Saturday, July 22, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Before we build the "The Rise"

While not in District #2, “The Rise” (100 S. Chauncey at State St.), with 675 bedrooms in three towers, 13, 15, and 16 stories tall, “throws shade”, literally, on our district. It will be the second of five high density, mixed-use projects now under consideration for the old Kingston-Chauncey Village.

We need to pause.

We have no land use plan to accompany State St. Redevelopment. Density in the village area of West Lafayette is growing beyond anything we might have imagined even as late as 2012 when we considered a proposed Northwestern and State St. five story “feature” project with a street level CVS. Before we go any further, I believe we need to answer the following three questions.

1) What are we going to save?

In 2014 Chandler Poole began work on a Village Historic District. The initial outline of the district would have included the Missouri Synod Lutheran “University Church”. Nothing came of that first “walk-about”. Chandler moved on.  What are we going to save?  The Miller Building? The Sullivan Bank? University Apartments? How will we save them? What will we do with the old buildings, the Kingston blocks, to their north? Developers are sometimes advised not to worry about historic preservation in West Lafayette. City fines are inconsequential at this scale. What are we going to save??

2) What will stay green?

The Area Plan Commission shared a “density concept plan” with the West Lafayette City Council in July of 2016. A concept only, but if implemented the sometimes threatened Tommy Johnston Park would disappear. The APC is discussing reducing R-3 minimum vegetative lot cover from 30% to 15%. What will stay green between the river and Purdue? Green roofs? Green walls?

The city needs a “green fee”. It needs a “park development fee” applied to high density developments in order to deal with the impact of those developments on the city’s park spaces and recreational facilities. It has been discussed in city government as part of the Parks Department master planning. It has not been implemented.  What will stay green?

3) What else will these projects cost the taxpayers?

How many TIF dollars will be dedicated to infrastructure improvements for “The Rise”? The Hub provoked a spirited discussion between city officials, the West Lafayette Redevelopment Commission, and Hub developers as to the amount of subsidy that project will receive. How many dollars will be committed to “The Rise”? 

To rephrase that question, when will we ever see any TIF dollars spent on neighborhood lighting, as called for in the New Chauncey Land Use Plan of 2012?

Thanks for the other concerns you have all shared with me. “It’s too big”. “Let’s go ugly early?” “It’s not monolithic, it’s trilithic.” (That’s my personal favorite; thanks Meg.) “It’s too close to the street”. “How are you ever going to stage that construction?” “You’re shrinking the streets AND raising the density?” “What about parking?” “THAT’s the signature building we want at the top of the hill?” “I know we’re desperate for tax dollars, but . . . “ “We suffer from low self-esteem.”  All fair enough.

But my three questions are: What will we save? What stays green? How much more will it cost?

We should stop and answer those three questions.

Monday, January 11, 2016

State St. Project: Winners and Losers

Soon we will know which of the two consortia left in the running have won the $60 - $100 million (at the last city council meeting the city increased it's bonding capacity to 73 million in bond series #A, moving to 78 million in a possible bond series #B) West Lafayette State St. Reconstruction Project.

They are:   
  • Plenary Roads State Street
    (Plenary Group USA Ltd., Rieth-Riley Construction Co. Inc., Janssen & Spaans Engineering Inc., and Shrewsberry & Associates LLC)
  • Walsh Gateway Partners LLC
    (Walsh Investors LLC, Walsh Construction Company II LLC, Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., Rundell Ernstberger Associates Inc., and Milestone Contractors LP) 
Who are the other winners and losers?

The biggest winners are the investors who are renting out the money to finance the winning consortium. The have little or no risk here. Not only are they guaranteed payments for 22 years from the revenue accumulated in the Levee-Village TIF, but should the TIF fail to produce the anticipated revenue (between 4.4 and 4.7 million dollars each year), the city is obliged to collect a "special benefits tax" beyond the usual property tax caps, to insure the safety and profitability of the investors. The WL Redevelopment Commission on January 6th. upped the initial lease payment $2.5 million to $19.6 million to make the package more attractive to investors. Nice. 

Purdue is also a winner. It's leadership scores an ideological debate point by replacing the traditional public works model with the profit driven "public/private" partnership now in vogue. It gets a big campus rehab in time for the 150 anniversary of Purdue in 2019. The university's western gateway is developed much more quickly. Projects that were once to be financed by other means (the Todd's Creek relocation) are folded into the State St. budget.

