McIntosh Mirror: Reflecting news in the Tosh

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Light-up McIntosh December 15

Light-up McIntosh will begin at the Civic Center at 6:30 p.m. The event will host Santa Clause and an area choir from six local churches will sing.

06.09.06 -- REPORT: McIntosh divided by CRA, U.S. 441

March 22, 2006 -- McIntosh divided by CRA, U.S. 441

By CHER PHILLIPS

McINTOSH – A project leaders thought would bring the town of McIntosh together is tearing it apart.

Town Council President Danaya Wright spearheaded a community redevelopment agency last year drawing on her contacts as a law professor at the University of Florida to work with a group of law students from UF’s Conservation Clinic as they researched and designed a redevelopment project for the town.

The project would create a community redevelopment agency, or CRA, along the U.S. 441 corridor through McIntosh. Other CRAs in area include Gainesville’s University Corners and Ocala’s Downtown Main Street.

The proposed CRA would encompass every property in McIntosh along U.S. 441 corridor through reaching one block into the town on both sides of the highway. The purpose of the CRA is not firmly set although Wright has said she would like to see the highway reduced to two lanes through McIntosh, as well as crosswalks, historic streetlamps and façade improvements to the buildings along the corridor. She said the highway running through the town creates a division between east and west McIntosh.

“U.S. 441 is a problem for us. It divides out community,” Wright said in a February town council meeting.

But some community members and business owners don’t agree and say the CRA itself is what is tearing apart the town.

Richard Shutterly was the first one to bring up two words that have become dreaded in McIntosh: eminent domain.

Shutterly, a Micanopy commissioner, owns two parcels of land along the U.S. 441 corridor.

In a February council meetings, he asked the council members how many of them had actually read the Florida statutes empowering local boards to create redevelopment areas.

Shutterly’s concerns were that a CRA would give a board the power of eminent domain, as well as the power to enter owners’ property for inspection.

“This is all about a police action,” Shutterly said, waving printouts of the statutes he’d downloaded online.

His strongest concerns involved eminent domain. Florida statutes allow CRA board to put out bids to developers and invite them in without the owner’s consent.

Council members’ answer to Shutterly’s concern was that the town of McIntosh already had eminent domain and they don’t use it. Wright has stated this repeatedly in public meetings including the CRA workshop the council host on Feb. 23 with the students who researched the CRA.

The workshop presentation detailed the steps the CRA would take.

The first step would be for the town council to declare the corridor "blighted." The students presented a timeline that would allow the town to begin applying for grant money by the end of March and set up the financial funds with taxing authorities and through a trust fund by the end of June.

The plan estimated that town could generate as much at $4 million after 30 years. The CRA’s superfund would be based on TIF money – or tax increment financing. The town would generate funds for the CRA from increases in property taxes— 95 percent of increases on homes which are not homesteaded would go into McIntosh’s CRA fund as opposed to Marion County.

But the residents in the workshop weren’t convinced. They meeting broke out into small groups so the students could try to address and record residents' concerns. They also made notes including stipulations the residents wanted written into the ordinance like the CRA board would not be able to use eminent domain and CRA funds could not be used to improve a private home.

While the residents met, Marion County Commissioner Charlie Stone for District five observed the CRA meeting -- the town's representative at the county level. He said there were two things about the McIntosh CRA that were good and bad.

He watched Wright explaining to a small group part of her plans for what the CRA could bring to McIntosh.

“The first is that there is someone who** is using some vision – giving the town something to pull it together,” Stone said.

But he said that the second point about the CRA is that without trust, something like this could tear apart the town as easily as it could pull them together.

“And these people don’t trust each other,” he said.

The UF students were barely able to scratch the surface of their presentation due to resident complaints.

When Wright stopped to talk to Stone he made two suggestions to her. The first was that their timeline was too tight and the second was to bring in people who had some experience with CRAs. Wright made plans with the students creating the CRA to bring in someone to the March meeting but then she took the CRA off the agenda in March.

She also decided to move the timeline back four months. The new timeline has not been announced.

Stone said that many first-time CRAs fail in communities because towns aren’t ready for them. But he also said that they tend to come back to the idea a year later and try it again when residents are more unified.

And that is what the ministers in McIntosh would like to see happen.

The four churches in McIntosh are the social hub of the community. Those churches ministers, Pastors Jim Walkup. Murray Musselman, Al Bryan and Larry Pearson, together wrote council members asking them to put off the CRA for a year until everyone in town had a chance understand it, specifically asking for the council to make all the materials available to the town regarding the research for this project. To date, none of the background and research has been available through the town office even though it should be part of the public record.

The McIntosh Ministerial Association asked, “Will you please delay for a year the final vote on the implementation of the CRA and see to it that our comprehensively informed about every aspect of it?”

Though Wright refused to allow pubic comments in the council meeting where Mayor Marsha Strange read the ministers’ letter into the public record, she did reply in council to their concerns.

She said the council had already decided to slow down the timeline.

“This is not the council driving this,” Wright said. “This is for the community to develop this. The students were requested to go ahead and draft the ordinance on the Feb. 23 so that people could see that all of those fears and rumors that are being spread around are untrue.”

Wright handed the ordinances out and said, “Fine, if people don’t want it, we’re not going to do it.”

One of the concerns in the Ministerial Association’s letter dealt with the timeline.

“We are deeply concerned about the division that is being created among our citizens by what appears to many of them an unnecessary rush to the establishment of a CRA. That perceived haste makes them anxious and perplexed about the benefits and dangers generally and for their personal property, particularly,” the ministers wrote.

The CRAs timeline was based on several factors.

The first is the students who researched it are graduating in May. Wright asked other students to finish the work in the fall. The second reason is that the first of three grants the town would like to apply for have deadlines at the end of March through June. If McIntosh had an established CRA, it might have better chance of obtaining grant money. The third reason is that the council plans to increase the property taxes – or cease the tax rollbacks – for the first in longer than 10 years. Wright said the TIF superfund estimating the $4.2 million over 30 years is based on a 3 percent tax. McIntosh’s current property tax is 1.6 percent.

The next day after the letter was read to the town and the council, Wright wrote a letter to the Department of Transportation regarding a notice given to the town that U.S. 441 and the sidewalks will be repaved next year.

Wright said the town was in the process of creating a CRA that would likely focus on road, sidewalks of the highway including sidewalks, street lighting, lack of crosswalks, utility lines, inadequate parking, drainage, signage, traffic lights, and landscaping.

She was confident enough to say that “some of the sidewalk work you may be doing could potentially be undone if we receive funding and authorization to place the utility lines underground or wish to improve the sidewalks with brick or brick stamping.”


**Edited - "who" was added to the quote. I spoke with Commissioner Stone July 14 and read him over his part in this story and we agree I left "who" out of this sentence. I am sorry for any convenience this may have caused.

posted by Cher @ 1:18 PM,

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Editor and Publisher:

I'm Cher From McIntosh, FL I'm a graduate student at the University of Florida working on a master's degree in Mass Communication. While I was finishing my undergrad degree in journalism last year, I reported on McIntosh, Fla. for an in-depth reporting class. I figured that the reporting and the public record files should go somewhere people can access them. Reporters don't report to keep the information they find to themselves. Some of that reporting is included here in a forum that allows response. McIntosh suffers because with no news coverage, the local government and the rumor mill have too much potential to run rampant over residents. I moved to McIntosh in the fall of 1999. My profile

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