Urban Renewal Proposal in Dispute

Article excerpt

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

Bike shop owner and former Eugene City Councilor Paul Nicholson is challenging the city's Nov. 6 ballot proposal to finance downtown redevelopment.

Nicholson said the wording of the city's $40 million ballot proposal violates state law because it fails to "plainly and concisely" summarize what the measure would accomplish.

The wording "misleads voters," Nicholson said in his challenge filed Wednesday in Lane County Circuit Court.

City attorney Glenn Klein, who wrote the ballot wording, disagreed.

"Our ballot title is accurate," he said Thursday.

The dispute will be settled by a Lane County Circuit Court judge, who will decide which ballot language - the city's or Nicholson's - should be put before voters.

Nicholson's attorney, Meg Kieran, said the judge may have to rule before next Thursday, the deadline to submit measures for the Nov. 6 ballot. Klein, however, said he wasn't sure if that was the case.

In the election, Eugene voters will be asked to approve a $40 million increase in downtown urban renewal district spending, plus give permission to extend the life of the district by six years, from 2024 to 2030.

The city finances public improvements in the downtown and riverfront urban renewal districts through increased property taxes in the districts, a method called tax-increment financing.

Nine years ago, the City Council approved spending $33 million for public improvements downtown. The city has spent all but $4.6 million of that. Most of the money, $26 million, went for the $36 million downtown public library.

Now Mayor Kitty Piercy and the City Council want voters to approve spending up to $40 million for public purposes related to the possible West Broadway projects by Beam Development and KWG Development Partners, both of Portland.

Nicholson, who opposes the city's plans, is the owner of Paul's Bicycle Way of Life.

He said the city's proposed ballot language is "ambiguous, false and misleading" because it says the changes to the downtown urban renewal district would not "impose new taxes."

Yet, Nicholson, said the city's ability to borrow up to $40 million depends upon the tax revenue generated by the "increased property values" after the urban renewal plan is approved.

"The city attorney is attempting to imply that this measure will not affect taxes, which is patently absurd," he said.

Also, by extending the life of the urban renewal district until 2030, every property owner in the district would finance the urban renewal district six years longer than originally planned, Nicholson said.

Klein said the urban renewal district change would not increase property taxes for Eugene property owners.

"You would pay the same amount, even if there wasn't an urban renewal district," he said. …