Friday, April 5, 2013

Room for improvement

Hailey moves ahead with urban renewal plans

Express Staff Writer

River Street in Hailey, above, could soon be included within a proposed urban renewal district. Photo by Roland Lane

The city of Hailey has identified a downtown corridor upon which to focus increases in tax revenues from other parts of the city over the next 20 years. The goal is to restore deteriorated and underdeveloped parts of town in an effort to stimulate economic development.

Hailey Community Development Director Micah Austin presented an analysis of proposed urban renewal areas to the City Council on Monday. The analysis will be used to satisfy eligibility requirements established by the state of Idaho for participation in an urban renewal district.

In June 2011, the city identified areas along River Street, Main Street, Airport Way and within Freidman Memorial Airport as having characteristics that would allow for inclusion in an urban renewal district. The airport has since been removed from the proposed areas.

Under the proposed URA, increases in tax revenue collected by Blaine County from within the urban renewal areas (except for those intended for the School District) will be returned to the urban renewal district, rather than to Blaine County, the Hailey general fund and Cemetery District. That money would be used specifically in the URA areas for a number of projects, including the building of streets, water and sewer lines, drainage systems, sidewalks, street lights and fire stations.

“As development increases in the URA district, the resulting increase in taxable revenue will also be added to the URA district,” City Administrator Heather Dawson said.

She said there would be “many conversations” and public meetings this summer to determine a master plan for the district. 

The four proposed urban renewal areas in the study comprise eight percent of the city. They consist primarily of a four-block-wide corridor extending about two miles on both sides of Main Street, from McKercher Boulevard in the north to Fox Acres Road in the south. Within those areas are 215 taxable properties with 156 owners.

The analysis of the areas, conducted by Kushlan Associates of Boise, shows enough deterioration of infrastructure and buildings and vacant land to justify establishment of an urban renewal district under state guidelines. Austin said the proposed areas satisfy the state’s most important eligibility component: high ratios of land values compared to the value of buildings and other improvements on the city lots. 

The proposed urban renewal areas consist of 81.37 acres (exclusive of public rights of way). Of these properties, 139 (67percent) show improvement values less than land values. Of those 139, 46 are vacant. Forty-eight (26 percent) show improvement values exceeding land values. 

A homeowner exemption is claimed by 15 residential property owners in the areas, which means those properties would not be contributing revenue under the URA.

“You don’t want a lot of residential property in an urban renewal district,” Austin said.

Hailey received a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant two years ago to redevelop River Street with streetlights and sidewalks. After community meetings to discuss details of the redevelopment, the city determined that it could not proceed because it could not provide an additional $500,000 in matching grant funds.

“If the city applied again for the [River Street] grant, and it is within the district, the URA could provide financing for it,” Dawson said.

Austin said the master plan for the URA district will be a “promise to the public” for completion of specific projects before closing the district in 2033.

Hailey’s Urban Renewal Agency members are Chair Jason Miller, Vice Chair Larry Schwartz, Secretary Mary Sfingi, Hailey City Councilman Don Keirn and Jim Spinelli.

Tony Evans:

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