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Talent slows fast-track urban renewal effort

Original plan had come under criticism from fire officials, county

The Talent Urban Renewal Agency has backed away from a fast-track approach to creating a new urban renewal district that would have been effective Aug. 5.

Delays in creation of a working plan for the district are cited as a reason for the slower approach.

“I’ve never had a planning process of this level where there aren’t some delays along the way,” said Darby Ayers-Flood, chair of the urban renewal district’s board of directors. “It’s our intent to follow the steps of the process as planned.”

A plan should be done by the end of July. Consultant Elaine Howard is working on the plan, and efforts are likely to continue in June, said Ayers-Flood and agency Executive Director Jon Legarza.

A February timeline called for completion of the plan by May 3. That would have kicked off a 45-day consultation period with affected tax districts. Under the original plan, Talent City Council would have considered an ordinance to create the district July 5 after earlier Planning Commission consideration and a public hearing.

The speed of the original effort and formation of the district has brought criticism from other jurisdiction officials from Jackson County Fire District No. 5 and Jackson County. They expressed concerns because a new urban renewal district would have taken away future tax revenues they would receive from growth of assessments in the area.

A new urban renewal district could benefit both commercial and residential owners in the burn scar area of the Almeda fire, said Ayers-Flood. Proposed district boundaries would include many of the burned areas.

“The board of the agency has to approve the work plan, then it goes to the City Council. The timing is up to the City Council,” said Legarza. Meanwhile, TURA officials have scheduled a meeting with the District 5 board of directors for June 1.

“I think there’s a lot of unknowns right now. We are delighted to hear what they want to share with us,” said District 5 board Chair Vicki Purslow. “I’m hoping at the meeting they will give us lots of granular details.”

Urban renewal is funded by tax increment financing. At the time an urban renewal plan is adopted, the county assessor calculates the total assessed value of the area and establishes this value as the “frozen base” for the area. Other taxing districts within the district don’t receive any increase in revenues from increasing values for the life of the district. TURA has planned a 35-year life.

The original proposal called for freezing the values as of January 2021, four months after the Almeda fire, when vast swaths were nothing but charred rubble and assessments would have been lower. Reconstruction in the area since the fire will result in increased assessments and greater tax revenues.

Under tax impact projections provided by Howard in March, the city of Talent would forgo $1,236,956 in property tax revenue in 2053 compared to $33,548 in the initial year of 2024 if the district was formed. Fire District 5 would forgo $1,223,942 in the final year and $33,548 at the start.

In other urban renewal news, Legarza’s firm, Sustainable Healthy Communities, is relinquishing leadership of the agency and city staff will take on urban renewal administration.

Legarza was brought in to lead the agency in April 2020 with a goal of moving forward efforts to develop the Gateway property for commercial and residential use. The agency was fortunate to have Legarza’s skills, and his employment was never viewed as long-term, said Ayers-Flood.

After the Sept. 8, 2020, fire, the agency developed plans to turn Gateway into a transitional housing site to bring back displaced residents. The site now houses 53 families in trailers.

“We have tried to set the stage for the best way forward with a vision,” said Legarza. “The city should bring in the agency. It just facilitates better coordination. In most cities it is in-house.”

Talent City Manager Jordan Rooklyn will become the agency’s executive director. Rooklyn said she expects to work with Community Development Director Kristen Maze to determine how to handle the urban renewal work. The city and Healthy Sustainable Communities have been working on transition plans.

The agency currently has no revenue, as the original district ceased collecting taxes in 2020, but it is managing ongoing projects and has funds in place to support work.

Talent City Council serves as the board of directors for the urban renewal agency. Such an arrangement is common for jurisdictions throughout the state of Oregon and exists in Medford and Phoenix. City councils have the authority to create urban renewal districts.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.