Town tables riverfront district

PENDLETON — Pendleton gave its initial OK to a salary ordinance with across-the-board raises for town employees and voted to borrow more than $1 million for infrastructure improvements, but it was what it decided not to do that dominated the most recent regular meeting.
The council agreed Thursday, Nov. 9, to delay a vote on creating a Pendleton Riverfront Development District until early next year after several people spoke out against the measure.
“I’m asking you not to vote for this tonight,” said Julie Schnepp, co-owner of RE/MAX Legacy in Pendleton and vice president of the Pendleton Business Association, which she said has about 60 members.
Rachel Christenson, assistant planning director for the town, gave a presentation about the proposed riverfront district at the start of the discussion.
She said a riverfront district, which by state law can extend 1,500 feet from a riverbank — in this case Fall Creek — aligns with the goals of the 2006 Pendleton Comprehensive Plan. She also said the 2015 Downtown Revitalization Plan recommends consideration of a riverfront district to attract additional development, expand the tax base and create more employment opportunities for local residents.
However, those who spoke at the meeting said they feared such a district, which as proposed included the downtown business district, would hurt existing businesses by not only attracting competition but handing those new competitors an advantage.
“My biggest concern about this — I don’t want my government in the business of picking winners and losers,” Schnepp said.
She said using a riverfront district to give incentives to new businesses, including new, lower-cost liquor licenses, creates an uneven playing field.
“You guys are making the decision, and it will determine whether we’ll stay afloat,” she said.
“We have changed the relationship between our business owners and our town,” she said, saying business owners now fear the council.
Christenson said the riverfront district as presented allows for two additional liquor licenses in town, and that those come with “strings” attached.
The state issues the licenses, but the Pendleton Redevelopment Commission makes a recommendation to the town council, which would have granting authority. The commission’s recommendation would be based on two general criteria: that “granting the license will benefit the purposes of the district” and “granting of the license and the business activity will not be detrimental to the property values and business interest of others in the district.”
Local businessman Bob Post said with the cost of liquor licenses often exceeding $100,000, he thinks if the town were to create a riverfront district, the first two liquor licenses ought to go to existing businesses.
Craig Campbell, a member of the town’s redevelopment commission and historic preservation commission, said he thought the riverfront concept is one meant for larger municipalities, such as Columbus, which has one.
He said he’s not against the riverfront district outright but wants to make sure “we do it well, that we do it right and that we do it for everyone.”
He, too, asked the town to table a vote and provide an opportunity “to think about ways that we can support the local folks, if we’re going to do this.”
Resident Sandi Butler spoke, questioning whether people would be more likely to open businesses in homes inside the district.
Christenson said that was unlikely because hurdles such as rezoning would remain.
Midway through discussions, council president Bob Jones said, “We don’t want to sit here and approve something … that the community doesn’t approve (of); we don’t have a gun to our heads.”
Council member Chad Wolfe said, “I think we need to sit and hear it out … we’re not in any hurry to make a decision.”
The council deferred the issue to the Pendleton Business Association, which agreed to conduct a round-table discussion on the matter and report back to the council at its February meeting.
In other business, the town:
• Approved the first reading of the 2018 wage and salary ordinance, with an amendment that the clerk-treasurer annual salary would remain at $7,500, not rise to $16,350 as Clerk-Treasurer Virgil Mabrey proposed. Mabrey said it makes sense for the position to pay the same as the town judge based on responsibilities. Other members said the pay of the elected position should be discussed at election time, so that candidates and voters can have a say.
• Approved an ordinance to bond for about $1.1 million to be used for infrastructure improvements, including work on sidewalks, curbs and alleys. The move takes the bonding capacity from the town’s fire station, which will be paid off soon, and uses it for a new 20-year loan.

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Scott Slade is community editor. He can be reached at 317-477-3229 or sslade@ptlpnews.com.