If Wang Hall is typical, there will be some taxable development to feed the western US 231 Purdue TIF and offset Purdue's costs. But whether these new "public/private" projects appear because they escape taxation by wearing a Purdue educational label, or are taxed to repay PRF's investment and grow the city, Purdue does well.

West Lafayette wins. The city could accomplish in three years what might have taken it thirty. Think "Railroad Relocation". West Lafayette wins big IF the city can it make the most of this redevelopment opportunity. We have an uneven record of urban redevelopment. West Lafayette wins big IF the selected consortium moves well up the Joint Board's "scoring ladder". If the ring roads are not completed, we "win" a daily crawl up the W. State St. hill. If we don't get any of the "pretty" that appears in the MKSK  renderings, what will inspire new investment? West Lafayette wins big IF at the end of “Build-Operate-Transfer” road lease, the "pre-owned" road we then inherit is in pretty good shape. IF not, then maybe the city just wins a little.

The losers? Possibly the city's neighborhoods. This was James Haas's argument in the last election cycle. The city has grown dependent on it's TIF's to fund what was once thought to be basic services funded by property taxes; fire stations, fire trucks, dump trucks. Will we be still be able to do that? What else could you dream of doing with 4 million dollars each year for 20 years? Will the benefit derived from "Re-State State Street" trickle up the streets of West Lafayette?
All the signed confidentiality agreements won't matter in a few days. We will soon know who won.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The 2015 Elections ?

There was a municipal election in 2015.

You may have missed it. Most people did.

There are 42,000 people in West Lafayette. At the top of the ballot, Mayor Dennis, running unopposed, received 2,000 votes. Folks must have been happy with the Mayor’s performance over the last four years. Our city government was reconstructed by and for that 5%.

There are 7,000 people in West Lafayette’s District #2, which generally, much like the city’s population after annexation, moved south and west and added students. Running unopposed, I received 85 votes. That’s about 1%. Folks must have been REALLY happy with my work.

The biggest challenge in the election campaign was counting the votes. The Democrats complained from October 15th until the eve of the election that people were getting the wrong ballots. Most often, voters in District #2 found themselves voting for Democrat Larry Leverenz in District #4. They were happy to do so; Larry needed their votes more than I did. But not until my wife got a bad ballot the Sunday before the election did the County Clerk take our complaints seriously. Then Christa Coffey and the election board had the gall to file a report with the state saying that the election had “no problems”. Seriously.

There were issues we might have talked about this election cycle; annexation, State St., and the location of city hall. I did in the League of Women Voter’s pre-election questionnaire.

But it was no small feat to find the candidates responses on the League’s website. Local media was little help. It is much reduced over the last eight years. The city council meetings are off cable. There are no microphones from WBAA or WASK. There is no longer a “beat” reporter for the City of West Lafayette at what remains of the Journal and Courier. TV-18 is still at our West Lafayette council meetings, but the constant turnover there and elsewhere means no one really even knows what to ask elected officials.

Because of annexation a whole host of new players will appear in West Lafayette city government. There is a new clerk. A new CFO hired by the mayor. There are four new councilors. There will be a new chair at council meetings; the council president. The city changed.

There was a municipal election in 2015.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

League of Women Voters Q&A - 2015

What relevant talents, skills and experience do you bring to the Council?
I have served the Second District for the last eight years. During those eight years I have done all that I can to help preserve the New Chauncey neighborhood. Iconic multi-class, multi-generational, near campus neighborhoods like ours routinely disappear. With the New Chauncey Historic District and the New Chauncey Land Use Plan, we hope to encourage restoration, provide information on how to do so, and then help protect the investments of the home owners who have contributed to the historic character of the neighborhood. Given the recent fire death in our neighborhood, I have argued for student health and safety improvements, focusing on code enforcement and the inspection of rental properties. I serve as the council representative to the Go Greener and Historic Commissions. Both the Historic Preservation Commission and the Go Greener Commission are chaired by young Purdue graduate students. This kind of inter-generational involvement is the real benefit of the Purdue annexation.

What is the greatest challenge facing the city? As a council member how will you address it?
How will we deal with the redevelopment of the State St. corridor and the development of the US #231 corridor? Both of these projects are of a kind and scale that we have not tried before, and will be a real test both of our imagination and our management skills. I will continue to lobby for these to be planned developments open to public comment. I am particularly sensitive to the impact of a "re-imagined" State St. on the New Chauncey neighborhood. 

