The proposed Summerville hotel/condo complex, promoted by the mayor, has deeply divided Summerville. But what many people do not know is that there are more “done deals” on the way. They will be undertaken by the Summerville Redevelopment Commission (RDC), formed by the town last year. Projects will include high-density development and rezoning in Summerville’s Historic District — and anything else mentioned in the Vision Plan — all without public hearings.
How can town leaders justify this? RDCs are creatures of state law whose sole legal purpose is the elimination of “blight.” Once an RDC finds and declares blight, the RDC can do pretty much anything it wants with the property without citizen participation.
The town conveniently found blight in Summerville’s Historic District last June, the very site where the mayor wanted to see a “boutique hotel” built. That allowed the town to run the project through the RDC.
RDCs have exceptional powers, including the power to subsidize private developers, transfer to them public money and property, and grant them tax rebates and other concessions.
The town entered into a public-private partnership agreement with developer Applegate on July 14, 2014, to design and build the hotel/condo complex requiring $9.5 million in tax subsidies.
Development investors are increasingly seeking tax subsidies to improve their bottom line, convincing elected officials it will boost the local economy.
The presumption is that government planners can allocate resources more efficiently than the free market.
Communities that are talked into redevelopment schemes by their elected officials often lose their small businesses, which are pushed out by big chain stores. Individual citizens see their property rights eroded as public debt mounts and their tax base eroded by RDCs capturing all future taxes generated in their “blighted” zones.
Summerville is not Detroit. It does not need redevelopment.
There are better ways to increase Summerville’s tax base than to turn over the keys to the town to these developers.
If we don’t protect our small-town charm and authenticity from developers by the ballot box in November, we will lose it forever.