INDEPENDENCE - Plans for a proposed local improvement district (LID) that would fund enhancements to some blighted areas of Independence have been put on hiatus following an outcry from property owners who say it will cost them tens of thousands of dollars.
The district would encompass several side streets off Main Street and fund new sidewalks, light fixtures and sewer and water line improvements. The $2.9 million cost would be split by the city and owners of affected lots.
Independence City Council held a public hearing on the matter at its April 8 meeting, which drew about a dozen community members concerned about the potential changes.
Many criticized the expense involved, noting they would be saddled with long-term, five- and six-figure loans. Opponents also said while commercial properties may see a benefit, the value of improvements to home and rental owners would be negligible.
"To take on a 25-year loan," said Shareef Hagag, whose family owns two lots in the proposed LID, "when you have high gas prices, inflation and everything else ... to try and fit another payment under your belt is hard to swallow."
Council members ultimately tabled the issue. Staff may try to alter the plans in lieu of complaints during the next few months, said City Manager Greg Ellis.
"I still think it's something that needs to be done," Ellis said. "What we've heard is `it's a great project, but we don't want to pay for it.'
"In hindsight, we should have had better communication."
The LID began as an initiative by business owners who wanted to mirror the appearance of Main Street on C Street.
That concept led to "Downtown Revitalization Phase II," in which Independence would have contracted for the project and funded it with a 25-year loan from the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department.
Under the proposal, B to E streets would have received sidewalks, garbage cans, benches, lighting, and sewerline and waterline repairs from Main to 2nd or 3rd streets. Stretches of Main and 2nd streets would have also been upgraded.
Independence would have covered more than two-thirds of the estimated $2.9 million cost; the rest would have been spread out amongst the 23 parties who own the nearly 40 properties in the LID. Each would pay a loan on their respective frontage and a per-linear-foot assessment.
If an owner failed to pay his or her assessment, a lien is placed on the property until the debt is paid. The state would have allowed foreclosure in instances where individuals refused to pay.
Ellis said the owner-driven petition that led to the project only covered C Street. He approached some, but not all, of the other property owners in the area. Those individuals expressed interest in taking part, but only after a cost was finalized, he said.
On April 8, many residential and commercial building owners in the study area said they were given short notice about the project and were shocked to learn the amount they would be assessed - which ranged from $23,300 to $125,000.
"It feels like rural street justice to come in and say 'pay or we'll foreclose,'" said Bobby Muis, who owns the old Speakeasy building and warehouse on C Street.
Rich Foster said the LID would raise the value of his buildings on D Street between 2nd and Main streets.
"I would like to not pay a cent for this," he said. But "I think it's something very much needed."
Others with homes or rental units opined that the improvements wouldn't recoup what they would pay out in loans, and that liens would make sales opportunities more difficult.
Muis said LID enhancements to 2nd Street were pointless while the street continues to deteriorate from use by trains along the Willamette & Pacific Railroad line.
Emese Perfecto owns Running With Scissors on C Street and helped spearhead the LID concept last year. At the meeting, she said she changed her mind after learning her portion of the project would total $60,000.
"I don't think any of us expected this amount; I had priced it at $6,000," Perfecto said. This "cost is just exorbitant, I don't think I'll be able to do that."