Thursday, June 22, 2006

UCIA Deal Approved

The City Council agreed Wednesday (June 21, 2006) to put the Union County Improvement Authority in charge of four redevelopment areas, but only after getting a fuller explanation of the deal to allay worries over its perceived haste.

Council members only received packets Friday with information on the proposal. It was not on the agenda given to the public Monday and under the council’s new schedule, it was up for approval Wednesday. The sites the authority would oversee include the North Avenue Historic District, the former Macy’s block, the Marino redevelopment parcel and a new one around Richmond and East Third streets.

The news set off a flurry of phone calls and e-mails and several residents came to Wednesday’s meeting to ask questions and comment on the deal.

Councilman Cory Storch said he only read his packet Sunday and had little time to digest the agreement.

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said the agreement, hammered out over several weeks, merely sets “the parameters of the relationship” between the city and the authority.

UCIA attorney Ed Boccher said the agreement names the authority as the “redevelopment entity” for the city. The council and other city boards will still vote on all aspects of the redevelopment plans, he said. The city can also withdraw from the deal if officials become unhappy with it.

The deal gives the city the benefit of the authority’s “particular expertise” in guiding redevelopment, he said.

The UCIA was in charge of the Park-Madison project that put a four-story office and commercial building on the long-vacant block at Park Avenue and Front Street. The building opened last year with numerous county and state government tenants and its ground-level commercial space is filling up this year.

Boccher said the new projects would always be “three-way agreements” among the city, the authority and the developers.

While saying the city is not set up to do development, Storch was still concerned.

“This is happening very quickly and I’m not comfortable with it,“ he said. “I’m trying to find a way to vote ‘yes.‘ “

Storch asked for an “escape clause” and a “sunset clause” of perhaps two years.

Boccher said he had never seen a sunset clause in an interlocal service agreement.

He said such details were best built into individual redevelopment agreements. He pointed out parts of the UCIA agreement that allow the city to withdraw.

Even after additional questions from Councilmen Don Davis and Rashid Burney, Storch continued to fret. But City Council President Ray Blanco said after studying the agreement, “I feel as good as you get in any agreement you enter into.“

Blanco said he based his opinion on the credibility of the authority, its financial wherewithal and the agreement’s safeguards for the city.

Storch finally said he would vote “yes“ for all the reasons Blanco cited.

But he added, “I’m very unhappy and I shouldn’t be,” calling the timing “really inappropriate and disrespectful.”

“Please never let this happen again,“ Storch said.

--Bernice Paglia


Post a Comment

<< Home