ORANGE PARK – The town council sat through a Community Redevelopment Area 101 class during a March 20 special meeting and got updates and discussions on the fiscal year 2018-19 Capital Improvement …
ORANGE PARK – The town council sat through a Community Redevelopment Area 101 class during a March 20 special meeting and got updates and discussions on the fiscal year 2018-19 Capital Improvement Plan projects, as well as a discussion on CRAs by Lara Diettrich, from Diettrich Planning, LLC.
The council then moved one step closer to the potential formation of an official CRA, although the council still has a lot to do before any of that can happen.
“I think everybody needs to understand why we’re here tonight,” Mayor Gary Meeks said. “This is CRA 101, which is why the council has asked [Diettrich] to come and we appreciate [Diettrich] coming here tonight to enlighten us an educate us as to whether or not this is something we want to embrace in the future.”
As such, Diettrich spent over an hour explaining the ins and outs of a CRA. According to Diettrich, a CRA is tool that allows a city or area to better look at what’s within: affordable housing, infrastructure, economic development, open space, parking, historic preservation and the other issues the council may face as elected officials.
“In some areas, they call this a ‘special district,’ but here, we call it a Community Redevelopment Area because we have to follow the [CRA] Act,” Diettrich said.
The first step in creating a CRA within Orange Park would be defining a necessity, according to Diettrich. Doing so justified, identifies and gives direction as to whether the town should move forward, but since Clay County is a charter county, Orange Park would need to get approval from the county – or a buy-in, Diettrich said.
After defining a necessity, the statute says the council would need to setup a board, which is a recommending body, meaning they have the final vote, according to Diettrich. This board would have to be made up of either all council members or none of them.
“Some people don’t like the fact that the council would be the same as the elected entity because then you’d literally be making recommendations to yourself,” he said. “But, there’s another way to look at that. You’re also allowed to have free and open discussions because of Sunshine Laws to vet and work through your issues that then take you to your final official meetings where you’re entertaining your recommendations.”
This board also could include other members so as not to feature exclusively elected members. After this, Diettrich shared a piece of information that she said is the one thing council members need to take remember above everything else.
“The important thing to remember the end of the day, if you remember one thing I said, if you plan for something, any kind of project, it has to be in your plan and in your boundary,” Diettrich said.
Some council members, like Vice Mayor Ron Raymond, as well as some audience members, questioned whether or not the town should actually be spending money to set a CRA up, explaining that the same money could be used elsewhere. After some discussion, though, one thing became clear: before toying with the idea of a CRA, the town needed to determine what they want their future to look like in the first place.
“Without a map, I don’t know how you’re going to get where you’re going,” Meeks said.
Town Manager Sarah Campbell chimed in to explain that if the council truly wants to set forth on the visioning process, they need to understand that doing so will require funds out of the town’s pocket book – grants that no longer are available.
“If it is really and truly the priority of this council to move forward with visioning before we do anything else, we need to pay for it out of our pocket book,” Campbell said. “A grant isn’t going to help us right now.”
Agreeing this should happen, council member Connie Thomas made a motion to direct staff to begin the process of visioning. This motion passed with a 5-0 vote from the council.