Monday, May 7, 2007

Grant St. vs Main St.: Tax Abatement

Bob Zebra, a board member of the Carrick Community Council, said of the mayor, "I used to think he was a good guy. Now I don't. It is bad up here now".

Nanny boo boo. You get nothing! Looks like Onorato's gesture could be applied to Mr. Zebra's concern about the mayor's tax abatement proposal. We knew that with either Peduto's or the mayor's proposal there would be some neighborhoods left out. But neighborhoods would be left out for different reasons. Today, the PG's Diane Nelson Jones reports, "Mayor's tax plan leaves out some city locations". Josette Fitzgibbons, a principal planner for the city, described the criteria the city used in its proposal.

One is the planning department's vitality index, developed from an analysis of neighborhoods over the past year with help from Carnegie Mellon University's community information system. The indicators include population loss, education levels, single-parent families, tax delinquency and violent crime.

I mentioned my concerns about the mayor's proposal because we hadn't seen it before it went to council. However, the Admiral posted a link to an overlooked portion of an article from Rich Lord that provided some details about the mayor's plan. I take issue with the 'vitality index'. This is quintessential top-down non-participatory policy planning, that is, it is generated only out of the mayor's office with 'help' from CMU's community information system; criteria that may not align itself with concerns from local CDC's, such as the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation, where Rick Swartz sits as director. Peduto's plan was generated by a working group, a number of stakeholders with different perspectives and concerns (listed on p.2 of Peduto's report).

Aggie Brose, deputy director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., said she has heard from those concerned that "people will follow the money and leave us behind if we don't have the incentive. But we have a three-year abatement incentive that we're benefiting from now in Garfield," where community nonprofits have developed new housing over the past decade.

The mayor's proposal may be one way to ameliorate imbalances between neighborhoods that have strong development presences and those that don't, she said.

Notice that criteria stated by Fitzgibbons does not indicate that neighborhoods with weaker development presences were targeted. Secondly, the plan does not develop upon strengths, such as CDC's, that would harness the tax abatement and guide development according to the needs of the particular neighborhood. Again, Mr. Zebra:

“We've been fighting and fighting, and it's like hitting your head against a brick wall." In Troy Hill, a housing plan for Cowley Street had been foundering for years when, in March, the contractor "took off," said R. Dennis Hughes, chairman of Troy Hill Citizens Inc. "We had contracts with them, and it took a long time to get stuff in order. March 15 was the deadline for them to get back to us, and they don't respond. Now, we're seeking other contractors." A tax abatement might be a sweet lure, he said.

Peduto has his concerns:

"There is no safeguard that absentee landlords won't develop and make neighborhoods worse," he said.

Mr. Peduto proposed the incentive for areas of large-scale, very costly development, including the Strip, South and North Shores, Uptown and the lower Hill. The abatement span of 10 years is applicable to such heavy investment, he said, while other incentives, like $1 houses and elimination of closing costs, are better fits for neighborhood projects, he said.

Indeed. There is no safeguard against absentee landlords making neighborhoods worse. He was also not quoted this time but said previously that partnering with the school board was essential to any tax abatement plan. There was no mention of partnering with the school board in the mayor's plan.

"I want to express gratitude for Elliott[which made the mayor's list]," said Norene Beatty of the West End-Elliott Citizens Council. Elliott made the mayor's "in" list. "But it's important to have a follow-up of how these properties are maintained."

She admonished City Council to "look hard at why people left the city. They left for safe streets, good schools and quiet neighborhoods. This is a start, but we need to do more."

Well, Ms. Elliot, we need updated info on that one. Chris Briem had a nice post about why peeps left the city and it seemed to be related to earned income taxes. There are probably too many variables to consider to really understand why people left the city anyway. But the quality of city schools and public safety need to be addressed regardless of tax abatement.

Finally, I've been concerned about arena 'development' in the lower Hill. You'd think that with the amount of construction in the corridor 'spurring economic development' and the concerns of Hill District residents to redevelop Centre Ave. and attract some investment in the Hill the tax abatement plan would have included the Hill. Nope. While Peduto's plan included the lower Hill, Ravenstahl's plan does not. You'd think that with all of the meetings Ravenstahl has had with concerned Hill District leaders the Hill would be on his mind. It might seem like a good idea to piggyback arena 'development' with tax abatement for the Hill so that the neighborhood might be able to use it as a tool at this critical time to attract investment. Nope.

This is top-down public policy. Grant St. vs Main St. development.

UPDATE:

Breen from Progress Pittsburgh is also concerned.

63 comments:

Matt H said...

I was very happy that Elliott & West End got on the list. We sure needed something like that.

Norene Beatty is from my organization by the way.

Double Super Anon said...

Considering how this plan is so painfully slow in being rolled out, it seems that the neighborhoods were pre-selected by the Mayor's office and then the Planning Dept. was charged with validating those selections. Otherwise, they wouldn't have been so late in presenting this "vitality index."

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