Recently, some of you received a letter from a councilmember who voted for the Sam’s redevelopment. As a former councilmember, I wanted to offer a different perspective regarding the letter and this redevelopment project.
The author wrote that she received feedback on her vote for the project, describing that feedback as “misunderstandings” and “fear.” These themes parallel those used by the mayor, who has repeatedly suggested that opposition to the project could only be grounded in misinformation. These characterizations are unfortunate, and clear efforts to discredit the many serious and valid concerns raised by opponents, thereby avoiding the substance of those issues.
The letter again tries to sell the project and thus, the vote. At the January 26th council meeting, Councilmember Bruce Arfsten eloquently addressed this approach and the role council should be playing:
“In five years that I’ve served in this role . . . there hasn’t been anything to my memory that’s invoked this kind of interest and opposition. And I think it’s incumbent on each and every one of us up here to listen to those voices. Because we were all elected to serve them. It’s not about me and what I think and what I think is best, like I said I was generally OK with the plan. But I have to listen. Because if we’re not listening to them, why are we here? Who are we listening to? I just don’t understand why some of us are trying to sell this to the community. That’s not our role. The person that needs to be selling this to the community is the developer, Mr. Liu, and he’s made a good presentation. The [community] has said loud and clear, ‘no, we don’t want this.’ But we’re going to sit up here and try to sell it and say, no, these are all the many reasons why that I think that it’s better that we do this, and that we know better than you do. And that’s just not right. That’s not our role to do that. We’re public servants and we serve the community. And I feel bad that you – that we’re doing this. Because I see where this is going, and I’m just very disappointed.”
Bruce is right: to represent the community, councilmembers must listen to the community. In the case of this project, that didn’t happen. Instead, the council dictated to the community, and that’s a bad model of governance.
There were many legitimate issues raised: keeping the wall in place, the inadvisability of the proposed cut-through street, the fact that we don’t need more apartments in Addison, and even the mundane, uninspiring nature of the project, to name a few. These issues were largely ignored, and efforts were made to discredit those advancing them. There was no financial analysis; we heard lots about the projected value for ad valorem tax purposes, but nothing regarding the cost of the project, even as the council was meeting in secret about using taxpayer money to sweeten the deal. Then, after the project was approved, this council voted to pay a staggering $6.5 million to this project.
Incredibly, this council voted for the $6.5 million having no idea where that money will come from. At the February 9th meeting, they kicked ideas around, including raising taxes and borrowing against future taxes. There is still no analysis of how long it will take Addison to recoup the $6.5 million, or when we’ll see a positive return on the project. And while it may someday yield the claimed $700,000 in annual taxes, that assumes a complete build-out and the ability to sell townhomes at a price higher than any others in Addison. By any count, that’s years away. That means the project will be a drain for a long time, and that’s before you even address the lost sales tax.
These concerns are exacerbated by the deteriorating tax situation of Addison residents. In the five years Todd Meier has been mayor, taxes are up an astounding 28.8%. In the past two years, taxes rose 7.25%, and the council overspent the budget in each of those two years by a total of almost $2 million. In light of all this, voting to pay $6.5 million without a clue where it will come from or how long it will take for Addison to recoup it is just plain irresponsible.
Sometimes you have to show true courage and demand better for Addison, but that didn’t happen here. And there is no misunderstanding about that.
So I say in response to the letter many received, and paraphrasing Bruce: IF YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO THE PEOPLE, THEN WHY ARE YOU THERE?
Susan M. Halpern
Addison City Councilmember, 1992-1999