When you think of Black Creek Mountain/Cummings Cove, you probably think of an upscale residential development on the edge of town that is very well done and growing and an asset to Chattanooga. You need to expand your thinking. You need to get your arms around the concept that the developers of the proposed road and sewer line going up the mountain to serve residential lots are soon to be beneficiaries of a tax subsidy via industrial development bonds and that your County Commission and now the City Council have approved an Economic Development Plan to allow this to happen.
The local developers, Gary Chazen and Doug Stein, must have known that a straight residential project wouldn't fly as economic development, even under the much-weakened state law on tax increment financing (TIF). So, in their Plan, they say they "expect to develop" retail and commercial jobs, a 10,000-square-foot village center, two restaurants, an ice cream parlor, a 30,000-square-foot town center, a 20,000-square-foot corporate retreat center, a 100,000-square-foot office park, and an assisted living facility. Their Plan does not state how many jobs there will be, what the approximate wages would be, when these jobs are projected to happen, what happens if these jobs don't materialize, or where they would be located. These components don't even show up on any of the site plans you can pick up at the sales office. Most of the vacant land is zoned R-1 (single-family residential), which doesn't allow these uses. Sadly, neither governing body pursued this line of questioning with the applicants.
At least the City Council, unlike the County Commission, had some discussion before voting. Councilman Andre McGary proposed that the council defer action on this request and study the general TIF concept for at least a week, learning more about how other Tennessee cities have used it, getting public input and perhaps coming up with criteria that would guide the council when evaluating specific requests. Council members Peter Murphy and Deborah Scott agreed. That motion failed. The second motion was to approve. Council members Jack Benson, Carol Berz, Russell Gilbert, Pam Ladd, and Manny Rico voted to approve. Council members Scott and Murphy voted no; Councilman McGary abstained. Councilwoman Sally Robinson recused herself because her son-in-law is one of the developers' attorneys.
Councilman Rico said that sometimes you need to "roll the dice." I believe he used Volkswagen and Black Creek in the same sentence. I can't think of any two projects that are more different. One is economic development; one isn't. One benefits the public; one doesn't. One might have been lost to another community without a tax subsidy; one would very likely happen here anyway.
Had the council taken additional time, they might have come up with two basic criteria they would use in evaluating proposals for TIF funding. One would be the "public benefit" test. The other would be the "but for" test. Assuming the project passes the public benefit test, the applicants for the tax subsidy would have to make a convincing case that the project wouldn't go forward without the TIF funding. When you see the millions of dollars the developers are pouring into Black Creek and look at their literature advertising brow lots, does anyone really think this project would not have happened anyway without public assistance?
I want to thank Chattanoogan.com for providing a forum for a number of interested citizens to express our concerns and opinions about this issue.
In my professional career, I became familiar with tax increment financing and think it can be a useful tool if it meets the "public good" and "but for" tests. I wish that our first local project had been one that passed these tests.
Helen Burns Sharp
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Has anyone but me noticed that this City Council always votes the opposite of what the majority of the public thinks? Now I realize that the Chattanoogan poll is far from scientific, but it does give an indication of the public's thoughts. The Chattanoogan poll says that 88 percent of the voters did not want the council to approve the financial arrangements for the Black Creek project.
It was a similarly high percentage that didn't want these free spenders to purchase the Blue Rhino or spend 400+K for an unproven "green roof." These people are so arrogant, that the public will be damned. They do what they please. If your council person voted yes on any of these agendas, vote them out.
This council, with a couple of exceptions, needs a reality check. They make me sick.
Ronnie "Rock" Land
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The five council members that voted for the TIF to destroy the last unspoiled mountain visible to Chattanooga and give tax breaks to a multi-billion company proves there is a sucker born every second.
Thank you, council members Scott and Murphy for having the community's best interest at heart and not succumbing to the "pot of gold at the end of the rainbow" blindness. Voting for such a reckless use of a government provision will be a millstone around your necks in a few years. Just like the Federal Legacy scam, have you not learned anything? At least Scott, Murphy and McGary warned you and it is on record.