When is tax increment financing useful for the city and when is it not useful?
Given the property tax caps enshrined in the Indiana constitution, there is no other way for the city to fund both significant infrastructure projects and routine capital expenses. The city grows more dependent on TIF dollars with each passing year. My question is not about the usefulness of TIF dollars, but whether the older residential neighborhoods like my own will see any direct benefit from being included in a TIF district. If you like acronyms, let's talk about "PILOTS"; Payments In Lieu of Taxes". Only Westminster pays a "PILOT". Thank you to them! How can our many non-profits pay their fare share for city services?

What are the challenges and advantages of being a level 2 city?
One challenge is that we are a class #2 city operating with a class #3 size staff. Collecting taxes a year in arrears means we have not yet been able to "staff up". We also have a very special partner in this annexation. Purdue is . . . large. We are not. What if Purdue begins to "out-source" public services to the city? How will that affect our budget? The advantage of annexation is our ability to get to the "western lands" beyond Purdue where there are commercial opportunities not capped at 1%. An advantage is in our receipt of those taxes distributed per capita to local governments. The population increase helps here. The philosophical gain is our ability to interest young adults in local politics. The only district council race where three candidates are running is the new District #3; the "student" district. That is worthy of note.

What factors need to be considered in choosing a site for and the construction of a new city hall? How will citizen input be gathered?
I would rather talk about the number, location, and purposes of our municipal buildings. What do we need? Where do we need it? Clearly with annexation the city's population center has moved south and west. Look at the new council districts map. If "State St." is successful, we will have a new "downtown". The administrative centers for this community currently line up along Columbia and State Streets, from Hovde Hall, past the County Courthouse, to Lafayette City Hall. These are all arguments for keeping our "City Hall", our bureaucratic offices, at Morton. But "City Hall" as a front porch for the city; that could be somewhere else. A new community center designed to do those things we like to do, that could be somewhere else. We need not limit the conversation to what is rapidly becoming an anachronistic view of a "City Hall".

A Third Term :)

We are getting closer to the November 3rd municipal election !

Here's the first thing you need to know:


Old/Current Council District #2
New/Class 2 Council District #2
New Council District #2 Detail

Once West Lafayette became a class #2 city, the number of council districts increased from five to six, and the "at-large" positions went from two to three. The Second District "moved" south and west. The city's population overall has moved south and west.

Here's the second thing you need you know:


We have done some good things together over the last four years.

1) The New Chauncey Land Use Plan

Technically an amendment to the Tippecanoe County "Comprehensive Plan", the New Chauncey Land Use Plan was passed by the city council in May of 2013. Work on the plan had begun four years earlier (May 2009), and became more timely as Wang Hall and 720 Northwestern became part of the West Lafayette street scape. Many thanks to Carl Griffin, Jay McCann, and a host of others who persevered through a long and sometimes bitter process. It is essential to the preservation of our multi-class, multi-generational near campus neighborhood.

2) The New Chauncey Historic Preservation District
While Lafayette had created a Historic Preservation Commission in 1993, and while New Chauncey had been a National Historic District since 2002, this neighborhood enjoyed none of the protections or city planning assistance available to it in state law. Beginning in September of 2010, we worked to create the first West Lafayette Historic Preservation Commission (May 2011). We established boundaries for the city's first historic district (New Chauncey) in 2013. The commission is chaired by our neighbor Susan Curtis.

3) Student Health and Safety
The death of Scott Notary in a November 2013 fire at 111 W. Lutz, and the August 2014 WLFI report on the appalling conditions at a B&K rental property at 410 N. Salisbury, are a reminder of the special obligation the city has for its student community. I publicly and repeatedly pressed city officials to examine the role the city rental inspection program in the fire death. The city negotiated a $10,000 fine for occupancy violations with the owners.  My thanks to the Purdue students who have been my 'day job' for 30 years, and recent alumna Emily Bunder, for making me particularly sensitive to these twin issues in a city whose major for-profit industry is rental ownership and management.

Here's the final thing you need to know:


There is always something to work on. Here's a list of issues for the next four years. Let me know your favorites. Suggest one of your own.

