Aldermen put Redevelopment Commission in motion, just barely

An artist rendering of the Greater Five Points Transformation Plan. Released in February 2016, the plan could be the roadmap for an Urban Redevelopment Commission.

After a lengthy discussion in which an informal motion first lacked the votes to pass, the Board of Aldermen on Wednesday directed city staff to develop plans to establish an Urban Redevelopment Commission to kickstart long-stalled city improvement plans.

The board directed City Attorney Scott Davis to draw up plans to establish a Redevelopment Commission with nine city resident members who are not members of the Board of Aldermen and who will serve staggered terms.

The next step is for the city attorney to come back with a more formal plan and hold public hearings. Those next steps could begin later this month.

The board met during a special meeting to discuss city redevelopment and the city’s controversial utility deposit structure (story).

First just three members of the board supported creation of a redevelopment commission: Mayor Dana Outlaw and aldermen Sabrina Bengel and Bobby Aster.

“The door is open. We need to step through it,” Bengel said.

After further discussion, two more aldermen joined in: Jameesha Harris and Jeffrey Odham.

Harris was concerned about forming a commission without first knowing the boundaries of area that will benefit from the redevelopment. However, the boundaries would be set by the city Planning Board and only after the commission is established.

Odham said he would support establishing a Redevelopment Commission only if a majority of the wards potentially targeted for redevelopment were in support.

Though the boundaries have not been set, they will likely closely mirror an area described in the Greater Five Points Transformation Plan, a $400,000 project that took nearly two years to develop but which has been sitting mostly idle since it was released in February 2016.

Aldermen representing that area are from Ward 1 (Bengel), Ward 2 (Harris), and Ward 5 (Barbara Best). Because two of the three aldermen voted in favor, Odham added his as the fifth vote.

Aldermen Best and Johnnie Ray Kinsey voted against forming a Redevelopment Commission, saying they believe the city can carry out the same work without an added layer of bureaucracy.

The discussion lasted about 90 minutes and barely mustered the necessary votes. Had Harris not changed her mind, Odham would not have changed his vote, and the notion of redevelopment in New Bern could very well have died.

“It has been terribly exhausting trying to get something done,” said Mayor Outlaw.

“This is about creating excitement in the community. It sends a sign that we’re open for business.”

A Redevelopment Commission would have powers that the Board of Aldermen lacks. It could sell property and place restrictions on buyers requiring them to, for example, build housing aimed at low-income residents. Right now, when the city sells surplus property, it can place no such restrictions.

A Redevelopment Commission can also loan money to developers.

On the flip side, and this was not discussed by the aldermen, is that redevelopment is all about increasing property values, which in turn increases property taxes. By targeting the Greater Five Points Area, which includes some of New Bern’s most impoverished neighborhoods, redevelopment may eventually price some people out of their homes.

April 11th, 2018 by
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