The post that follows was also submitted to The Mercury’s online comments for today’s article, “Senior housing proposed for Pottstown’s riverfront.” Some of the major parameters:
– the Borough would sell a 1.5 acre parcel on Industrial Highway to the developer at fair-market value
– the housing would be for seniors making no more than 62% of the area’s median income
– 55 rental units, all 1-2 bedrooms
– the developer would be getting tax credits to build the project
– the developer would pay property taxes
I sincerely hope Pottstown is in a transition toward becoming a community that works together, has public conversations about its future, and then acts on the vision that results from those conversations. This project proposal comes at a time when the town has not gotten its new system into place. This project is forcing the Borough into a corner because it has a fast-approaching deadline for tax credits. (How are tax credits not a government subsidy? Could anyone provide the name of the specific tax credit program the developer is applying to? Are they LIHTC?) Okay, though, sometimes that’s just the way the ball bounces… you gotta deal with what’s in front of you.
Let’s put this conversation into the context of other, very relevant issues that I heard/read were discussed at the same meeting.
(1) The Norfolk Southern line is not likely to disappear from the waterfront anytime soon. In fact, they will likely be increasing their usage of it. Now you’ve got a huge constraint on any waterfront planning. All the more reason to think through what you want at that gateway.
Typically, people with limited economic choices live on top of highways and railroad tracks. I hope that Council is engaging in dialogue with the railroad about its plans, or I fear for the future of the residential area that is being created in the vicinity. Will the current townhouses become investor-owned 10 years down the line? All the more reason to have an unhurried, public conversation about the future of that area and a plan & strategy to encourage more commercial uses.
For the past six months there’s been a lot of talk about the 44% rental housing stock in Pottstown. How does this project help reverse that particular bottom line? And how much new money will people at the projected income level inject into Pottstown’s economy? Property taxes are one part of the equation. Disposable income of the new residents is another. So is the perception that potential visitors, business and home owners have of Pottstown.
(2) A presentation was made by Main Street Manager Leighton Wildrick for the year-round lighting up of a few blocks of High Street. I wasn’t at the meeting but saw a preview of this when I happened to stop by Leighton’s office last week. This is a brilliant idea on so many levels. Relative to this housing proposal and all the naysayers who keep complaining about an empty High Street: if Leighton & the downtown property owners, arts organizations, a re-tooled Borough website & streamlined approvals are given half a chance, you will see High Street make a comeback. You haven’t even given yourselves a chance.
(3) “… and the PAID group was excited about it.” It would be nice if several members of PAID showed up at the next meeting to speak on the record in support of the project. And the School District, too, if that’s the case. Then, since the County Redevelopment Authority is already behind this proposal, the four entities of the new Pottstown Partnership would essentially be speaking with one voice, evidence of the new system of cooperation and unity in action.
I understand how $60-80K in taxes looks good. It would be nice to see some spreadsheets on the projected tax revenues. If the max. income is 60% of median, how many of those units will actually be rented in the lower end of that range? Would be nice to see a projected distribution of units by income/rent levels. How will property taxes be determined: based on final rent levels, building value, or a payment in lieu of taxes? I hope that’s covered in any sales agreement that might be drawn up.
Yes, you need to increase your tax base. On the other hand, I don’t think the Borough should be hasty in giving up even 1.5 acres because someone else is dragging them along their own timeline. I’ve got no problem with springing into action – based on previously-agreed upon strategies and plans – but rushed approval scenarios always raise a red flag for me. In this case, especially when the Pottstown Partnership is supposed to get started in just a few months, which makes me wonder: Will there be another round of funding for these particular tax credits? If so, when?
The Mayor was right – Council has a tough decision on its hands.