Doing an about-face
A sign of the times was illuminated at a recent Grand Junction City Council meeting.
For more than an hour, the seven-member board bantered back and forth about whether to waive a bit more than $110,000 in development fees for the latest homeless veterans housing project being constructed by Grand Valley Catholic Outreach.
It’s not that every board member didn’t believe the project — a third housing complex by the charitable organization — was a worthy endeavor.
In the end, after a lengthy back-and-forth of amended motions, a majority of councilors voted for the city to absorb the fees, minus $10,640 of the total, a payment considered a school impact fee.
“That’s embarrassing,” one project supporter told another while leaving council chambers after the vote.
“Is this halftime?” another woman asked, exhausted, peeling herself from her chair to leave.
Sometime during the councilors’ exchange, a frustrated man slapped $85 dollars on the podium dedicating the money to the project and stormed out.
What a difference a few years makes.
For years, Grand Junction city councilors have readily waived development fees for some projects, including at least $217,000 for Catholic Outreach’s two other projects, the original St. Martin’s Place at Third and Pitkin streets in 2011 and St. Benedict Place, 217 White Ave., in 2008.
Other nonprofit construction projects have received breaks, as have other commercial projects thought to stimulate the economy, like Peppermill Lofts, North Avenue and 28 1/4 Road, and the SpringHill Suites, 236 Main St.
Councilors these days are faced with a stagnant economy with fewer dollars rolling in from taxes, though. It appears the days of companies or organizations with new construction projects readily receiving breaks is over.
This year, the board has dedicated $500,000 to economic development, but has yet to spend any. Money to cover the development fees for Catholic Outreach will come from the general fund.
However councilors are split on what defines economic development. They have discussed outlining a series of criteria to determine what projects meet their definition. Other councilors want to continue the practice of keeping requests to waive development fees on a case-by-case basis.
Councilor Duncan McArthur and Councilor Marty Chazen cast the two votes against requiring the city to pay development fees for Catholic Outreach’s second St. Martin Place.
McArthur argued that the issue was brought before councilors prematurely and questioned how the board could say yes to one group and no to another, a scenario that has councilors picking winners and losers.
He also questioned if the city’s fees were too high if organizations and companies are looking to have them paid.
“I guess what we’re looking at is if there’s a return on investment,” he said during an interview after the meeting. “At Catholic Outreach there is.
“To provide homeless housing reduces costs,” he said.
Executive Director of Catholic Outreach Sister Karen Bland said past councils eagerly covered costs of the former homeless housing projects, even providing more assistance by burying utilities.
In some ways the recent dust-up has benefited Catholic Outreach’s latest project, as more donors stepped forward, Bland said. The $2.6 million, 24-unit project still is about $600,000 shy of its fundraising goal.
“I’m glad that they covered it,” she said. “They have set the precedent. Catholic Outreach has raised over $6.8 million to put into economic development in this community.”
Councilors initially considered the request to pay the development fees, but asked first that Grand Junction’s Downtown Development Authority include the complex in its boundaries and pay the fees.
Board members of the DDA declined, saying it didn’t meet their mission, councilors reported at the April 2 council meeting.
Bland said she is glad the city voted to pay the fees, a necessary signal considering the organization secured thousands of dollars in grants from Front Range entities inquiring about local government contributions.
“I think it’s very important for the city to be a participant,” she said. “If the city is concerned about homelessness, we’re trying to help the city in their own concerns.”
The project is expected to be finished late next winter, Bland said. Apartments will be designated first for homeless veterans. If that need is filled, other units will be dedicated to chronically homeless individuals.
The public is invited to a blessing on the site at Second Street and Pitkin Avenue at 11 a.m. Wednesday.