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MailTribune.com
  • Improved communication with urban renewal agency on docket

  • PHOENIX — The City Council's meeting Tuesday will include discussion about communication issues between the council and Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency, as well as a rehash of the issue that prompted those concerns.
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  • PHOENIX — The City Council's meeting Tuesday will include discussion about communication issues between the council and Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency, as well as a rehash of the issue that prompted those concerns.
    Mayor Jeff Bellah asked councilors to comment last week on possibly combining the council and urban renewal board.
    Councilors agreed to discuss future joint sessions and methods of improving communication between the two entities, which appeared to break down last year after the council rejected an urban-renewal proposal to preserve a historic structure and move it next to City Hall.
    Demolition of the structure, the historic Steadman house, will be reviewed again Tuesday for the second time in a year. An agenda item calls for condemnation and demolition of the structure.
    A similar demolition request last year, which was essentially tabled, prompted concerns between the council and urban renewal officials.
    The urban renewal agency wanted to relocate and rehabilitate the old house on a lot adjacent to City Hall, but the council sealed the fate of the old house by denying the request.
    Subsequent conversations found councilors voicing frustration over a perceived lack of communication between the city and its urban renewal board.
    Last week, a workshop for councilors included discussion of ways to improve communication between the two agencies or creation of a combined urban renewal agency.
    Urban Renewal Agency Director Marla Cates declined to discuss communication issues but said her agency would move forward no matter what the city decides.
    "The City Council needs to decide what they want to do and then they can let us know and we will move on from there," Cates said.
    "The majority of urban renewal agencies across the state have city councilors or county commissioners serve as liaisons to urban renewal agency boards of directors. It is less usual to have a separate board of directors or a hybrid, which is what we have with two city councilors on our board already, but that doesn't mean it's never been done."
    Councilor Terry Helfrich voiced concerns about merging two busy agencies that have specific roles and training.
    While councilors seem divided over whether the urban renewal agency and City Council should be combined, Helfrich suggested last week that the two agencies have a series of joint meetings before making any permanent decisions.
    "I would keep them separate long term, but I'm being open to both ideas and to trying to decide what's best ... for our city," Helfrich said.
    "I felt like, 'Hey, let's try a couple work sessions together and see how that works.' But I definitely don't want to turn it over to the council now when it's only going to be six to eight months before an election, and who knows what the next council will want to have happen."
    Helfrich voiced concern about doubling the workload for councilors in a city where "there is already a very hard-working and highly functioning urban renewal board."
    "Urban renewal is very complex, and it takes a lot of time to learn it. We have a situation where you have board members who have been on there a long time and are savvy with it," Helfrich said.
    Tuesday's council meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m., after a 30-minute study session, at the City Hall annex, 1000 S. B St.
    Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.
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