“We got it!” screamed Ward 3 Councilor Hyatt Lytle.
And they got it in a very big way.
Measure 2-121, the urban renewal measure for South Corvallis, passed with a 85 percent backing from city voters in Tuesday’s election.
As of 9:30 p.m., tallies from the Benton County Elections Office showed 9,138 "yes" votes and 1,623 "no" votes. Turnout was 33.1 percent.
“I’m absolutely wowed,” said Lytle amid the hugs, fist pumps and high fives at a Corvallis Sports Park gathering of urban renewal backers. “It’s happening … and it has been a lot time coming.”
“It’s great for the whole city,” said Vince Adams, South Corvallis resident, Corvallis School Board chair and member of the city advisory committee that built the urban renewal plan. “Corvallis wants affordable housing, good development and safe routes to school and to work. And 85 percent of the voters said yes. That really says something.”
“I’m really proud of our neighborhood,” said Brigetta Olson of Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services, which pitched in with $45,000 to help the city start studying the possibility of urban renewal. “This is a pivotal time in our community.”
Charles Maughan, who represents Ward 2 on the City Council, said “I’m excited for it, I supported it, I canvassed for it, and it’s great to see it pass by such a large margin.”
Lytle and Maughan represent South Corvallis on the council. And both noted what a turnaround it was from a 2009 vote in which voters rejected a downtown urban renewal district by a 55-45 percent margin.
“We did something right this time,” Lytle said.
Lytle and Maughan also were involved in the Living Southtown group, which met to brainstorm the region’s future long before urban renewal was chosen as the tool with which to move forward. Efforts to boost development and livability in South Corvallis go back to the 1997 South Corvallis Area Refinement Plan. A key factor in the big victory Tuesday, backers said, was that the list of projects for the 425-acre district was well-defined, unlike the 2009 effort, which left voters in the dark as to what specific projects would be pursued.
The South Corvallis plan allocates money for these specific projects:
• $10.4 million: street design and improvements.
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• $8.5 million: affordable housing.
• $7.5 million: neighborhood town center.
• $4.6 million: plan administration and refinement.
• $1 million: business support, enhancement.
• $930,000: natural resources management, Millrace restoration and enhancement and mitigation of natural hazards.
• $670,000: multiuse path.
The project list totals more than $33 million, but accounting for inflation, project officials estimate the district will spend more than $62 million by the time its 30-year lifespan expires. Project officials also say that urban renewal money will help “leverage” other public and private funds that will increase the total amount available by perhaps as much as six-fold.
The commonly used (but often difficult to explain) urban renewal tool uses “tax increment financing” to help prime the pump for projects. The money comes from increases in property tax rolls inside the boundary as a result of development. Revenue bonds also can be issued based on projected increases in the urban renewal fund.
There is no general property tax increase for residents inside or outside the district, and school funding is not affected. In addition, no property tax levies or bonds are impacted. Taxing districts such as those that pay for the library, city and county services and Linn-Benton Community College, will not receive the additional revenue that might otherwise go their way from the property taxes that build up in the urban renewal fund.
Although the project got its first sparks of life when the South Corvallis plan was put together in 1997, matters got a big boost of momentum when the Living Southtown initiative got going and nearly 100 people met in April 2016 at Lincoln Elementary School to talk about the future of the region.
In February 2018, the Corvallis City Council unanimously approved the formation of an initial advisory body that would work with city staff and the project consultant, Elaine Howard Consulting, on developing the urban renewal plan. The project had $90,000 to work with. The City Council allocated $45,000 in its fiscal 2017-18 budget to match a similar contribution from Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services.
The technical advisory committee began meeting in April, two open houses were held, and the City Council in September unanimously approved sending the matter to the ballot.
“Now we’ll see what happens in the next 30 years,” Maughan said.