senior center price tag of … somebody do the math for me … WOW! This is a very large loan on the future. The public needs to understand this but, we need to hide it from the grand kids. They won’t be happy when they find out.

It gets worse. The Planning Commission committed the original sin of not evaluating the project site, neither did they determine a demonstrated need for low-income housing, nor did they recognize the glut of retail space created. So a singular project distorted three basic community units — land use, housing requirements and retail space inventory. A trifecta!

Thankfully, a majority of City Council stopped the dance on the second do-si-do, but we still lost a little democracy in the process. The taxpayer no longer has codified protection against dilution of the taxpayer franchise, lost when Chapter 1489 was repealed.

When the caller announces the next dance, and there will be a next dance, council should not haggle another round of an annual service charge rate. It should pause and consider criteria for judging PUDs in a critical manner. It should remove the opportunity for subjectivism and draw up policies and procedures that make evaluation almost functionary.

Council should only then evaluate the Oleson’s site PUD.

Without reflection on process, we will continue to have what we are faced with today, one off land management. Each new project becomes another “one off”. Government should be deliberate, frustrating and inefficient. Getting too far out in the “creative” spectrum risks a fall into nasty unintended consequences.

Dennis terHorst


One comment on “Reader: Proposed development at former Oleson’s site is a land issue

  1. avatargrantruth

    Excellent letter; however, you would have to write a book and then some for all to be able to understand all the relationships and ramifications of the continuation of public-private partnerships.

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