New Smyrna Beach CRA: City eyes redevelopment area to boost economy
OAK HILL — Creating a community redevelopment area along River Drive between Halifax and Canal avenues might help pump some much-needed funds into the local economy, the city’s mayor says.
“I am pretty sold on the idea that it’s a good idea,” said Mayor Darla Lauer in an interview.
Tony Otte, director of New Smyrna Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency, spoke at a recent Oak Hill City Commission meeting.
“It doesn’t cost the taxpayers any extra money, but it reallocates tax money for redevelopment,” he explained, and later added: “The CRA can help businesses grow, and stimulate the economy.”
New Smyrna Beach established a redevelopment area in 1985. It was later expanded to borders extending from Duss Street to Atlantic Avenue. According to the Florida Department of Community Affairs, there are 202 CRAs in the state, 35 in Volusia County.
Redevelopment areas are designated for 30 years. That can be extended to 40 under certain conditions. River Drive runs along the Indian River. Many in Oak Hill believe commercial and sports fishing are its greatest asset for economic development.
Under Florida law, local governments can designate redevelopment areas for a variety of reasons, which must meet state requirements. Once established, some property taxes paid in the redevelopment area can only be spent in that area, explained Carol Westmoreland, executive director of the Florida Redevelopment Association.
“The variety of things you can use that money for — the sky’s the limit,” she said in an interview.
In an interview, Otte said New Smyrna Beach’s redevelopment agency, which is funded in part by taxes paid by property owners in the town’s redevelopment area, contributes to a variety of private and public projects. In addition to helping fund improvements to parks and streets, the agency also gives business grants, among other things.
Oak Hill would have a couple hurdles before creating a redevelopment area. In addition to showing that the proposed area meets state requirements for designation, it must meet Volusia County’s standards. In February, the County Council tightened requirements for creation of redevelopment areas.
At the meeting, Scott Simpson, Oak Hill’s city attorney, cautioned the commission to consider the possible losses if it goes forward with creating a redevelopment area. “Say you designate U.S. 1 as a CRA, for 30 years you just capped your general fund revenue,” he said.
However, he added that with property values at historic lows, now is a good time to create a redevelopment area. “I’m not saying don’t do a CRA,” he told commissioners. “CRAs are great.”
If the city proceeds with the proposed redevelopment area, public hearings will be scheduled. Westmoreland said many proposed redevelopment areas fail because they’re poorly explained to affected property owners.
“They hear the word tax, and a lot of citizens say, ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with that,’ ” she said.
“The reason why most programs fail is a lack of leadership, either in the business community, or in the local government,” she explained. “There’s a lot of misinformation abounding about what a community redevelopment area is and isn’t.”
Lauer said it’s too soon to say whether Oak Hill is on course to create a redevelopment area. “We’re in the very baby steps in getting started on this,” she commented.