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Council member calls annexed land ‘pig in a poke’

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Last edited 12:54 p.m., Dec. 8, 2021

Consideration of tax breaks for development of a blighted area northeast of the intersection of Sunshine Avenue and James River Freeway led to critical comments from one member of Springfield City Council during a special meeting Monday.

Councilperson Mike Schilling took issue with the Brody Corners Tax Increment Financing Plan ordinance that was given its first reading at the special meeting. Schilling’s concern was that council was not fully informed in June, when it voted to annex the development area, of the full extent of the blighted conditions there. The new development, proposed by West Sunshine Development LLC, has the potential for retail, nationally franchised quick-service restaurants, office space and service industry space, according to the description of the project presented to council. The project includes seven lots, but no tenants were named.

Council will vote on whether to approve the Brody Commons TIF plan, which has a total project budget of $27 million. Nearly 8% will be reimbursed by TIF proceeds, with the developer funding the remainder.

Over the 23-year agreement, the city stands to benefit from tax revenue. Springfield Economic Development Director Sarah Kerner said that with redevelopment, the city stands to bring in $1.6 million over the life of the TIF plan; without redevelopment, the area would bring in only $21,119.

Schilling noted a blight study for the property was completed by an appraiser in early February and the property was purchased in May before council approved annexation of the property in June, Schilling said.

“If I knew back in annexation time what I saw in this byzantine 201-page report that included a blight study, I never would have voted for annexation,” he said. “It’s a hellish mess out there. I don’t know why we took this pig in a poke anyway.”

The presentation included photos of the property that showed the extent of the damage to it. The site has an existing wastewater treatment facility, otherwise known as a sewage lagoon, that was never removed or remediated as court ordered of previous owners, RLB Properties LLC, a Brookline-based company. Part of the site used to be operated as a mobile home park.

Kerner said the lagoon is leaking into a sinkhole and contaminating area wells and drinking water, and there also is illegal dumping on the property. There are dilapidated structures, underground service lines in need of removal, no connection to public water and concrete pads in poor condition.

“Staff finds that blight is met in this case,” Kerner said.

Schilling said he walked the property the previous day.

“I went out there yesterday, probably trespassed, you might say, and checked it all out, and it’s a horrible, horrible place,” Schilling said.

He said some people who live in the area may need to be relocated, and he added that he talked to property owners about wells being impacted by a polluted lagoon on the property.

“All of this is stuff that at the very least we should know about and consider when we’re making decisions to annex and rezone what the blight study said was a menace,” Schilling said. “People are dumping mattresses out there, tires, shingles, and there’s not even a gate on the property, and there hasn’t been since it was bought.”

Schilling noted a TIF agreement involves the commitment of tax funds. His contention was that council should have been informed of the extent of the blight before annexing the property into the city.

“We’re going to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to help clean this mess up, and it would have been nice to know about that well in advance – and that information was available,” he said. “Did you folks on city staff get that information back last spring?”

Kerner acknowledged that they did.

“It’s just unsettling that we don’t get fully informed about something that’s a pretty big deal here,” Schilling said. “If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t vote for this.”

Monday’s special meeting was held to consider two TIF plans, one for Brody Corners and the other for IDEA Commons. Both will be voted upon at the Dec. 13 meeting.

The property is part of the city now, and Councilperson Richard Ollis pointed out that the proposed development would solve a problem the city has now. He added the whole idea of the development was for the area to be cleaned up.

Kerner noted West Sunshine Development LLC, which is not responsible for the pollution and blight, is proposing a project that will benefit the area beyond its own boundaries with water and sewer lines, transportation improvements and more.

Attorney Cory Collins of Husch Blackwell LLP, representing the developer, said the project has been in the works for a year.

“It is my view, and it was my client’s view, that this was an opportunity to help that whole area, and to clean up this property particularly,” he said. “It’s a good project, it’ll work, it’ll help the whole area.”

He added that it is unlikely, given the challenges of the property, that it can proceed without incentivized help, and development would not make sense for anyone else down the road, either.

“I don’t know how it gets done without this,” Collins said.

City Manager Jason Gage acknowledged Schilling’s concern about council voting on annexation without receiving full information about the extent of the blight.

“I think that’s a very valid concern,” Gage said. “I will go back and look at our protocols to see. … Perhaps we need to better share some of that information among ourselves in preparation for council.”

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They should get the same tax break that any of us would get if we were opening a business…..NONE! Same with bailouts! I have known small business owners who failed and lost everything. Govt never bailed them out? I hear all this talk about “fairness” and “equity”? This would be a great place to start! The pursuit of the American dream should be “fair and equitable” within our own local, state and fed Govt’s policies but its not! The advantage always goes to the rich! The lying corrupt media tells you its “the Republicans”. Its BOTH parties! Money and corruption has swallowed our culture and our elected officials whole. Surely folks don’t think that its only our Federal elected politicians who are corrupt? The only way it changes is if we the people get involved. Go to a council meeting. By the way, you are not “allowed” to ask questions. Think about that for a while taxpayers.

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