11/14/2004

Restoration should have first priority — Daytona beach (FL) News Journal, 11/14/04

Almost all of U.S. 1 in northern Volusia County runs through community redevelopment districts. There are good reasons.

The aging east coast route is lined with many structures that housed businesses and motels in an era when families traveled to Florida on two- or three-lane roads. Times have changed, and many of the dated buildings have not. Its structures cry for renewal — more than can be addressed by a coat of paint or two.

That is why the Legislature specifically included "deteriorating and economically distressed" coastal and tourist areas along with general urban renewal in the language of the Community Redevelopment Act of 1969. The statute, which has been enhanced in years since, gives extra powers to cities to clean up decaying and declining neighborhoods.

Under the law, cities can set up a Community Redevelopment Agency [CRA] and define the geographical boundaries of a distressed area. The agency can create a tax-increment financing system that captures a portion of future tax dollars, which can be used only in the redevelopment district.

The law also gives cities the capacity of bonding to assist private development and the use of eminent domain to buy land when owners refuse to sell. Such powers are prone to abuse, but so far have been used responsibly in this region. Eminent domain has been used sparingly — and area government leaders correctly define it as a last-resort device.

Cities need these renewal tools to attract private investors. Without incentives, it is far cheaper and easier for developers to build on urban edges, plunging deeper into Florida's hammocks and agricultural lands.

Daytona Beach's Main Street Redevelopment Area may be the area's best-known CRA project. Since 1982, it has grown the Ocean Center convention conclave, Ocean Walk and Adam's Mark resorts and more — and these developments have clearly spurred investor interest that affects all of northeast Volusia County.

But CRAs are not just about big projects. DeLand and New Smyrna Beach, for examples, have used CRAs successfully for lower-key undertakings, such as renewal of streetscapes and building facades to retain and grow businesses in their downtowns. In yet another example of a CRA benefit, South Daytona plans to use its TIF funds to bury electric utility lines, beginning in January.

More troublesome are cities that set up CRA projects on the edges of cities in wooded lands — such as Palm Coast did this year and Ormond Beach is preparing to do. While legal, such districts are at odds with the aim of reducing sprawl.

Even when they do what they are supposed to do, CRAs are not risk-free. Cities can go too far by creating too many or too large districts, which can tie up tax revenue at the cost of the rest of the city. Still, CRAs are a means, when used wisely and in combination with other tools, to direct investment back into the neglected, antiquated urban areas.

WHAT IS A CRA?

In 1969, the Legislature authorized local governments to set up special renewal districts as separate legal entities. The concept aimed to give counties and cities extra tools to restore business districts and neighborhoods that had seen better days. The acronym can refer to "community redevelopment areas" but usually refers to the local oversight body, which is called a "Community Redevelopment Agency."

WHAT IS A CRA DISTRICT?

Local governments draw geographical boundaries around areas needing rehabilitation. The district, under law, must include one or more of these elements: A slum area, a blighted area, or an area in which there is a shortage of affordable housing for residents of low or moderate income, including the elderly, or a coastal and tourist area that is deteriorating and economically distressed due to outdated buildings, inadequate transportation and parking facilities, faulty lot layout or inadequate street layout.

WHO RUNS THE DISTRICT?

Either the county or city government, depending on circumstances. Local elected bodies appoint the CRA and an advisory board that reports to the CRA. In many cases, the CRA is the city's or county's elected officers. The appointed advisory board consists of five to nine members who reside or have businesses in the redevelopment district plus others, such as a local architect and planning representative. Advisory board members serve four-year terms and are the chief policy-makers for renewal.

Home-rule charter counties, such as Volusia, have exclusive power under law to establish community redevelopment agencies and may delegate part or all of the power to cities.

WHAT ARE A CRA'S POWERS?

