Despite a referendum vote strongly against bringing a tax increment financing district to Riverside’s central business district, the Riverside village board decided to continue pursuing the option, although in a revised form, at a special hearing April 23.
At the meeting, the trustees recognized the results of the April 17 referendum vote, in which nearly 80 percent of voters rejected the option of establishing a TIF, but doubted the vote’s usefulness as a measure of true residential opinion. Many argued that voters’ perceptions of the issue were skewed because the TIF process had been halted before certain information could be gathered, leading to misinformation being spread in the community.
“I don’t know what TIF was being voted against, because the board has not yet constructed a plan for a TIF,” Trustee William Scanlon said. “Whatever TIF was voted against, it may not be the one we decide upon.”
All but Trustee Kevin Smith expressed a desire to move forward with the TIF process, at least to the point of adopting a redevelopment plan and forming a Joint Review Board. That group is made up of representatives from each taxing district involved in the proposed TIF, and will provide the village with information on how each district would be affected by it. This question, specifically with regard to the school districts in the village, has been one of the main concerns of TIF opponents.
For his part, Smith called for the board to walk away from the issue for a while longer, if only to calm the tensions that have been building between those for and against the TIF since last year.
“I don’t want the credibility of this board and the reasonable positions we’ve taken across four years to be risked over the TIF,” he said. “I don’t know that moving ahead right now is going to be in the best interest.”
The board does seem to be taking the controversy over the TIF into account as it restarts the process, however. The trustees decided to revise the redevelopment plan, which lays out the TIF budget and goals and lists certain projects TIF funds can support and must be adopted before the Joint Review Board can be called.
Trustee Candice Grace especially pushed to make the plan more explicit as to the board’s intentions for development in the business district, rejecting the argument that the plan should be left vague to give more flexibility to future boards.
“Don’t worry about tying future boards’ hands,” Grace said. “If their hands are tied, let them untie them.”
The trustees made their revisions using information from residential surveys distributed at the TIF workshops in January and February. The changes include removing the option of using TIF funds for an amphitheater or pedestrian tunnel under the railroad tracks at the train station.
Trustees specified that no part of Centennial Park could be used to expand parking, and that any redevelopment done in that area must be historically accurate. The board also added a provision that TIF funds could not be used to support a free-standing parking garage.
The board discussed adding landscaping as one of the TIF’s main objectives, as well as making the preservation of the Frederick Law Olmsted’s original design one of the redevelopment plan’s goals.
Trustees also decided to add a provision to the plan requiring the current and future boards to consult with experts when considering private redevelopment proposals in the TIF, and also to maintain a list of village-approved architects and landscapers for property owners interested in rebuilding or remodeling within the TIF district.
Such approval would be based on the architect or landscaper’s knowledge of the village’s historical character and their ability to design projects that complement it.
Those changes to the redevelopment plan will delay its adoption by the board, which was originally expected to happen at their May 7 meeting. Village Manager Kathleen Rush said she’d work with the village’s TIF consultants to incorporate the board’s revisions, and didn’t know when the final vote would take place.
As for residents, some at the meeting remained skeptical. Mark Shevitz said he appreciated the board being more specific in the redevelopment plan, but was disappointed that the trustees dismissed the election results so easily.
“I was disappointed to hear the board insult the intelligence of voters by saying they were misled or they weren’t clear on the issue,” he said. “They need to give residents more credit, and the view of the residents is pretty clear.”