Could giant First Ward tax giveaway squelch Columbia's Bohemian rhapsody?
By Tracy Greever-Rice, Ph.D.

This editorial evolved from a public Facebook post written after learning the City of Columbia has a working group to plan TIF districts that includes no members of affected neighborhoods. 

Non-Columbian warning:  No need to bother unless you just enjoy the internecine struggles of a nice little mid-western town destroying itself from the inside out via the greed of over-empowered land developers and the hubris of local apparatchiks, who -- while well-meaning & kind folks -- imagine that justice being dumb is the same thing as being blind.

Plans are afoot to establish TIFs -- tax increment financing districts -- in the central city.  Some folks have suggested designating the entire First Ward a single TIF.   Other business interests are lobbying for multiple TIFs. 

TIFs are a legal tool to facilitate redevelopment and increase the local tax base.  Increased taxes via more intense uses (e.g, residential to commercial, single-family houses to commercial development) stay in the TIF district to defray development costs. 

To establish a TIF district, properties within the district have to be declared blighted or near-blighted.

As we recently learned through the EEZ application debacle, Columbia must consider an important reality in planning infill development in central Columbia: 

With average housing prices well below $100,000 per single family residence, central Columbia is THE location of affordable, single-family residential housing and THE place for low and moderate income families to purchase homes, build wealth, maintain and/or establish neighborhoods and community.

To justify establishing a TIF district, the properties within the district have to be declared blighted or near-blighted.

It is despicable that the same smallish group that controls the Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, REDI, and non-profit boards across CoMo is talking out one side of its mouth about eliminating poverty while chewing up low-income neighborhoods with the other side.

These groups recently joined hands in support of the EEZ, a similar redevelopment proposal that blighted 60% of Columbia and included central city residential and retail neighborhoods in a program supposedly confined to recruiting and maintaining manufacturing jobs.

Time to publicly call "bull sh--" on this bull sh--.

If we destroy all of the interesting, historic, appropriately-scaled-for-human living space in the central city, there is none left.   The North Village Arts District -- gone.  Historic neighborhoods, pedestrian and bike-friendly communities -- gone. 

As comedian Elaine Boosler's mom would famously say, "A fortune, pissed away."

How long do you think the Old Southwest -- last of the high-value historic neighborhoods -- will last once this corridor starts to redevelop?  A decade, maybe twenty years?  They already tried to gerrymander most of this area into the First Ward.  We need to start paying attention.

Time to publicly call "bull sh--" on this bull sh--.

Not all of this is bad.  Growing up, not out, is good - I get that.  But plenty of surface parking lots, empty and underutilized county and city properties, and underutilized commercial properties exist that are a great deal more suitable for infill development than people's homes.

Of course, infill development can be done well.   But -- with some notable exceptions, clearly -- what else has the CoMo development community done well?

Go north or south a few miles to see all the crumbling duplex farms, most less than 20 years old.   Look at all the student apartments that have replaced the lovely valleys that frame Rock Quarry Road and Old Highway 63.    Look at the scads of strip malls with still-empty units built immediately before the recession.

As comedian Elaine Boosler's mom would say, "A fortune, pissed away."

As Albert Einstein famously said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

How can we rationally believe that the same insider-game process, with its lack of sound planning and agreed-upon design standards that led to this sprawl, can do infill development in central Columbia both equitably and profitably?

Time to take back control of our local government and WAKE UP! 

Once Columbia's heart is gone, the rest is soon to follow.