Columbiana council: Just supported TIF

COLUMBIANA – City council members said Tuesday they did not support a new planned development at the Lake Front Golf Course property but only supported using tax increment financing (TIF) for a new lift station there.

Mayor Bryan Blakeman called the minutes of the March 18 meeting into question on Tuesday and said they should be amended to reflect that, but Clerk Deann Davis said they could not be changed because they were accurate.

Davis said she went back and listened to the audio of the March 18 meeting and it confirmed they were supporting the concept of the new development.

The minutes stated, “Simpson moved to approve the concept and noted the site plan would need to be presented to the planning commission for approval,” and Davis said that is how it happened.

She advised that because the audio did not negate how the March 18 minutes were written she would reflect the clarification in this week’s meeting minutes.

Boardman resident and Columbiana businessman Bob Struharik said he was under the impression they were supporting the entire concept, not just the TIF.

“I felt that motion that night was an encouragement, we want to move forward with this. I didn’t believe it was for the TIF, it was for the concept. I listened to the video three or four times and that is what I heard,” he said.

All on council disagreed.

“We definitely did not approve a hotel that night, all we approved was concept of a TIF,” Councilman Lowell Schloneger said later.

In a TIF the debt used to finance a project is paid using future tax revenue from the projected property value increase that would occur. TIFs can be used for streets, roads, sewer and water lift stations.

The city is looking to use a TIF to fund the roughly $1.8 million needed for a new lift station at the former Lake Front Golf Course property that would service the surrounding area as well.

The new station would eliminate the need for five existing stations that are outdated.

Homestead Drive resident Don Thomas asked council if the TIF would be placed on a ballot for public vote.

Councilman Dick McBane said the TIF would be approved by council and Municipal Attorney Daniel Blasdell said that would be done by ordinance.

Thomas then expressed concern for the city’s overall growth plan and said he believes residents are being left out of the process.

“I’m asking council to tell us what you guys – and lady – are going to do with our county and our tax money,” he said to council, including Councilwoman Mary Harold Calinger. “We are going to continue to be here until we get some answers.”

Thomas said he would like to hear more about a strategic plan for Columbiana County, specifically the northern part, to understand what is being done to grow the county and what the city can do to get business to embrace the local area.

Blasdell said when the zoning was established four years ago it was based on a comprehensive plan that is reviewed by the city’s planning commission.

County Commissioners also consider growth of the county, Blakeman said.

Regarding the Lake Front property Thomas said, “How does the most premier land possibly in Columbiana County get used? Is it best to have a hotel on it? How about a hospital? How about a mall? How about a homeowners’ development?”

He feels the residents are being “pigeonholed” in a development that could include infrastructure funded through tax payer dollars.

McBane said council cannot dictate to developers how a property should be developed.

The city’s planning commission does have authority to see that developers are adhering to a site plan, which must be approved by the commission prior to anything occurring.

That site plan is very comprehensive and addresses the issue of zoning and other requirements, Blasdell said.

Should a site plan be rejected by the commission, a developer may contend that in the county common pleas court, he added.

Simpson said the new lift station is needed and even if there wasn’t a TIF, taxpayer dollars would be used for the necessary easements the city would need, and Schloneger agreed, saying residents could be paying for it through sewer fees.

“Part of their idea asking for the TIF is they want to put in a lift station at the bottom of the hill. We need that, the city needs that, the people that live on the western part of Arrowhead development, if we have one lift station go bad they have sewer in their bathtubs,” Simpson said.

The reason water and sewer was not connected to the property when it was originally annexed in was because the city did not have the sewer line capacity to reach that area, McBane said.

The property is zoned C4, which Blasdell said is designed for heavy automobile traffic, radio, TV, printing, wholesale, fuel, and food establishments, greenhouses, hotel, motel, tourist homes, mortuaries and tool and equipment rental and driving establishments.

Simpson attempted to ease resident’s concerns about plans for the property.

“This is my town, I’m not going to screw it up either. I’m not going to vote for anything that I think really should not be there,” he said.