Meeker residents upset by wording in URA conditions survey letter

Pictured is a map of the conditions survey area for the Meeker Urban Renewal Authority.

MEEKER I The Meeker Urban Renewal Authority (MURA) board members met with a full house at their July 5 meeting. More than a dozen citizens whose homes and/or businesses were included in the first conditions survey attended the meeting to express their concern and disapproval of the wording in a letter they received notifying them of the study.

The letter, which was not drafted by the Town of Meeker or the Urban Renewal Authority board, stated that the survey was necessary to determine whether the properties in the study area could be considered “slums” or “blighted areas” according to the state’s urban renewal law.
“On behalf of the board (regarding) the letter that went out, we’re going to start off with an apology. The stuff that was in the letter came directly out of state statutes. It’s not implying that we have slums. It wasn’t meant to degrade anyone. It was probably a poor choice of words to fit our area,” board chair Shawn Bolton said.
Anne Ricker, owner of the independent consulting firm Ricker|Cunningham, hired by Better City to do the study, outlined the three step process for establishing a redevelopment plan area that will outline potential project locations in greater detail. To qualify for Tax Increment Funding, the plan area has to meet specific state statutes.
Ricker said the study of conditions is the first step, and said the “horrible terms” in the letter come directly from the state. The survey provides a way to narrow the boundaries for a plan area.
“It’s actually very rare that the study area is the same as the plan area. The downside is everybody gets noticed. Many times communities look at a larger area to potentially catalyze local businesses that would spin off the original.”
The study area encompasses 153 structures and 27 vacant parcels in 25 full blocks and nine partial blocks from First through 13th streets between Park Street and the White River. (See map image.)
Ricker said 10 of the 11 state-mandated factors for blight were found in the study area, which was divided into three sections: Western, Central and Eastern. By state statute, five of the 11 criteria must be found in the study area.
“It doesn’t say they aren’t code compliant, and it’s not about design standards or how someone keeps up their yard,” Ricker said in response to images used in study as representations of blight characteristics. She also stated the study is “mostly concerned” about roads, infrastructure (sidewalks, sewer, drainage, etc.) and public spaces in the survey area.
“This is a commercial real estate financing mechanism,” Ricker said. “It’s a way to finance improvements without raising taxes.”
The next step for the MURA is to determine a specific plan area within the study area. The proposed Meeker Adventure Center is expected to take up one full block.
Bolton and Ricker both assured those in attendance that eminent domain will not be used to obtain property within the plan area.
“They have to be willing participants to sell,” said Town Manager Scott Meszaros.
Asked why the study area included properties all the way to the river when the redevelopment plan is supposed to be focused on the business corridor, Ricker stated, “We draw a broad swath to understand what the conditions are in the area. It gives us a good sense of what the issues are for the future.”
“The whole idea of the (Meeker) Adventure Center has been to revitalize the downtown area. It’s not to displace people out of their homes. We have focused almost wholly on areas that are on Market Street and have walkability to the downtown area,” said MURA board member Wendy Gutierrez. “We’re just looking at a broad area, making sure we meet the criteria. Then we start narrowing the focus.”
Asked what effect being included in the study or in a plan area would have on property values, Ricker said that in her 30 years of experience, it does not increase the market value or the assessed value, but it does increase the speculative or asking price.
She also stated, “It’s not about individual properties, it’s about blocks. No addresses are in the study and there are no ownership names.”
County assessor Renae Neilson asked where the plan area is going to be located, and when a legal description will be provided.
“We’re working to find out who is going to own this and invest. They’re going to be the ones who make that decision,” Meszaros said.
The draft report will be available to the public through the Town of Meeker.
The next MURA meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 18. The board is scheduled to open the RFQ letters they have received at that time.