Better Planning Needed Before TIF — 11/22/2006

  1. dear riverside info reader,

    below please find an 11-22-2006 email i sent just prior to the village’s tif hearing, which failed to address most of these points.

    it is gratifying that the village pulled the tif. however, now we MUST focus attention on an appropriate planning process.

    at the end of november and into december i wrote a series of emails that i am now going to transfer here. once i get that done i will write some new reactions to what has happened since the board pulled the tif. thank you for any amount of time you are able to spend on these and the other posts here as you consider this very serious re-development matter before us as a village.

    —best regards, chris
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    dear all,

    on monday night i spoke to the village trustees in opposition to the tif district. specifically, i asked them to table, or defer action, on the district, pending development of an agreed-to vision for the town and completion of a comprehensive village plan.

    because of other commitments i will not be able to speak at tonight’s hearing. i pass along this overview of my argument for deferring action in the hopes that someone will find it useful in understanding what is at stake and how we may proceed together as a village from where we are. (because i am dashing this off, it won’t be as neat as it shd be. please forgive me. i will make a clean copy. thank you.)

    quickly, what’s a tif district and how is it used?

    tif districts allow municipal bodies to make certain decisions about development. typically, and certainly here, the municipality, after meeting procedural requirements, cabins the property taxes from a certain zone —“ the district —“ and supports development in that zone with expenditure of funds raised from the public finance markets against the anticipated growth in property taxes that will take place in the specific district.

    so, there are several distinct aspects of a tif program that are of vital significance to its viability and ultimate success. these include the district plan itself, the context within which it is utilized, the financing steps taken in support of the district and the judgment of the officials who have control over the funds raised by the sale of bonds in the public markets.

    (this is an extremely brief overview of tifs and probably does not do them justice. they have spawned an academic literature of their own. an award winning local expert in the press is greg hinz at crain’s chicago business. if you go to and search for hinz and tif you will find a lengthy list of articles that may serve as a primer. the experts he quotes are, i believe, a good place for concerned citizens to go for more in-depth information.)

    in any case, i am personally unconvinced that the tif proposal now before riverside succeeds on any of the above bases, planning, finance or judgment. my opposition is not personal. i think the board of trustees is comprised of good people who mean well. unfortunately, they are down the wrong road at the wrong time.

    I. planning

    1. tif districts are neither good nor bad in themselves, they are simply one of many tools in the municipal tool-box, so to speak. i have consistently said we shd take steps to see if a tif district is a correct option for Riverside. however, i think the way the village has propelled this conversation is fatally flawed.

    2. the success of tif districts fiscally and substantially depends almost entirely on the acuity of their underlying vision and the refinement of the comprehensive plan within which they are executed.

    3. riverside has neither an agreed-to vision, nor a comprehensive plan.

    4. instead, the village suggests tacking a tif district program onto a transit-oriented development study that was completed earlier this year.

    5. this is creates numerous problems:

    a. no one participated in the TOD study on the basis that it was a visioning exercise, so employing it as such draws invalid conclusions to issues that were not anticipated at the time it was executed

    b. the TOD study is merely that, a sober and serious assessment of strengths and weaknesses as well as transit / pedestrian oriented solutions to strengthen our downtown

    c. the TOD study thus is silent on a community-wide expression of preferences for types of downtown development, mobility beyond metra service, needed services to enhance the riverside living and visiting experiences, anticipated forms of development and their relation to other issues pending in the village (iow, square footages versus class size problems at central), and more—¦

    d. the TOD study did count parking spaces, and it found we have a lot. however, because of an ill-considered element in the downtown re-zoning, most of which is very sound, the village imposed the idea of a parking structure in downtown riverside. this definitely causes me to question the judgment of the trustees. no one should ever consider a downtown parking structure in riverside. our town has no place in and around Guthrie park and environs for a parking ramp (one cannot believe we have to actually say these things.)

    e. this is not planning for planning’s sake: this is setting expectations based on community consensus so that subsequent delegated decisions will be made in accordance with agreed-to terms of reference and not on a random or willy-nilly basis.