- neighborhood redevelopment; zoning, overlay zoning, and the land use plan . . .
- rental signs; Councilor Dietrich and I will work together here . . .
- municipal buildings; how many, where, and what should they do  . . .
- State St. Corridor; what will it mean for New Chauncey . . .
- TIF money; we all live in a TIF -  will the residents ever see any benefit; streetlights?
- "PILOTS" Payments In Lieu Of Taxes Thanks Westminster ! The rest of you ?

It has been a privilege to serve as your Councilman for the last eight years.
I am asking for your vote again this November.

Monday, August 3, 2015

New Chauncey Land Use Zoning - A Brief History

Six years ago Dr. Carl Griffin had a very good idea. He suggested that the West Lafayette City Council request a land use plan for the New Chauncey Neighborhood from the Tippecanoe County Area Plan Commission. I was happy to take up that work. The idea gained real urgency with the development of the peripatetic Wang Hall, and then the arrival of Mark Muinzer's "720 Northwestern" project.

Cities always pick "big" over "little". But back in those years, with Jim Schellinger at CSO architects and with Joe Hornett at "PRF" (Purdue Research Foundation), we were able to imagine a  "South Bend" style large scale reinvestment in Purdue's near-campus neighborhood. We were even going to fly on the Purdue plane to other places in the country where such programs were already in place.

Such an initiative would help preserve historic homes of the 1920's and 30's. It would help preserve a multi-class, multi-generational, near campus neighborhood that hearkens back to a time when the American university was a residential community, rather than an industry. It would, by allowing a mix of residential densities, serve as a counterpoint to the neighborhood segregation by class and income that is a feature of modern real-estate and the bane of urban sociologists. 

It was ambitious. It would make both Purdue and West Lafayette look good. The re-investment plan even had an admittedly awkward name; "New Chauncey Rebound".

But university administrations change. University administrators live other places.

Some few years later, West Lafayette and Purdue have now turned their attention to State St. This is where the university's, the city's, the foundation's and the redevelopment commission's "TIF" monies will go. They will be joined by whatever "rented" money can be found. I have no objection to this ambitious project. It will be the first moment of a new West Lafayette.  I will try and secure some funding from the Redevelopment Commission through the City Engineer's office for a pilot project involving safety improvements along my neighborhood's main street, Salisbury Ave.

But the major redevelopment imagined in advance of the New Chauncey Land Use Plan is unlikely. The neighborhood's one millionaire moved away. The sweeping plans sketched in the early Hayes Triangle Project are gone. "Fuse" was cut in half. The "big news" on Northwestern Ave. is now the Family Express. There is no capital available to do big things. Which perhaps makes the point of the land use plan moot. It was meant to ameliorate "big"; to make the inexorable "big" bearable. "Big" looks less likely.

It could now reasonably be argued that the city, that New Chauncey, should not give up any R-1 zoning, and that this proposal should be defeated. All the predictable developments we would likely see could easily come to us as a "PD" or planned development as they have in the past. I am not making that argument here

While the land use plan was proceeding in fits and starts, in 2011 the city began to independently build the West Lafayette Historic Commission, and in 2013 the commission mapped the New Chauncey Historic District. I was happy to help move both of those ordinances forward. The Historic Preservation Commission would help preserve historic homes of the 1920's and 30's. It would help preserve a multi-class, multi-generational, near campus neighborhood that hearkens back to a time when the American university was a residential community, rather than an industry. It would encourage, inform, then protect the investments of little guy homeowners.

The Land Use Plan narrative was finally completed in 2013. The rezoning before city council now in August of 2015 is an attempt to create a technical response to the land-use narrative. The form-based code which will overlay the district is in process. There will be input into the code both from city staff and our local historic district folks. There will be some overlap in both codes with respect to building form. The interaction between the massive and comprehensive land use plan, these and possible further zoning changes, the Historic Preservation Commission, and the yet-to-come overlay zone will play out as experience builds. Crucially, the Historic Preservation Commission must approve any demolition in most of New Chauncey.

So while this process has had less immediate benefit than was first envisioned, the land use plan and these zoning changes remain worth doing. The overlay form based code is worth doing. The historic preservation commission is worth doing. It is ambitious to hope that they will all work well together.  But there is real opportunity here for us in both preservation and redevelopment, if we can think 10 or 20 years out. In the end, it will be a way of doing for the middle class what gated communities, what golf course communities, have done for the upper class: preserve the character of a neighborhood. All this may have no impact immediately an Katy and Peter Bunder. But it will be important for the people who buy our house, and important for their children.