Seaside took the first steps Wednesday, June 7, to form an urban renewal district that could help the city improve bridges and schools.
Covering almost 560 acres of land along South Holladay, Avenue S from U.S. Highway 101 east and the southern section of Highway 101, the urban renewal district would make up about 21 percent of the city’s total acreage and 22 percent of Seaside’s assessed value.
Funds of up to $62.4 million — more if matched by state funds or grants — could help build bridges, add traffic enhancements and provide infrastructure needs for Seaside School District’s new campus in the city’s southeast hills.
Urban renewal is a financing program authorized under state law and implemented locally that allows for the use of property tax revenues to grow the economy in blighted areas.
Using tax increment financing, funding comes through increases in assessed values of local properties. As new development arrives and existing properties are improved, assessments rise and see property tax increases. Property taxes on the growth in assessed value in the urban renewal area are frozen and increases are allocated to the city’s urban renewal agency and not the taxing districts. Subsequent improvements can lead to higher home values and in turn higher assessments, ultimately generating more funds for the urban renewal district.
“As the assessed value grows in the district, only the urban renewal agencies can tax against that increase,” City Manager Mark Winstanley said. “The other agencies don’t get that.”
Southeast Seaside’s infrastructure goals, prepared in a May goal-setting session, include a pedestrian bike bridge, parks projects and upgrades to unincorporated properties in the area. Because part of the land is owned by the county, those areas would need to be annexed into the city. Annexation would require approval from the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners.
“Typically, counties are very supportive if you’re doing infrastructure,” Elaine Howard of Howard Consultants said. “And 90-something percent of your plan is infrastructure.”
Spending decisions can be changed as long as their cost does not exceed the debt the agency can incur, Howard said.
The city is limited to projects listed in the city’s urban renewal plan.
Members of the commission considered both 20- and 25-year scenarios.
A 20-year timeline would have yielded a maximum indebtedness of $37.6 million; maximum indebtedness using a 25-year urban renewal district reaches $62.4 million.
“It’s a marked difference between 20 and 25 years,” Winstanley said.
Bridge upgrades by themselves could consume a large portion of the project fund, Howard said. “You’ve got those bridge repairs, which really may be a top priority,” Howard said. “But they’re $26 million. That’s a lot of money. I’m not sure how much the city can add to that — but that’s what causes the angst in looking at the projects in the 20- to 25-year time frame.”
Urban renewal funds for school infrastructure of $8.7 million are targeted to improve transportation, bring a sewer system to the new campus site, improve water storage at the school site and acquire land as needed for right-of-way for streets and utilities.
“This is a situation where the school district is developing in a huge way, but by forming this urban renewal agency we have an opportunity to share in the costs rather than put it all on them,” Winstanley said. “For every dollar we don’t have to pay on public improvements that are a requirement for development, we can spend it on the kids. And that’s an opportunity for us.”
Up to $7.5 million is targeted for building improvements and business assistance in the area, according to Howard.
Additions or changes to the plan can come at any time.
“This gives us the most flexibility in my mind, and the most options,” City Councilor Steve Wright said of the 25-year plan unanimously endorsed by Seaside Improvement Commission members.
City staff and consultants plan a briefing with the county Board of Commissioners on Tuesday and will seek county approval at the commission’s July 26 meeting in Astoria.
Seaside’s Planning Commission will review the plan for conformance to the city’s comprehensive plan, Howard said. The City Council will hold a formal hearing Aug. 14.