Commission’s action turns state law on head

The Economic Development Commission made a mistake May 26 in approving and recommending the creation of an Economic Development Target Area (EDTA) for a proposed location for Chevrolet of Columbus at the end of Merchants Mile near Sam’s Club. I cast the lone vote in opposition to the proposal. It will now proceed to the Common Council, where I expect those members who understand the plain meaning of the law to abide by it and disapprove the EDTA creation.

EDTAs are intended to be created for economically depressed areas in an effort to spur development. Indiana law spells out the requirements for an EDTA as being an area that has had development be encumbered by historical buildings or “has become undesirable or impossible for normal development and occupancy because of a lack of development, cessation of growth, deterioration of improvements or character of occupancy, age, obsolescence, substandard buildings, or other factors that have impaired values or prevent a normal development of property or use of property” (IC 6-1.1-12.1-7).

This is not a description of the thriving part of Columbus on West State Road 46. The area in question meets none of the criteria in the statute. We have on the table a proposal for developing a portion of the area, so clearly there is nothing substantially preventing “normal development of property or use of property.”

Creating an EDTA in response to an active development proposal turns the law on its head. EDTAs are supposed to spur development. Instead, we have a development proposal spurring the creation of an EDTA.

Why is it that an application so weak on its merits is even being considered? Is it because a former mayor is affiliated with the applicant? Is it because a former city attorney is arguing the case? I hope not. We risk giving the impression that what matters is not the strength of the application but the identity of the applicant.

I understand the desire to attract additional development to our area. But we should reject an approach that strains the limits of the law in both letter and spirit.

Justin Hohn of Columbus is a member of the Columbus Economic Development Commission. He unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for City Council District 4 in the May primary.