The issue: The term “blight” is too loosely applied in local development circles.
What we think: Urban Renewal Authority resources should be used
in areas that are actually blighted.
Tell us what you think: Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As children, we’re often taught that the words we use matter.
From an early age we learn “no means no” and that “please” and “thank you” will get you far.
Sometimes, though, it seems adults could use a refresher.
Take the word “blight,” for instance. Merriam-Webster, as it relates to urban settings, defines it as “a deteriorated condition.”
Blight is an important word when it comes to development in the Springs because Colorado’s Urban Renewal statutes give tax breaks to developers who build in blighted areas of the city.
Such incentives have sparked many worthy revitalization projects locally — along South Nevada Avenue, in the Ivywild neighborhood, the Lowell Elementary School area. But the Business Journal recently took issue with the True North Commons Urban Renewal Area (July 12, 2019) — for which city council designated the obviously unblighted construction site as blighted to give the project urban renewal status.
In Colorado, there are 11 criteria used to assess whether a site is blighted, making it a candidate for urban renewal and Tax Increment Financing. The list includes: deteriorated or deteriorating structures; unsanitary or unsafe conditions; conditions that endanger life or property by fire or other causes; buildings that are unsafe or unhealthy for people to live or work in; environmental contamination of buildings or property. (Colorado Springs’ own Urban Renewal Authority defines itself as “a tool to assist with the restoration and redevelopment [emphasis added] of specified areas determined to meet the State Statutes for blight.”)
When it comes to financing these efforts, Denver’s Urban Renewal Authority explains on its website how Tax Increment Financing is supposed to work: “Understanding that redeveloping urban areas is much harder and more expensive than new development, Colorado has empowered local authorities with certain tools, including tax increment financing, to encourage urban renewal activities.”
But there won’t be any restoration or redevelopment, no deteriorating structures or unsanitary conditions on the True North Commons site. Construction there will be greenfield development. That same dodge gave us Polaris Pointe — designated an urban renewal project to help fund the future extension from Powers Boulevard to Interstate 25.
Whether the term blight should be applied to the True North Commons site sparked disagreement among city councilors in June.
“I just don’t see how with any integrity we can stand up and say this is a menace. I just can’t do that. This does not constitute the definition of a blighted area,” said Councilor Don Knight.
But Councilor Wayne Williams supported the project: “Do I wish the Legislature had used a word other than blight? Sure. Within the wording of the law, this fits the requirement.”
But rather than splitting hairs over the definition of “blighted,” councilors should be asking themselves why we’re pouring more resources into the Northside when it’s already overflowing with development and will do just fine with or without URAs. Why are we investing in projects on the city’s periphery, which contribute to more sprawl, while we ignore the city’s stated support for infill and development of the city’s core? How is it that we continue to ignore the truly blighted areas of our city?
CSURA and council should target blighted urban areas for “restoration and redevelopment,” starting in the Southeast — areas along South Academy Boulevard, near the Colorado Springs Airport and around The Citadel mall.
Colorado doesn’t have as much true urban blight as states in the Rust Belt, and the Legislature has been accommodating as cities have stretched the meaning of the term. But let’s at least be intellectually honest about it. Semantics matter when governing.
And your children will thank you.