Springfield development advances, but Clark-Shawnee objects

Melody Parks plan calls for retail, restaurants and residential development.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Springfield City Commission has amended a Community Reinvestment Area to include hundreds of planned single-family residences on the city’s east side despite opposition by Clark-Shawnee Local School District.

The legislation approved by commissioners means that up to 700 single-family houses planned for Melody Parks will not be taxed on their new values for 15 years as an incentive for the project that is planned for 400 acres along East National Road near Bird Road.

Melody Parks is proposed as a mixed-use development with retail, restaurants, multi-family apartments, patio and single-family residential components.

Clark-Shawnee Local Schools, which will be the home school district for any students whose families move into Melody Parks, has expressed concerns about an influx of new students from the development. The district also opposed a previous proposed tax plan, called Tax Incremental Financing (TIF), for the single-family properties.

Superintendent Brian Kuhn said the residential component of Melody Parks could result in more than 375 new students for the district.

“The city has made it clear that, in this case, the end justifies the means. The end is a housing development in Melody Parks, the means is taking 100% of school taxes of each home to fund the development,” Kuhn said.

Springfield City Manager Bryan Heck said the city is using the tools the state has provided to invest in housing for the community.

“It is a balance. We need to increase our housing,” Heck said.

Even as city commissioners acted to extend the CRA, some commission members acknowledged there is a disconnect posed by state economic development efforts and the state’s failure to address school funding issues created by such development.

“One of the objectives of this commission has been to grow the city of Springfield so that our community would not only survive, but thrive,” City Commissioner David Estrop said at last week’s meeting. “It’s now beginning to happen … people are investing and building in our community … I prefer growth and what pains may come with it as opposed to be in a position where we are dying as a community, so I will strongly support this legislation.”

Under the TIF proposed this summer, for 10 years Clark-Shawnee would have received 25 percent of the increased value of the single-family homes properties with 75 percent going to the TIF district for infrastructure related to the development. After year 10, the school would have been paid in full at 100% of tax revenue generated by residential houses in the project.

“Because of Clark-Shawnee’s objection to the TIF, the Springfield city developer chose a different pathway,” Kuhn said, referring to the CRA plan.

Under it, “ ... the district will collect zero taxes for the first 15 years. At the same time, Clark-Shawnee is responsible for educating any children in those areas with zero tax revenue,” Kuhn said.

“I do know the developer tried to work with the school district to reach an agreement,” Heck said, but no deal could be reached.

He said he also talked with Kuhn numerous times to say the TIF offer was in the district’s best interest.

Columbus-based developer Borror is leading the $400 million Melody Parks project, a nod to the former drive-in at the site. Officials said it is the largest project of its kind in the area in decades.

Commissioners unanimously approved the CRA change, but not without commenting on the need for the state to find a way to help communities address the school funding conundrum.

“Thank heavens were bringing jobs back to Ohio, because we lost a whole bunch of them,” Estrop said.

Recognizing that the state worked hard to bring jobs to Ohio, Estrop said, “They haven’t addressed how we fund the schools when we have to provide housing for all the people coming to take those jobs. After all these years, the state legislature and the governor, of both parties, have not resolved the rules of funding schools for this state.”

He said funding isn’t there for schools and the state’s system needs fixed.

Commissioner Crystal Phillips agreed.

“School funding was found to be illegal back in the 1990s and continues to remain so. As an educator that’s an important fact for me,” Phillips said.

Estrop and Phillips were referring to the 1997 Ohio Supreme Court decision declaring the state’s method of school funding unconstitutional. Legislators have failed to successfully overhaul public school funding in the 26 years since that ruling.

The court ruling cited four major flaws in the Ohio system, including insufficient state funding for school facilities and a flawed school funding formula that relied on local property taxes. The result, the court found, was inherently unequal access to quality, free and accessible education, with poorer school districts experiencing teacher shortages, overwhelming classroom sizes, crumbling infrastructure and significant lack of resources.

State officials have not yet found a solution to offer an alternative system to address those fundamental issues.

Heck explained a TIF still is expected to be used in the development along with a new tool called a Community Authority that will place an assessment on single-family homes. Money from that will be used for infrastructure in the development.

Heck also said the project includes a commercial, retail restaurant component not subject to the CRA that will generate more revenue for the schools.

“The schools are still going to benefit from the commercial side,” Heck said.

Clark-Shawnee will get 100 percent of the commercial tax piece, “and they will benefit greatly,” he said.

Kuhn said the CRA agreement will hurt the students and families served by the district and township.

“Clark-Shawnee Board of Education is in support of community development, but not when the development is at the expense of the community its intended to serve,” Kuhn said. “The board objected the TIF and the related compensation plan because, based on the developer’s figures, once the project was fully built out, we would be losing an average of around half a million dollars per year for the first 15 years of the project.”

The school district consulted with legal counsel, and under the provisions of the CRA, they have no legal recourse, Kuhn said.

As for next steps, Kuhn said they will be forced to go to the ballot in the future in some way to generate additional revenue that will be needed. He said the loss related to the CRA only calculates educating students and doesn’t include expenses related to buses, facilities, staffing, special education services and other areas.

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