Debate in Greenwood over a proposed ice-rink complex in Freedom Park ruptured into a feud between the mayor and city council over who should be responsible for setting construction standards for private projects that receive financial assistance from the taxpayers.
The Greenwood City Council voted Monday night to give its initial approval to a requirement that any private project receiving city funds would have to follow additional construction standards. Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers opposed the move, saying these decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis and a blanket requirement would hurt economic development in the city.
Myers called the plan by the city council horrible and short-sighted. He appealed to the council to reconsider its decision.
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“I would seriously ask you to not handcuff me,” he said.
When he took office in 2012, Greenwood had a poor reputation with developers, Myers said.
“Every time I met with business developers they said that Greenwood is one of the worst communities in the state of Indiana to work with,” he said. “You are taking us backward in time, and you are not thinking about what you are doing.”
Council member David Hopper, who introduced the proposal, defended the construction standards, saying the rules the city has put in place for areas such as State Road 135 and Interstate 65 should be made to apply to developers who are receiving financial assistance for projects elsewhere in the city.
Hopper said he has consistently advocated for these standards to be tied to financial assistance the city offers to businesses. Those standards include specifications on the types of construction materials to be used, restrictions on signage and requirements for landscaping. The State Road 135 overlay district requirements were selected because that was the most recently created overlay district in the city, Hopper said.
Council members Brent Corey, Dave Lekse and Chuck Landon also expressed concerns that the mayor was bypassing their authority when Myers withdrew a tax break request for the ice-rink that the council was considering and now is instead asking for a cash incentive for the project through the Greenwood Redevelopment Commission.
When asked to provide a $450,000 tax break for the proposed ice-rink complex, the city council gave its initial approval at its first meeting this month, voting 5-4 in favor of the tax break. But the council also attached a condition to the tax break, requiring the developer comply with the Interstate 65 overlay district construction standards.
Minor-league hockey team Indy Fuel owners Jim and Sean Hallett have proposed the Greenwood Iceplex with up to four ice rinks to be built on 6 acres at Freedom Park. They offered to invest $20 million in developing the city-owned property. In return, they had requested a five-year, $450,000 tax break. The city also has offered to lease the land to them for $1 a month for 60 years, a decision that will need to be approved by the Greenwood Park and Recreation Board.
The council was scheduled to make a second vote on the tax break at its meeting earlier this week with a final vote planned for May 1.
In response to the construction standards amendment, Myers withdrew the request for the tax break last week, saying that the cost of following the additional construction standards would be more than the $450,000 the developers would have saved with the abatement.
Instead, he and other city officials have indicated they plan to ask the redevelopment commission for an equivalent amount of money, a request first raised to the redevelopment commission last week.
The council’s response: a proposed rule that would require any recipient of a financial incentive or tax break from the city, such as the iceplex, to follow the same construction standards as the ones for properties built along State Road 135. The council gave its first approval to the new rule 7-2. Council members Landon and Linda Gibson voted against it.
Landon said he voted against the proposed rule because he hadn’t had the opportunity to review the proposal which had been emailed to him just minutes prior to the council meeting. Gibson said she felt the proposal was too rushed, and such far-ranging requirements could have unintended consequences to projects at the municipal airport or city parks.
Amendments to restrict the proposal to new development and exclude the airport were discussed, but not voted on.
Withdrawing the tax abatement request in order to avoid the construction standards the council desired wasn’t appropriate, Landon said.
“We are supposed to make the rules,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. It isn’t supposed to be done by an appointed group of people.”
The five-member redevelopment commission is comprised of three members appointed by the mayor — Brent Tilson, Mike Tapp and Bryan Harris — and two members selected by the city council — Landon and Mike Campbell, who also are city council members.
Lekse described the move as an end-a-round, and predicted that trying to force the iceplex into the Freedom Park location through an unelected board would not sit well with residents.
“It’s unfortunate that the administration is trying to bypass the council,” Corey said.
The goal, according to council members Corey and Hopper, would be for these new rules about construction standards being tied to incentives to be approved by the council prior to the redevelopment commission’s next meeting May 9.
Tilson, the president of the redevelopment commission, described the council’s proposal as government overreach and micromanagement.
He is worried that putting these restrictions in place would hamper the ability of the redevelopment commission to draw businesses to Greenwood.
“Restrictions, such as these, don’t take into consideration the proposed businesses that may go into any location,” Tilson said. “The businesses may have very specific types of construction necessary to meet their unique business needs that makes their project successful.”
Landon said he still hopes a amicable resolution can be found.
“It has gotten somewhat out of control,” he said. “All parties are a little out of control, and we are a community, a neighborhood. We need to come together on this.”
Debate over the roles of the council and redevelopment commission has been a recurring theme at city council meetings the past few months. The only times the council gets to approve a redevelopment commission decision is when the commission wants to take out a loan or approve a tax break. If the commission pays for a project or provides a financial incentive to a developer with cash, the council doesn’t have any say afterward.
In February, the council voted to replace one of its redevelopment commission appointees with a council member, arguing that elected officials needed to be involved in a board that receives more than $7 million in property taxes each year through its tax increment financing, or TIF, districts.
The debate resurfaced again when the council was asked to give the redevelopment commission permission to pursue more than $30 million in downtown projects. While the council approved the plan 5-4, and a proposal for downtown underground parking garage was removed, members pressed for parking assurances and other details, since they wouldn’t have the opportunity to make those requests later.
While the debate with the iceplex is what brought the issue of construction standards to light, both Hopper and Corey said their concern is much larger than just a ice-ink complex in Freedom Park.
“This is about more than just the iceplex,”Corey said. “If you are coming to the city, we have standards that you have to meet.”