Our Buddy Blight is Back

January 15, 2013 at 2:10pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I haven’t groused about blight in quite a while. Let’s change that, shall we?

The Lincoln City Council has blighted a block at 18th and Q that will one day become UNL student housing and parking. As happens so often, the designation relies on a pretty weak definition of “blight”. In this case a single old house on one corner of the block is the primary excuse for calling the entire parcel “blighted”. As Jon Camp said, “If you can blight this, you can blight anything”.

The City Council can and does “blight anything”, owing in part to some highly interpretable definitions [PDF]. Mr. Camp of all people should know that, considering his many years on the Council. Mr. Camp has often been the lone “no” vote.

Sometimes the fuzzy blight designations are relatively harmless. An area might not be a perfect candidate, yet it’s clearly a drag on the surrounding area. And hey, if somebody wants to fix it up, more power to ‘em. Other times blight designations are intended for nothing more than a straight handout of taxpayer dollars to a developer. That happened last year at Gateway Senior Living. You and I are paying for that facility’s improvements.

Yesterday’s decision at 18th and Q is pretty much par for the course. The University could have handled the project but they would rather have a private company manage it. I haven’t seen it written anywhere that the private company would not go through with the project if TIF isn’t available. On the contrary, one would hope their business plan can sustain itself without massive handouts from the likes of you and me. Nevertheless, we are footing a portion of the bill. You’re welcome, private developer.

It could be argued that taxpayers are still coming out better in the long run because at some point the private developer will pay property taxes, whereas if the project were owned by the University no such taxes would be paid. That’s a fair counter, I suppose, although I’d want to see a comparison of the expected return on the taxpayer’s TIF investment vs. alternative scenarios. And that counter-argument doesn’t account for the fact that the private developer may have been capable of doing the project without a taxpayer dime.

I’m skeptical of blight designations. I’ve made no secret of that. In general I think Councilman Camp has it right: Lincoln is far too quick to rely on blight designations and TIF to get things done. Those tools have their legitimate uses. Maybe if I were on the Council and if I had reviewed all of the documentation available to Council members I would come to side with the majority. For now the City Council’s decisions seem, more often than not, to be wrong.

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George January 16, 2013 at 2:38pm

I have to agree with you on this issue.  When they recently blighted the area where Valentinos is on Vine, it confused me.  To me, Valentino’s didn’t want to take on the expense of tearing down a building and rebuilding it so the city took care of it for them AND Valentino’s gets to move into the new building when it’s all done.  More often then not, it seems like it’s just a way to get around taking responsibility.

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