County Commissioners to decide Thursday on project

Regina Cassell

The Shawnee County Commissioners will be considering once again whether to establish a tax-increment financing district for College Hill this Thursday.

On Jan. 5, the commissioners struck down the first deal on TIF financing, because they said there were too many problems with agreement between the city and developer, Washburn Lane Parkway Renovations LLC.

Vic Miller, commissioner for District 1, said he is ready to listen to both sides Thursday before he makes his final decision.

“It’s a great idea, but we don’t know if it’s good until it actually happens,” said Miller, who spoke with developers Friday afternoon.

Miller has concerns with establishing it as a TIF district, because of a previous TIF financing experience 15 years ago with the Watertower district in Topeka. The Watertower district was proportioned for TIF financing, but the agreement did not allow for a sunset provision, nor did it have a developer, so the development never took place.

“It made the area worse than it was to start with,” said Miller.

Therefore, Miller said he’d vote against it, until the Topeka City Council had come to an agreement with a developer and made a sunset provision in the agreement to cancel the district if development does not start by July of 2007.

“I learned so much from that experience, that we need to make sure this one doesn’t turn out the same,” said Miller.

According to the resolution the County Commissioners are deciding on, they are suppose to assess whether the designation of the TIF district will have an adverse effect on Shawnee County. While Miller had spoken to the developers, he said he hadn’t spoken to anyone in opposition of establishing the TIF district.

However, the Topeka City Council members heard from both sides at last Tuesday’s meeting, where they voted 8-0 to establish the district. Sylvia Ortiz was absent, so she could not vote. The vote started a 30-day clock for approval from USD 501 and the Shawnee County Commissioners.

Mary Lou Herring, who is against the College Hill redevelopment, said she is worried there are empty apartments around Washburn and residential living is not full, yet Washburn students are still pushing this project.

“Selling segments of neighborhoods to developers is not the way to fix this up,” said Herring.

Bill Newsome, a partner in the Washburn Lane Parkway Renovations LLC, said at last week’s meeting that it was important to stay within their timeline to make this project work.

“Each week we are trying to move it one step toward our goal,” said Newsome.