Some people like to discuss Huber Heights as having two parts; one north of I-70 and one south of I-70. The line that would show the most difference in thought probably would be the county line. The different schools and different mailing addresses lead to markedly different community identities. Consider the city from an economic perspective and the natural line becomes Taylorsville road. In this article, I address the I-70 corridor, the Fairgrounds, the Music Center, Carriage Trails and the High Water Pressure Zone proposal.
As a general philosophy, I prefer trees and fields over black top and buildings. I do not like to get stuck in traffic. If the government is to promote economic development the accent should be on “economic”. By this I mean we entice people or companies into the city that will help lower our taxes. In other words, if I am going to be forced into a longer commute, then whatever causes that extra traffic should be contributing enough to our economy to lower our taxes. That is the general philosophy. Of course, there are many nuances that affect the implementation. You will see some of these nuances as I address the projects going on north of Taylorsville road.
Carriage Trails Development:
The City must provide a good environment that ensures Carriage Trails development continues at a good pace. This opening statement may appear to contradict my general philosophy but here is where those nuances come into play. The decision to build Carriage Trails Boulevard and assume the debt that went along with that decision was made long before I became mayor. Based on where we are today, completing the build out is the best course of action. Future decisions made by your council must maximize our return while still promoting the build out of houses.
If you recall the main discussion since I have been Mayor has been the level of supplement the city provides. Last year with the seating of new council members we were able to reduce the supplements to an appropriate level. Next year there will be another ask. We see from last year, the development could be successful without the $15,000, $18,000 or higher supplements they received before the new council was in place. Going forward the question is whether $8,000 or $4,000 is the right number.
Unfortunately, because the way the contract is written a $0 dollar supplement will not be in the best interest of the City. In the contract, the developer is entitled to either; A: X dollars starting year Y based on a formula or B: the amount they negotiate for real time with the city. For each of the previous sections the developer has chosen to take upfront money. For future sections if the developer and the city did not come to an agreement under the second method then the developer would still have the option of receiving money under the formula. The number calculated in that formula gets smaller for sections that occur in later years. It probably does not go to zero for a couple more years yet.
Look for a discussion this year on supplements for the Carriage Trail developer with the objective being a successful development while keeping as much tax payer dollars available for other city necessities. Additionally, in previous years staff has presented council with projections on benefits to the city. They have mentioned connection fees and additional water and sewer revenues. I hope that council asks to see the results. Also, I have asked for staff to document the additional costs associated with this development. For instance adding the water tower, additional stop lights and unless council decides to change its decision the $2.5 million water pressure project. Council support for the kind of documentation which shows the benefits and costs has not been forthcoming as of yet. I would like to see objective reporting on this development before I leave office next year.
I am not in favor of the City running any aspects of the property if the Fairground Board acquires the 80 acres the City owns next to and behind Gander Mountain. During the last council work session, I laid out what it would take to get my support for transferring ownership of that property to the Fair Board for little or no cash. To get my support the Fair Board will have to be willing to put in the land sale contract items that will guarantee their use of the land will bring benefit to the residents of Huber Heights year-round.
What does this mean? This means that if they intend to host “Hamvention” then they have consulted with the organizers of that event, know the types of buildings, antennas, power etc required for that event and then commit as part of the contract to build those on that site. Hamvention and the County Fair account for about a months’ worth of activity. What will be happening the other 11 months? There is no vision provided by the Fair Board so I will describe what I believe are good ideas. Keep in mind none of these suggestions are required. They are merely suggestions that I can get behind. I am 100% sure the Fair Board can provide their own suggestions that I can get behind. They just haven’t done it yet.
When I look at that property I see the potential for a 15 to 20 acre fishing pound. That would be a nice amenity for the residents. I imagine to make such an amenity would take some digging, water flow, stocking of fish, finding an operator. These are all things they can commit to as part of the property transfer.
I see a perfect piece of property for a BMX operation, Camp Ground, Dog Park.
We know the Fair Board will be spending money to build buildings. How much extra will it cost them to make sure the design of these buildings will accommodate indoor soccer, volleyball, roller hockey, lacrosse? Is it worth it to them to commit to spending that $100,000 and finding someone to run those kinds of leagues in order to get the land cheaper?
The more multi-month activities the Fair Board can commit to in contract form, the more likely they will see my support. Like I said previously, these are suggestions offered because we have not seen any vision from the Fair Board. I look forward to seeing what they have in mind for our residents the other 11 months of the year.
Traffic at fair time will be a significant issue for that area. Traffic will be an issue for any successful business that goes in that property. It will be important for any developer to come with a plan. The Fair Board will have an advantage in this arena because they should be able to get county government support. In any case, traffic will have to be addressed to make the Fair or any other development successful.
Conclusion: I consider this piece of property as a $2 million city asset. My preference would be to sell the 10 to 15 acres that have commercial value and let a commercial enterprise pay taxes. There are many old trees on the other 60 to 70 acres and there is no reason to disturb them. I am very disappointed that staff has not shown they have been aggressively marketing this land.
As an alternative to my first preference, I can see how the Fair Grounds offer a good opportunity for the city. In order for me to get behind that opportunity, the Fair Board will have to either pay market rate for the property or commit, in writing, to providing useful services year-round to the residents of the city.
Realistically, the only achievable “Mayor” provided guidance would be to make sure there is walking and bike access to the area. If you have been paying attention you will see many instances where I refer back to the original agreement and point out there are reports and updates due as part of that agreement. The City has not produced theirs and staff has not provided council with any indication the developer produced theirs. In 2011, the City entered into an agreement with the developer that contained a roadmap on how each thought success could be achieved. Though I have provided guidance that following the process outlined in the agreement seems logical, neither party has done any of the work contained in that agreement. Instead all council gets are haphazard and random requests for items like the creation of an entertainment district in that area. Admittedly, I support the availability of more liquor licenses for the city but I really would support it if there were an actual plan for developing the area.
I am not one to dwell on the City’s past mistakes so I do not normally go into my frustration with our former council trading a great opportunity to provide a useful infrastructure project like city wide high speed internet for the construction of the Music Center. For the $19 million dollars spent on the Music Center we could have put in the internet backbone that would make the properties off the I-70 interchanges attractive to Engineering and Medical Companies. As a city, wouldn’t we rather collect income tax from engineers and doctors than concession workers? We also could have instituted high speed internet to all of our residents and developed a pricing system so they could benefit for a monthly cost of around $30.
I normally concentrate on how to make our current situation work. This year however it looks like the Music Center will make enough to cover all its operating expenditures and even have some profit for both the city and the management company to share. This got me excited because with enough revenue it might be possible that a professional entertainment company might be interested in purchasing the Music Center. If some other company would come and take on the debt it might be possible for the City to undertake useful infrastructure projects that could significantly improve our quality of life. Alas, the amount of income from operations this past year would not significantly make a dent in the annual debt service of the Music Center. Maybe we can do better next year.
Getting a handle on our debt obligations:
In October 2014, the city held an administrative committee meeting that gave residents a comprehensive look at the city’s finances. The City Manager commit to giving us an update on this report in June. The latest deadline he committed to make was Jan 17th.
High Pressure Water Zone North of I-70
This is a waste of $2.4 million dollars plus however much it will take to reduce the pressure in those houses that will be complaining because the City intends to over pressure as many as 1000 houses in that area. I would like to see council know the scope of the problem they are making before they waste any more of our taxpayer money.