Leader Blues

Monday, March 05, 2007

TOP STORY >>Builder asks Jacksonville for district

IN SHORT: Council grants developer his request for a wide-open improvement ordinance.

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville City Council gave a reluctant approval Thursday night to an improvement district, which the developer said was needed for him to build a 111-lot subdivision in the southern part of the city.

An improvement district is funded by the buyers of the property, allowing the subdivision to maintain the improvements in perpetuity, while the city has no ownership of the infrastructure.

Developer Brian Buroughs originally wanted the improvement district to help build a sewer system in his planned subdivision near Homer Adkins Pre-K Center.

The ordinance creating the improvement district was tabled at the council’s last meeting.

Aldermen were under the impression that the developer wanted to create a sewer-improvement district for the purpose of funding grinder pumps and sewer lines needed to move water and sewer to the appropriate main city line.

But the wording presented to the council called for an improvement district that would cover the cost to build and maintain just about anything a person could think of—a telephone service system, a cable television service system, streets, street lighting, curbs, gutters, retention basins, landscape, erosion control and even engineering studies.

Even though state law allows improvement districts this broad, City Attorney Robert Bamburg said it was the first one of such magnitude to be proposed for the city.

Alderman Reedie Ray called the plan a “win-win situation. It all comes down to affordable housing for that part of the city. I’ve researched it and think we should go forward.”

But no one else on the council was as enthusiastic.

Alderman Terry Sansing questioned the need for such an open-ended agreement.

“We have no problems with a district for sewer or for water, but this is carte blanche,” Sansing said. “This shifts all the costs from the developer to the buyers.”

Alderman Kenny Elliott thought approval would be “opening up a can of worms.”

It wasn’t until the city attorney assured the aldermen that the council could make sure the developer doesn’t overstep his bounds in the final plat process that the council relented.

“We’re here to protect the residents,” Alderman Terry Sansing said, “and we need to make sure that we do that.”

Alderman Kenny Elliott said, “I don’t like the multi-purpose idea of this district. If something goes wrong the city will be called first and asked to take care of it. What’s going to stop us from having a room full of upset residents when something goes wrong?”

Buroughs assured the council that all improvements except the grinder sewer pump system would be turned over to the city.
“But why do you need carte blanche?” Sansing kept asking.

Buroughs said he was just following state statute and the wording was necessary to satisfy the financial institution backing the subdivision.

“We’ve had three other subdivisions come before us and ask just for a sewer improvement district and not all this other stuff. Maybe you need to find another financial institution,” Sansing suggested.

The city attorney said at the time of the final plat approval the city could request a separate document to turning over streets, sidewalks and other improvements to the city.

“I just hope we are not setting a bad precedent,” Sansing said, as the only alderman who ended up voting against the improvement district.