Law may affect city’s ability to act on vacant properties

Shawano Leader/August 2, 2006
By Tim Ryan

It may be some time before the city’s Redevelopment Authority can take any action against chronically vacant properties in downtown Shawano, even though the ongoing problem of those buildings was a major reason the authority was created.

A seven-member Redevelopment Authority was created by the city in July 2005 and a Shawano Redevelopment Project Plan was finalized in May. The city approved the plan in June.

The plan includes several objectives, including marketing the downtown area and encouraging development.

But one of the objectives — intended to give the city power to acquire properties that are considered an ongoing problem — has been potentially weakened a bit by a law that went into effect in April. The law, Act 233, put limitations on condemnations by local governments.

"Properties that are unblighted are virtually untouchable," said city administrator Jim Stadler at a meeting of the Redevelopment Authority on Tuesday.

In some cases, Stadler said, "it removes a tool that we might have used."

Condemnations are still possible. The new law simply means the city will have to be able to prove its case that a property is blighted.

But while condemnation and the implications of the new law were talked about at Tuesday’s meeting, that option took a back seat to the more immediate issue of the Redevelopment Authority’s budget.

Member Vince Studer noted that discussions of eminent domain and condemnation were premature.

"Our intent was to work with property owners," Studer said. "Condemnation was intended to be a last resort."

The authority’s initial focus will instead be on efforts to market the redevelopment area, which has been designated the city’s fourth Tax Incremental Finance (TIF) district.

The boundaries of the district include a narrow swath that varies in width of a block or two east and west of Main Street and that runs from First Street in the north to Sunset Avenue in the south.

The Redevelopment Authority will rely heavily on the TIF district for its budget, but it remains to be seen how much revenue will be available.

TIF districts are created to spur revitalization and development, with the city borrowing to cover the costs of infrastructure, such as sewer and water mains and roads, or other improvements. Property taxes in those areas then go toward paying off the loans.

Stadler said the city should learn next month how much property values in the TIF have increased over last year, and whether there will be any excess revenue that can go to the Redevelopment Authority budget after debt obligations are met.

Stadler said there was not likely to be much for 2007.

"The first year will be a modest budget," he said.

The authority will also look to other financial help, which could include grants and private sector investment. It’s hoped that the authority can offer grants, loans or other incentives to property owners to improve or develop their properties.

Member Steve Sengstock said another priority for the authority should be "awareness building" and finding more ways to bring people to the downtown area.

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