October 15, 2009

Sheridan County Commission kills Renaissance Zone project

Sheridan County Commission kills Renaissance Zone project

By ALLAN TINKER
With a motion from Sheridan County Commissioner Michel Axt and a passing vote, the proposed Renaissance Zone project for assisting improvements and new developments, both commercial and residential, died. This happened at the regular Tuesday, October 6, meeting of the commission.
McClusky Mayor Teresa Jorgenson also appeared to state that the issue, which she had spoken against several times, had passed the city council with two aye votes (Roberta Hunt and Andy Werth). She emphasized that two council members declined to vote or abstain (DuWayne Hirschkorn and Mark Miller). (A majority vote with no nays or abstentions is all that is required to pass motions in city meetings). Sheridan County Resource Center spokesman Brian Tinker, along with ND Commerce Dept. representative Gordon La France, again explained the various aspects of the program to the commission and visitors.
Clarification of a supporting document, the strategic plan done by the Sheridan County Economic Development Corporation, was also given. “The entire document is nearly 60 pages long, so only the index and cover had been on display at one of the informational meetings. Some thought that the representative pages were the complete SCEDC plan. Instead of asking directly whether there was more information, it was apparently assumed these few pages were the whole plan,” he added. He also indicated that this information had been mentioned at the meeting.
Central to the lack of accurate information issue appeared to be that when information was presented (twice) in a public meeting format, only city council members had attended and other agencies failed to gather information at that time. Notices of both meetings were published in three issues of the official county paper, The McClusky Gazette. “We can’t make people attend,” said Tinker. “We could only invite them and provide those who attend with the information we have.”
With this lack of up-front information and confusion of the Renaissance Zone project with other programs using the term “renaissance” in them, few citizens apparently understood the program well enough to support it. One person had earlier stated other meetings that another person thought this was a program of medieval (14th to 17th centuries) reenactments, similar to the one in Shakopee, MN. (Renaissance means rebirth or revival in French).
Confusion such as this often surfaces until the public becomes familiar with new programs, and the Renaissance program is fairly new, first initiated by the ND Legislature to address what they felt were shortcomings in existing programs for supporting and improving various residential programs and business development in ND cities. The legislature expanded and improved the program in 2009 to make the program more applicable to smaller communities, said Tinker.
The program could include up to 23 contiguous blocks in a city. These were not limited to the usual city blocks, but included “blocks” that had an official street boundary on all four sides. This allowed cities to include a large, undeveloped area that was larger than a city block without losing all of the potential for rebuilding other areas.
These blocks did not include property owned by government or school districts. The exclusion of the courthouse, city hall and other buildings, the DOT property in west McClusky, and the schools, expanded the areas that could be included in a final plan. Up to this point, only a starting, temporary plan had been used, which was to be re-defined by the city council after the project plan was approved by the state, said Tinker.
The Renaissance Zone was also designed to help failing and deteriorating areas of towns and cities, not those that were already succeeding on their own.
 


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