Brakes on, but for how long?

Opinion: Editorials

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Heaven knows how long it might be delayed, but for now a hinky plan to create a tax increment financing district at the corner of Harlem and Ogden avenues in Lyons has been shelved after the Better Government Association began poking around.

The TIF deal was so odd because its creation would have benefitted a very targeted group of people – one person, actually -- while freezing out new tax revenue for school districts in Riverside. The land is owned by a man who has contributed generously to political committees controlled by Lyons' mayor.

The deal would be for the village of Lyons to buy the land at a super discount, drive its assessed value down to zero and then resell the land back to the political contributor, who could then develop the land -- using TIF funds to do so.

BGA investigative reporter Casey Toner revealed this ploy in late May in a story the Landmark ran on May 29. Subsequently, officials in Lyons have pumped the brakes on the TIF, with the village's attorney saying they wanted to make sure any TIF there would "benefit the village."

We're guessing this interruption is temporary and that the TIF will eventually go through. The TIF process includes public hearings, but since this TIF likely won't include much in the way of residential property, it'll be somewhat streamlined, so there won't be as much in the way of public notice and fewer opportunities for public hearings.

Riverside School District 96 and Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 will have an advisory role in the process through their statutory participation in a Joint Review Board of all taxing bodies included within the TIF boundaries.

They should be vocal in opposing this sweetheart deal, should it arrive. Other agencies ought to give this a very close once over. The Joint Review Board's recommendation is advisory only and needs a supermajority of the Lyons Village Board to overturn. We have no illusions for how that vote would go.

TIFs were created to help spur redevelopment of former industrial sites and other blighted areas and have a legitimate purpose. The properties immediately south of Ogden Avenue in Lyons are blighted, no doubt. They've been let go for years, but it's not because there'd be no way to do it without a TIF.

Anyone suggesting that a lot at the corner of Harlem and Ogden is somehow unable to attract the interest of any developer unless there's a TIF has got to be joking. The owner of the corner property has done plenty of developing in that area – he owns everything on the west side of Harlem Avenue between a former bank and Pershing Road, except for the building on the corner of Harlem and Pershing.

A TIF however, makes it possible to redevelop using someone else's money. That's certainly attractive, but only to a developer.

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