A CRA has several tools to encourage private-sector redevelopment. To raise revenue, the CRAs can institute tax increment financing (TIF), issue bonds and apply for grants. The agency's main purpose — often relegated to the advisory boards — is to create and implement a redevelopment plan. To do so, the CRA can buy and sell property, and it has authority to condemn property for public benefit (known as eminent domain). It can construct roads, sewers, water lines, parks, public facilities and improve buildings within the district borders. It cannot build general-use public buildings or use its funds for regular city or county operations, except for community policing within district borders.

WHAT IS TIF?

In Florida, tax increment funds are derived from property taxes. The first year that a CRA district is designated, a base is set for property-tax revenue and that base is frozen. After the initial year, increases in tax revenue above the base — with some exceptions — are channeled into a special redevelopment trust fund that can be used only in the designated redevelopment area. TIF is not an additional tax on property owners. Ideally, TIF funds encourage private-sector redevelopment, whose new taxes are routed into the redevelopment trust fund. TIF dollars can be used to help fund private projects.

A number of taxing authorities are exempted from the TIF pool. They include school districts, library districts, multi-county authorities (such as water management districts, metropolitan transportation agencies and mosquito-control agencies).

WHAT IS EMINENT DOMAIN?

If an owner refuses to sell property needed for a redevelopment project, a local government (not the CRA itself) can condemn the property and buy it at fair market value. Most governments, including those in Volusia and Flagler counties, consider eminent domain a last-resort measure. Eminent domain can be used only for a public purpose. It cannot take place without public hearings and the involvement of the property owner.

— Compiled by Kay Semion

CRAs in Volusia, Flagler counties

DAYTONA BEACH:

(1) Main Street: Established in 1982, it covers the city's beachside business districts and neighborhoods from International Speedway Boulevard to Oakridge Boulevard.

(2) Downtown/Ballough Road: Two districts established in the 1980s are run by one board. The territory covers the Beach Street and Ballough business areas plus neighborhoods from the Halifax River to beyond U.S.1.

(3) Midtown: Formed in 1998, it was first known as the Westside Redevelopment Area. It includes properties near Bethune-Cookman College west to the Daytona Mall.

(4) South Atlantic: Established in 2001, it covers the beachside properties south of International Speedway Boulevard to the Silver Beach area.

PORT ORANGE:

(1) Town Center: Formed in the 1990s, the area encompasses both sides of U.S. 1 from the north city limits south to Rogers Avenue, plus both sides of Dunlawton Avenue from Spruce Creek Road east across the Halifax River.

(2) Eastport Business Park: Established in the mid-1990s, the district is south of Oak Street east of Spruce Creek Road across the Halifax Canal.

ORMOND BEACH:

(1) Granada/Bovard: Established in 1986, the area encompasses properties along the Granada Boulevard corridor from A1A west to Orchard Street.

(2) Ormond Crossings: Still in development stages, the district encompasses nearly 3,000 acres, mostly wooded, near U.S. 1 and I-95.

DELAND:

(1) Downtown: Set up in the 1980s, the redevelopment district runs along the Woodland Boulevard business district, extending into surrounding areas.

(2) Spring Hill: Still under development, a partnership between DeLand and Volusia County was created this year for the unincorporated area, near Woodland Boulevard, Beresford Avenue and Spring Garden Road.

SOUTH DAYTONA: Established in 1998, it covers a corridor along U.S. 1 and the Halifax River and some areas to the west.

HOLLY HILL: Created in 1996, it covers a corridor along U.S. 1 and LPGA Boulevard.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH: Set up in the 1990s, the district runs along Flagler Avenue, Canal Street to areas west of U.S. 1.

MARINELAND: Established in 2002, the area covers the entire town and its handful of residents.

FLAGLER BEACH: Created in 2002, the area includes most of the city's downtown.

PALM COAST: Created in 2004, the area consists of nearly 3,000 acres of mostly undeveloped land along State Road 100 between Belle Terre Parkway and Old Kings Road.


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