Some neighbors concerned about the City of Omaha's plan to declare the area around TD Ameritrade's new headquarters as blighted are asking the City Council to reject the proposal.
Under a plan pitched by Mayor Jim Suttle's administration, the blighted designation in the Old Mill area would stretch south of West Dodge Road into a nearby neighborhood.
Area residents say they don't want their neighborhood to carry the blighted label. Beyond that, some neighbors say the city would be making an inappropriate use of the state's community redevelopment law, which allows use of a property tax incentive in blighted areas.
City officials said they would use up to $3.5 million in diverted property tax revenue from TD Ameritrade's project to improve streets in the Old Mill area.
The council will hold a public hearing and could vote on the matter Tuesday.
Mike Ryan, a resident of the area since 1975, said tax increment financing is supposed to be used to attract development. But in this case, he said, the plan is coming out with TD Ameritrade's headquarters well under way.
Linda Ryan, Mike's wife, said she doesn't believe the area meets the qualifications to be considered blighted and substandard. The Ryans also expressed concerns that the blighted designation would hurt their neighborhood's property values.
City Planning Director Rick Cunningham, who stands by the city's plans, said the city wants to protect the neighborhood and increase property values, as has happened in other blighted areas that have seen redevelopment activity.
The neighborhood is included in the redevelopment area because it is part of the U.S. Census block group that includes TD Ameritrade's new headquarters, Cunningham said. City officials use block groups to analyze areas being considered for the blighted designation.
Cunningham said he doesn't believe city officials can change neighbors' minds about the plans.
“Their fears are not something that we can satisfy, because they are not grounded in the facts,” he said.
The situation resembles the city's effort last year to give the blighted designation to the area around Crossroads Mall, including the upscale Fairacres neighborhood. The city ended up removing Fairacres and other areas.
City officials also drew criticism after they failed to properly notify the Westside Community Schools about plans to blight the area and a large portion of the district's tax base. That also happened with the city's notification for the Old Mill proposal.
In the latest case, the city held a community meeting in the area but didn't notify the neighborhood affected before the matter went before the Omaha Planning Board.
Cunningham said the area didn't have a neighborhood association that the city could notify. The city, however, notified other area neighborhood associations that aren't covered by the proposed blighted designation.
After neighbors complained, the city sent notices to individual property owners and held a second community meeting.
Cunningham said the city's goal is to inform the public, and in the future will take further steps to make sure that is done.
Neighbor Vern Ohlinger compared the city's plans to a “political freight train” rolling through the neighborhood.
If council members aren't prepared to vote against the proposal, Ohlinger said he hopes they will delay a decision so that neighbors have more time to make their case against the blight designation.
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