    examples of such subsequent decisions:

    shd we exercise the eminent domain power to take homes for construction of a multi-level parking ramp—¦?

    shd we spend money on planters at street level or restoring the spires atop the arcade building—¦?;

    should we allow first floor commercial at times or only first floor retail—¦?(this is somewhat a zoning issue, but in the district may arise anew—¦);

    what are our design guidelines for downtown?

    shd we provide funds to assist a strapped-but-noteworthy architectural bookseller to move to town to capitalize on anticipated tourists coming to see olmsted’s masterpiece, or shd all such inducements be directed toward new brick-and-mortar developers—¦?;

    shd a permitted building under construction be allowed to change features it agreed-to before various village board and commissions based on a staffer’s choice, or shd permitted buildings have a commissioner-level process for changes their developers think necessary—¦?;

    and on and on—¦

    f. all of these decisions have a direct impact on riverside’s viability as a place for investment and thus on the financial success of the tif. none of them have been addressed formally because we have not done our necessary tif homework of visioning and planning. how this happens in any community is a mystery. how it could happen here —“ in a globally recognized national historic landmark —“ is beyond my understanding. i think it gets to my reservations about judgment.

    g. the TOD study is not our comprehensive plan. (it never said that it was.) we also know it is not our visioning exercise. so it is not the correct basis for grounding a tif program. to the extent that the village’s tif district proposal refers to and relies on the TOD study, which is on nearly every page, it fails

    6. Riverside has for years had one of the most highly respected planning commissions in the six county region. under this planning commission we re-wrote both the central business district and residential zoning. numerous other issues have been resolved by this planning commission and the result is a dramatically modernized zoning code for the village. the tif proposal, which is at its heart a planning program, has NOT been referred to the planning commission.

    i find it impossible to construct a rationale for not sending such a proposal to the planning commission. i believe the village’s step here shows a genuine disrespect for the planning commission, its jurisdiction, expertise and members, to say nothing of —“ at best — a cavalier attitude on the part of those pushing the tif district program, essentially saying that it does not need / would not be helped by reconciling with all of the other planning activities of the village.

    7. What do i mean by a comprehensive plan based on a vision?

    a comprehensive village plan with a design year would show everyone how we want riverside to look in that particular design year, say 2026. it would index the existing population, demographics, structures, uses, roads, parks, approaches, traffic patterns, inflows, outflows, school sizes, and more and more, and then it would re-state where we think we should be in the design year, and how we intend to get from here to there. the planning process would be based on a vision, which is to say a shared understanding of the community we intend to build. the visioning exercise that i have seen as most effective for communities like us is professor tony nelessen’s ( visual preference survey, which wd present every resident who chooses to participate with a series of photos depicting choices about how things should look in riverside, from the curb cuts to new houses. each participant would rate the images, and each resident’s total ratings would be compiled with everyone else’s. i have seen this work in numerous states and communities and —“ if i may say —“ never was there a better town for this approach to visioning than riverside.

    for reasons known only to them, the trustees have decided it is OK to revise the codes, ignore the main street project of several years ago, approve the largest development in downtown riverside in history, do the TOD study, and then jump into a tif without completing the planning basics of vision and comprehensive plan. thus we have a tif cart placed well in front of a now-non-existent planning horse. this is planning madness. it gets to me questions about the judgment exercised by the trustees.

