During its Monday evening meeting, the Sedalia City Council took another step forward in its neighborhood revitalization efforts.
The council passed an ordinance establishing new procedures using Chapter 353 of Missouri statutes. This includes provisions which may extend partial real property tax abatement to urban redevelopment corporations pursuant to approved development plans within areas of the city found and declared by the council to be blighted. Chapter 353 also allows the city to form the Sedalia Redevelopment Corporation and the related development plan.
“I like to think of neighborhood revitalization as like a layered cake that you’re building,” Ward 2 City Councilman Andrew Dawson explained during Monday night’s meeting. “This would be the first layer using that urban redevelopment act to establish an urban redevelopment corporation. Through that we can offer tax incentives and use other tools to encourage revitalization within those areas that have deteriorated over the course of a hundred years.”
City Administrator Kelvin Shaw told the Democrat this was “adding more tools to the toolbox” in the city’s neighborhood revitalization efforts.
Shaw said it is important to explain what the city is not trying to do with Chapter 353. He said some communities have used it to tear down structures in old districts and build something new like a shopping mall, which the City of Sedalia is not trying to do. He said the city is looking at the areas designated as the Midtown Residential Area which are starting to show their age and are falling into disrepair.
“What we’re trying to do first of all is stop that decay and turn it around,” he said. “Start the tide going the other direction to where we can start filling in some of those locations with new houses. We can go in and remodel or work the owners to remodel some of the existing houses and get it turned around and going in that direction.”
Community Development Director John Simmons said it is also about bringing pride back into the neighborhoods, seeing how residents identify their communities and what they feel needs to be done.
“In the outline of that boundary there’s probably about a dozen or more distinct neighborhoods that identify as a neighborhood feeling,” Simmons said. “It’s all about how to bring the different tools that we can use and customize them to each of those neighborhoods. What’s wrong in the neighborhood, what’s right, what needs fixing. It’s going to be different across the different neighborhoods, different things are needed. What this does is it opens that toolbox and we can customize our approach in these neighborhoods.”
The ordinance gives city staff the ability to create an urban redevelopment corporation, which will be “kind of like a sister corporation to the city,” according to Shaw. The corporation will be the master developer for the Chapter 353 area or Midtown Residential Area (MRA). A development plan has been created that will guide the corporation to utilize the authorized tools.
“It sets the groundwork, or the first layer if you will, for overlaying things like neighborhood improvement districts, community improvement districts, transportation development districts or anything else any of the other tools,” Shaw said.
One thing the corporation can do that the city can’t is own property. According to Shaw, the corporation will be able to buy property, develop it, and invest money into the property. It will be able to sell the property and reinvest the money into the next project. The corporation will be able to work with property owners as well.
Shaw explained the city will be able to funnel money to the corporation because of the declaration of blighted areas. Shaw said he knows declaring blight has previously been an issue in the community and “rightfully so.” With the blighted areas, public funds can be used to cure the blight and the corporation will be able to funnel money through the blighted area and obtain money to get work started.
Shaw said each property will be approached individually. Another tool Chapter 353 will provide is the option of tax abatement, which Shaw said is “really a last resort.” Due to this, the city will work “very closely” with Sedalia School District 200 because it is the primary user of property tax.
“We will work very closely with the school district and we’ll do it on a property by property basis where if they agree that it makes sense then we’ll approach it that way but that’s not our first approach out of the gate,” Shaw said.
The corporation board will consist of three council members, one taxpayer which the city is hoping to be a resident within the residential area, and someone appointed by the school district.
Another tool that will be used sparingly is the 353 gives the city the ability to streamline the property acquisition system, which includes eminent domain. Shaw said there are properties where the owner has walked away from them knowing it was a negative value property and the city is unable to find them. This would allow the city to clean up the titles for the properties and put them into the court system where the city would still have to pay fair value for the property.
“We do want to assure people that we’re not coming after their house,” Shaw said. “We’re here to help, we’re not here to take their house away from them. It does help us with that vacant house that’s next door to them, it helps us get that cleaned up and going back and redeveloped.”
Shaw said the city still has some behind the scenes things to work on but hopefully residents will start seeing some houses coming up around them, some focused efforts on the infrastructure, titles cleaned up on city-owned properties, the city neighborhood improvement specialist out talking to them and trying to generate those neighborhood associations or neighbor helping neighbors kind of concepts to get their input.
Shaw and Simmons said the city wants the neighborhood residents’ input, their ideas and how they identify their communities. Simmons said once the pandemic is over he sees neighborhood forums happening and staff going to neighborhoods and having conversations.
“(I see) us going out to that neighborhood and having conversations as a group to find out ‘How do you define your neighborhood?” Simmons explained. “What makes up your neighborhood, what’s wrong with it, what’s right with it, what do we need to fix? Those conversations need to start occurring once we can all gather again.
“I think the elected officials who put their time and effort into this over the past two years, they’re finally seeing the fruits of that labor...” he continued. “We really hope that this is one of those things that improves our housing stock and instills more pride into Sedalia.”