Formation of economic improvement district eyed

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer October 05, 2012 01:30 pm

With prodding from Friends of La Grande Main Street, the La Grande City Council Wednesday night took a step toward forming an economic improvement district for the downtown business area.

During its regular session at City Hall, the council held a public hearing and heard a first reading of an ordinance that would enable district formation. Before the reading, City Manager Robert Strope stressed that the ordinance doesn’t actually create a district, nor does it address assessments.

Instead, the ordinance is a mechanism that allows the city to move forward with the formation of districts. Strope said that before a district is established, the proposal must go through a public process that includes hearings. 

“We’re calling the ordinance that is before you an enabling ordinance,” Strope told the council at the start of Wednesday’s hearing. He said district boundaries and assessments would be spelled out in a separate ordinance to be considered later.

Economic improvement districts are most frequently used to support and improve commercial areas — typically downtown business districts — and to increase retail opportunities. 

In a memo to city councilors and staff, Strope said a district can be either funded by assessments or by business license fees, provided enough property owners within the boundaries of the proposed district agree to being assessed.

He said that according to Oregon statute, the project would be terminated and no assessments would be made if a certain

percentage of property owners within the proposed district object. The statute says the project would be terminated if written objections are received from owners of property upon which more than 33 percent of the total amount of assessments is levied.

The enabling ordinance considered Wednesday was drafted by Friends of La Grande Main Street’s Downtown Improvement Steering Committee. The ordinance says the purposes of a district include increasing business revenue, increasing property values, supporting programs to improve the downtown area and attracting businesses to the area.

The council made little comment on the enabling ordinance, though Mayor Daniel Pokorney praised La Grande Main Street for bringing it to the table.

“I think it’s a move forward,” Pokorney said. “I know the group has worked hard on it. It’s a move to improve our downtown and I commend the Main Street program.”

The enabling ordinance is slated for a second reading and a council vote during the Nov. 7 regular session. 

The council plans a work session on an assessment ordinance Oct. 22. Public hearings on district formation are tentatively planned for December and January.

Wednesday’s city council agenda was a light one. In other action, the council:

•Approved a lease agreement with the Blue Mountain Nordic Club

•Accepted revised covenants, conditions and restrictions for parcels of land located in the La Grande Business and Technology Park

•Approved establishment of a weed abatement lien on property at 1519 S Ave.

•Awarded a bid for a sanitary sewer rehabilitation project

Also, the council appointed citizens Vicki Jassenoff and Wendy Swindoll to the Arts Commission, and Jennifer Adkison to the Planning Commission.