    II. finance

    1. a tif district’s vision and planning basis speak mainly to its substantial success, iow, its ability to attract the type and level of development that would not happen but for our tif district. if the tif district is successful in attracting that development, then it will probably be successful in the fiscal sense as well. that means it will repay the bonds that the village intends to sell if we allow them to do so.

    a. but we have no spreadsheet on the record that actually shows this —“ just a few charts

    b. in fact there is very little on the record now as far as i am aware about the financial commitment the village wants us as taxpayers to accept as part of this plan

    c. which commitment —“ as our oak park neighbors learned to their chagrin — is to repay the bondholders if the property tax increment generated by the designated tif district fails to achieve the original underlying assumptions of the bonds.

    d. this means that we may be liable for considerable sums at the back end —“ or even before the back end —“ of the tif district’s life. in a small village like ours, the consequences of such a default would be very serious indeed.

    e. the simple answer to this issue is —¦ sound and sober planning! but as we saw above, we have not taken that path.

    f. so an additional reason i propose tabling this idea for now is it makes no sense to take proximate steps toward establishment of a tif district without a full set of financials independently verified

    2. everyone shd understand that the main reason we are pursuing the tif idea is to increase revenues. this was the principal justification advanced last night by president jack wiaduck and trustee kevin smith. none of the other trustees present disagreed.

    a. tif districts generate more money now through sale of bonds sold that are backed by the increment in tax collections.

    b. they also generate —“ when they succeed—”more money at the back end because they have fostered development which, but for the tif district, would not have arrived.

    c. but they also deny government bodies tax revenues: the schools and other local districts would receive no funds from the pin’s in the designated zone for the life of the tif district. (there are some exceptions to this)

    d. as a taxpayer for districts 96 and 208, i am concerned about the extent of impact on these two fine districts. i believe the impact can be overcome, but that once again requires sound and sober planning, this time in the finance area.

    e. yet as recently as august, neither district had been involved in any formal discussions with the village about the tif or its financial impact on their operations.

    III. judgment

    i question this board’s judgment on key matters:

    n it failed to include the henninger development in the tif, leaving perhaps $1 million to $2 million on the table

    n it approved the henninger project’s absurd size in return for nothing

    n it gave away our zoning code and alley way for the henninger project and received a blot on our town in return, which actually will hinder the re-positioning of riverside that we should be pursuing.

    n it has begun the practice of buying developers out of their obligation for parking spaces under the downtown zoning code, for $5000, whereas new parking spaces typically cost $15,000.

    n it quietly REVERSED our time-honored ban on sub-dividing lots in a greedy pursuit of revenue at the expense of riverside’s character. at a time when our town shd be promoting lot combinations for larger homes, to say nothing of preserving all the vacant property as-is and as was agreed to in the 1990-1992 period by all concerned, as well as all subsequent purchasers. this is a genuine outrage.

    n when the trustees were asked about overturning the sub-division ban, they said that the new residential zoning code would cover the matter, but the planning commission then said it had never encompassed the issue of lot sub-division because no one had any idea the trustees would overturn our landmark ordinance banning further subdivisions.

    n it failed to recognize that the natural spot for a tif in riverside is on harlem avenue, in conjunction with Berwyn if possible, where we have considerable car traffic and thus customer traffic, and which is removed from the heart of olmsted’s plan

    n it has countenanced the idea of a parking ramp in sight of the water tower and Guthrie park

    n it has failed to co-ordinate the pendency of the tif district with the high school, with dist. 96, or with anyone else as far as i can tell

    n it has cavalierly put fellow residents’ homes into the district without telling them, and subjected them to fear of eminent domain proceedings, while saying publicly that eminent domain will not be used, but pursuing it just the same.

    n it has put us all in the position of dealing with a tif proposal without an agreed-to vision or comprehensive plan with a design year.

    (and more—¦)

    the movie they are showing us is: riverside redevelopment is all and only about money, and when what makes riverside special gets in the way, too bad.

    i do not think these people have the judgment needed to operate a tif that serves riverside. certainly not without the constraints that a normal process would create.

    i am not anti-tif, nor am i anti-development. but i am for visioning, planning and all of the usual serious and sober disciplines taken by municipalities before they get this far down the tif district road. riverside has not done so, so i propose tabling this and proceeding with visioning and planning.

    i challenge any one of them, or all of them, to debate on any of these points.

    thanks and have a great meeting tonight.


    chris robling

    POSTED THURSDAY DEC 28, 2006 10:31 #
Explore posts in the same categories: Riverside and Olmsted

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