Council tables resolution to expand Redevelopment District

Members of city council voted on Monday evening to table Resolution 11-8 regarding extending the boundaries of the city's Redevelopment District. Redevelopment Authority (RDA) member Warren Stewart attended the meeting and addressed council members about the proposed changes to the district. "We actually wanted the [Redevelopment District to encompass] the Commercial District," Stewart said of the group's original plan. He explained that after discussing the matter with the city's planning commission, they decided to modify the area they planned to add to the Redevelopment District, removing some of the areas that were originally proposed. The RDA's proposed expansion has the boundaries of much of the Redevelopment District remaining as they have been since 1997; however, the western portion would be expanded to the boundary of the Central Business District from the area of Fourth Street west to North Michael Street. It would then cut down to add some additional properties on Center Street, continue down to East Mill Street and then match up again with the boundary line of the Central Business District just past Market Street. The proposed boundary line would also follow Elk Avenue to Sorg Street before matching back up with its former boundary line. Stewart explained that the group's reasoning for wanting to expand the Redevelopment District was so that they could help support additional business in the downtown area. Councilman Denny Nero asked Stewart if the expansion would give council the right to declare eminent domain on properties within the area that are in poor shape and take over possession of those properties. "Not in my eyes," Stewart said. "You have the right to eminent domain anything in St. Marys."Council members also expressed concern about designating the area as being 'blighted' in the resolution. Addressing this concern, Stewart remarked that he had been informed that it would not affect any of the property values. He added that the words 'slum' and 'blight' could be removed from the wording of the resolution and replaced with the term 'Redevelopment District' or 'Redevelopment Area.' Mayor Sally Geyer informed Stewart that she had received a phone call from a resident who was opposed to the RDA's proposal because of the eminent domain issue."It was explained they could walk in and take 'Mr. Jones' property' and give it to 'Mr. Smith's business' because it's blighted," Geyer said. "Does that happen?"Stewart responded that Geyer would have to check with an attorney.City Solicitor Mark Jacob also weighed in on the matter. "You'd still be required to have due process and if there is any kind of taking by a municipality or municipal authority, you have to be given due compensation," Jacob said. "There's a whole process for that."Councilman Steve Skok expressed concern that the changes would include areas that are not necessarily blighted. "That connotation puts a lot on a [property]," Skok said. "I mean, what are we looking at as far as realtors?"Stewart responded that Community and Economic Development Coordinator Tina Gradizzi had indicated to him that the move would only increase the value of their properties. Stewart also indicated that all but one member of the planning commission approved the expansion."One member did vote 'no,' but he was against the whole thing from day one," Stewart said. "The thing was, we sat down and discussed it, worked out the plan of it, and then came back and proposed it, and they agreed to it except [for] one member of the board. He agreed to all the areas, he was happy with [them], he just had a problem with expanding that district," Stewart said.