Not A Perfect Fit At All

November 30, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Kent County Board of Commissioners isn't certain that adding a 302-acre, mixed-use project proposed for Walker to the brownfield redevelopment plan in Wyoming is in step with the spirit of the state law.

County commissioners also aren't sure what county residents will gain from the massive development, which features a Cabala's sporting goods store as its anchor.

"What is not clear to us is what benefit will be derived by the residents of Kent County as a 'return on investment' for the contribution of its $23.2 million in property tax levies to be diverted to underwriting developer costs for this project" wrote County Chairman Roger Morgan in a November letter to the Wyoming City Council, which could add the project to its plan as early as this week.

"In addition, I am concerned that using the Brownfield Redevelopment (Financing) Act for the purpose of underwriting this development goes far beyond the original intent of the state statute," added Morgan.

The county argues the law's intention is to redevelop blighted industrial and commercial sites in urban locations, not an apple orchard in a largely suburban setting, like the land the OrchardPark development would incorporate into the project, which also has residences, other retail and a hotel in its plan.

The apple orchard is reportedly contaminated with arsenic. Cabala's is planned for the property near the intersection of I-96 and

Walker Avenue

"The way I understand the Brownfield Act, I'm not sure this project would qualify for brownfield funding. My understanding of the act is it is for blighted industrial use in an urban property, and I don't think an apple orchard qualifies as industrial urban property," said Morgan.

"I'm not sure it's a perfect fit for what they want to do. I think it's a stretch."

The county also argues the agreement Walker and Wyoming created last summer that put the land located in Walker under Wyoming's taxing jurisdiction isn't in the spirit of that state law either, because the cities don't share a common border and aren't adjacent to each other.

Wyoming and Grand Rapids agreed to a similar contract for the former Steelcase Inc. property that Ashley Capital purchased and is redeveloping. In that case, the cities were adjacent to each other, and the land was in both taxing jurisdictions.

But because Walker isn't listed as a brownfield-designated core community, the city can only spend brownfield funds on environmental cleanup items. Wyoming, though, is a core community and can use tax-increment dollars on other things, such as building roads.

Roughly $58 million of those funds would be spent on overall cleanup and infrastructure support to the project, with another $50 million reportedly going toward interest payments. Should Wyoming add the project to its brownfield plan, the city will capture about $105 million in tax revenue from 2009 through 2032 to pay for its support of the development.

Over those years, the county said it will lose $18.4 million in future property-tax revenue, $3.4 million from its corrections millage and $1.4 million from the senior services millage.

"I think this has a significant impact," said Morgan. "I just want to make sure those of us that are going to be surrendering property-tax millage have some understanding of the project."     

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