Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Davidson Depot: Brownfields tax credits but nothing extra

The Davidson Depot developers held a meeting at Town Hall last Thursday with people living nearest to the property.  Most of those who attended were long time residents of the West Side neighborhood.  About 25 attendees looked to be there.

The meeting wasn't advertised to the "public" per se, but an email circulated from non Town Hall sources Thursday afternoon landed in the inbox here at aShortChronicle.  With the recent swirl about the on again/off again closed sessions and inconclusive information about possible town financial support for the project, it seemed like a good idea to check it out.

aShortChronicle confirmed with the town Public Information Officer, Christina Shaul, that it was OK to stay since this was technically the developer's meeting though Town Hall was clearly helping with the coordination. Two Commissioners, Rodney Graham and Jim Fuller, were there, but that was below quorum so technically the meeting didn't need to be open to the public.

The meeting was intended to be mostly about how the cleanup of the asbestos on the site would occur.  However, before that piece of the presentation occurred, a significant bit of uncomfortable and disturbing history with the site needed to be aired.

First, the current owner spoke.  Her father bought the site in the mid 1970s with its contamination issues unbeknownst to him or the family.  They've supposedly been trying to sell it for 15 years and gone through 5 buyers.  After the contamination was revealed in 1984 the cleanup costs have made redevelopment of the site very difficult and prohibitively expensive.

The stories told after the owner spoke paint an even more dire picture of the history of the site. Numerous lifelong West Side residents told heart wrenching stories of the impact the asbestos factory has had on the community over decades.  Multiple people told stories of loved ones who they believed had died because of working there.  Their biggest concerns were clearly about the safety of the cleanup effort.

Readers can see for themselves what those cleanup plans include when the project has its public information session on September 29.

From the town website

"public information session on Thursday, September 29 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Davidson Town Hall. There will be a formal presentation at 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. and members of the development team and state's Brownfields Program
 will be available throughout to share information and answer questions."

During the discussion one attendee did ask about a part of the story aShortChronicle has been covering.  Would the Town be footing the bill for the cleanup?

The answer is "partially" but no more than they would if anyone were to redevelop the project.

Here's why...

The project site will be a part of the State's "Brownfields" Program which does allow for 5 years of sliding scale tax credits once the project cleanup is verified by the state.

That's a credit any developer for any project would very likely utilize.

Why that was never clearly explained in the previous questions asked regarding town funding is unclear.  However, it was nice to see the citizen who asked the original question ask a follow-up question.  "Would there be any town specific funding for the project?"

The answer from developer Charlie Rulick with the Miller Valentine Group was a clear "no".  In a follow-up email to Rulick last Friday he reiterated "nothing other than the Brownfield tax abatement is being considered."

On Friday after getting this response from Rulick, the project's local attorney, Susan Irvin, called to provide a little more detail.  Irvin wanted to pass along that even with the 90% abatement in the first year, the town would receive more than twice the revenue it does now.

The property is currently valued right at $1 million and brings in $3,500 to Davidson.  Using those numbers that would put a ballpark value of more than $20 million on the completed project.  Interestingly though, when asked through the company's local marketing firm if a value was available, Miller-Valentine declined to provide a value saying it was too early to do so.

What was clear from the meeting however was that this site has caused a lot of heartache over many years for those owning it and those living near it.

Regardless of what people feel about the idea of 183 apartments there, the asbestos issue needs to be addressed and whenever that happens it will cost the town for a few years.

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