Council considers surplus property plan

The Columbia City Council is considering what to do with its surplus delinquent properties after an opportunity to redevelop 17 of them to sell was presented during last week’s study session.
Columbia Housing and Redevelopment Corporation Director Trent Ogilvie has spent the past few months assessing the current properties, 38 in all, which were acquired by the city through various delinquent sales and collections. “I really feel like we can put together a plan to bring those properties back on the tax rolls and have viable interest on those properties,” Ogilvie said. “You can look now, in east Columbia there are more building permits being pulled and new construction that is going on, as we speak, in that same area.” Ogilvie also runs Advent Community Development Corporation, a redevelopment nonprofit. The plan, he said, is to solicit proposals from developers and transform the lots into infill family housing. One area of focus is east Columbia, where he said the majority of the properties are located.
The vision for the East Columbia Redevelopment Plan is to improve the connectivity, livability and viability of the community while making it more profitable and livable, Ogilvie said. The goal for Advent is to build three new homes in 2015 through its Neighborhood Stabilization Program. NSP’s program income proceeds totaled $286,698 for the projects, of which Ogilvie said around $270,000 remains. Last year, the NSP facilitated the sale of four homes, totaling $79,900 in sales and averaging $438 in mortgage payments. Ogilvie said when it came to forming a plan, it was important to look at other cities who have conducted similar assessments successfully, singling out Bowling Green, Ky. The advice he said he received from Bowling Green’s Housing Authority director, Abraham Williams, included several benefits the city can reap from donating the excess land parcels to local developmental nonprofits. “The donation of the land by the city reduces the cost of the project and also adds points for those particular nonprofits,” Ogilvie said. “The property is placed back on the tax rolls in a faster manner, and the city no longer has to maintain the property, but it improves the stability of the neighborhoods and the end product is attractive, affordable housing that going into the areas where it’s needed most.” The Hill Street and West 3rd Street area will be the other target area the project will focus on, of which the NPS has already built one home, Ogilvie said. The proposal comes not long after it was brought before the Columbia Arts Council to transform some of the surplus properties into affordable artist housing, based on a similar project in Paducah, Ky. This was a point Councilwoman Debbie Matthews suggested the council should still consider. “As we go through this process, I think we need to go, ‘Is this something we’re going to try to do? Are there certain areas?’” Matthews said. “There’s the ‘garden district’ as I call it, from the public library to the depot is an area, Macedonia is also another great area. But we have to have some sort of stock … give them that incentive to come in to stay and bring their money here.” Councilman Mike Greene, who also serves on the arts council, said although this would be a great idea to bring artists to Columbia and create a greater source of revenue, there are problems. The lots, he said, are mostly empty with no previously built properties to hand over. They are also spread far apart, while most art communities tend to be in a contained area, Greene said.
“As I’ve traveled throughout the South looking for bases like this, I’ve found that art communities tend to do better if they’re in a contained area, instead of one on Hill Street and then one on 10th street,” Greene said. “It just doesn’t work, and so, as I look at this list of 17 properties, I really don’t see anything there that can be part of that program.” A big struggle to build a community around a single property is the time-consuming process of acquiring the surrounding properties, which Greene said could take years. “At this time, I really feel like what we’re hearing is the best use of these properties, mainly because there’s no buildings on a lot of them,” Greene said. “And so, therefore, you can build the type of housing that you can afford that fits the needs of our citizens.” Matthews said she supported Ogilvie’s proposal, but believes the city can have “more than one thought” when it comes to developing the properties. “If you’ve got three or four pieces of property, you’ve got the start of something in a collective,” Matthews said. “I just wanted to think about that as we’re going through with this list to make sure we do uplift the people of our community and re-develop, but at the same time, bring new opportunities for those families here with extra jobs and money flow.” Vice Mayor Christa Martin referenced meetings held during 2008-10, when the city was deciding ways to redevelop target areas and organizing a redevelopment plan. She said it has proven successful and, based on CHRE and Advent’s work in the past, believes the city has the right candidate to front this particular project. “I think, as we look further into that plan, this is still another piece of it as we look at vacant properties to do the development,” Martin said. “What better entity to look at, to utilize and lead that for the city, than someone who has already gone out and done the work, built those houses and has that $287,000 investment pool of money to put back into it.” Currently, there is no sale date set for the 38 surplus properties, City Manager Tony Massey said. He said the city sold eight of these properties last year. He also mentioned the old Columbia Police Department building at 800 Westover Drive being added to the list, following the department’s recent move to North Main Street.

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Powell, J. (2015, February 8). Council considers surplus property plan. Columbia Daily Herald, p. 2. Retrieved June 30, 2015, from http://columbiadailyherald.com/news/local-news/council-considers-surplus...