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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.

11.12.06 -- REPORT: Unraveling the past, Council repeals CRA ordinance

By CHER PHILLIPS

That soft whooshing sound isn’t the moss brushing up against live oak limbs. It’s politicians unraveling ordinances and resolutions from McIntosh’s books as if they were trying to work back to a place in the afghan of the town’s lawmaking where the previous council first introduced unwanted colors, patterns and textures.

If the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) had a color, it would have been chartreuse. At Thursday night’s meeting of the McIntosh Town Council, board members unanimously agreed to pull the resolution that declared the strip along U.S. 441 blighted from the books as if it were a neon home in the historic district.

Howard Walkup, who was elected as the council vice president by the council for the next year, said he initiated repealing a resolution passed this spring that declared a strip of land in McIntosh blighted and designated it for a CRA. The designated land ran through McIntosh on U.S. 441, including a block into town on either side of the highway.

“This was one of the things that got people stirred up and upset,” Walkup said. “I think we should clean the docket and repeal it.”

The CRA became an issue in McIntosh that frightened and concerned many residents and drew lines between the council and the community. The project was spearheaded by former Council President Danaya Wright, a land planning expert and law professor at the University of Florida, who used her contacts at the university in the Conservation Clinic to research and design the project.

The greatest flaw in the CRA was a lack of understanding as to what it could do and what it was meant to do in the community.

Council President Frank Ciotti was on the council when it passed the CRA resolution
“I voted for the original resolution,” Ciotti said. “The intent was not what came before the public. Our intent was to give it to a committee. It just never got off the ground right.”

Part of the problem was a lack of documentation in the community. Four of the town’s church leaders even wrote the council an open letter in March asking them to put off the decision and make information about the CRA available. Since much of the research was done by UF law students, the documentation, even the Powerpoint presentation given to the public was not available in the town hall.

“It’s pretty well dead anyway,” said June Glass, a resident who owns a trailer park that would have been included in the CRA. “But it’s not something that will move the Baptist Church or the Methodist Church. It would not move any churches, like the stories that were going around.”

Glass said that the intent of the CRA was to improve the land on the Department of Transportation right of way.

“What we found out was that a town south of here got a grant for $750,000 and with that grant, they were able to put the utilities underground, put the old fashioned lamp posts and brick sidewalks, and three walks and four intersections. So we were pursuing doing that,” Glass said. “We found out if we had a CRA, we got more points toward that grant. So that’s the reason we did it.”

But digging back almost two years ago, town council minutes reflect that Wright said the CRA could force upkeep on building owners along U.S. 441. Last February, other ideas were mentioned from underground electric and brick-imprinted sidewalks to reducing the highway down to two lanes through town.

Another flaw in the CRA’s design that made it less than a good fit for McIntosh was the superfund. While the TIF fund (tax increment financing) was promoted in a CRA workshop to build $4 million over the next 30 years, these numbers were based on the property tax higher than the current rate. McIntosh has consistently rolled back its taxes over the years to keep the amount individual home owners pay to a minimum. When the town was incorporated the tax millage was six. Almost 100 years later, that millage is down to 1.09. Though continuing the rollbacks would not entirely keep a TIF superfund in McIntosh from generating income for the town, it would never reach the million dollar mark promoted in the CRA.

Even when the resolution was introduced for discussion last Thursday for the purposes of repealing it, there were still arguments over what the CRA would have done and how it would have accomplished it.

One of the biggest fears was that a CRA board would use to powers of eminent domain. These fears were strong enough that even after the state passed an amendment restricting eminent domain, Councilman Lee Deaderick used it as an example of why he thought the CRA was not a good plan for the town.

He said that in a far-flung scenario, he could see his orange grove behind the gas station taken by the town and turned into a parking lot or a septic tank, if somehow someone in the future deemed that a better use for the town.

Deaderick said that he understands CRAs to be a means of taking property from poorer residents for the good of the community.

“The first part of taking these people’s property is to create a CRA and that changes the tax structure,” Deaderick said. “And eventually, the property can be taken from them for the economic gain of the entire community.”

Deaderick said that his concern was that while the McIntosh CRA this wasn’t intended for that purpose, it could be used for that by new people moving into the community over time.

Glass said that the intent of the CRA was to help individuals obtain grants to improve their properties. She also discredited the idea that eminent domain could take place in McIntosh.

“This is Mcintosh, you couldn’t do that anyway without an insurrection,” Glass said.

Another concern of Deaderick’s was one that Sportsman’s Cove owner Casey Girardin shared: that the CRA area could be expanded.

Girardin, who was a vocal opponent of the CRA this spring, said that she became an adamant opponent of the CRA after speaking with neighboring communities who had experience with them.

“The sum of what I learned that it’s a very dangerous weapon,” Girardin said. “If someday you decide you want to do a CRA, you should talk with some people involved with it.”

The council voted unanimously Thursday night to repeal the CRA resolution.

“If anyone wants to do a CRA in the future, they can redo a resolution but this would clear the air,” Walkup said.


Next: The Tree ordinance versus the Historic Ordinance

posted by Cher @ 11:13 AM,

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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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