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Joint Review Board gives green light to Flossmoor’s plan for a downtown TIF District

Flossmoor’s proposed downtown Tax Increment Financing District got one step closer to becoming a reality this week after getting an OK from the Joint Review Board.

The board voted 4-0 on Wednesday, Dec. 21, to recommend the village proceed with its plans for the redevelopment project area. That will be a three-step process to approve a redevelopment plan, designate a redevelopment project area and apply the benefits of TIF Allocation Redevelopment Act, according to Village Attorney Kathy Orr.

The members who voted to proceed were Flossmoor Mayor Michelle Nelson, the village’s representative who was chosen as chairperson of the Joint Review Board; Karen Garrity, the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District’s superintendent of finance and administration; Lawrence Cook, chief school business official at Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School District 233; and Flossmoor resident Ann Mitchell, who was chosen by those in attendance as the board’s public member. Representatives from Rich Township, Cook County and Flossmoor School District 161 were not present.

Following a question about quorum, Village Attorney Kathy Orr explained that the law stipulates representatives from whatever overlapping taxing bodies show up for Joint Review Board vote, no matter how many are present. She said it is typically when plans are abusive or feature maps that never end that the Joint Review Board tends to draw more representation.

“That’s not a compliment, even though they all show up,” she said. “When you have a really, really good plan and the TIF is small … we seem to attract less interest. It’s good news.”

The proposed downtown TIF would include properties on both the north and south sides of Flossmoor Road from Sterling Avenue to Leavitt Avenue, as well as properties on the north side of Flossmoor Road from Leavitt to just west of Douglas Avenue. It also includes properties on the east and west sides of Sterling Avenue from Flossmoor Road to near the teardrop island, excluding the Flossmoor Public Library, as presented Dec. 5 to the Flossmoor Village Board. It includes 19 buildings and seven vacant lots.

“You will notice this TIF district is extraordinarily small, on purpose,” Orr said. “We wanted to reduce the size as much as needed.”

Orr explained that downtown Flossmoor has had flooding problems for years, which have contributed to building and fire code issues, as well as foundation problems. TIF requires an area to be considered blighted or conservation, the latter of which requires the majority of the buildings within the area to be at least 35 years old, as that is when improvements are typically needed. The downtown TIF qualifies as conservation, Orr said.

Scott Bugner, Flossmoor’s building and zoning administrator, noted all 19 of the buildings included in the TIF were built before 1979, with 77 years being the average age. The oldest, the Wagner Building, has been around since 1889. The Civic Center dates back to 1929.

“They are very aged,” Bugner said.

He added that a visual assessment of the properties was conducted. It noted deterioration of building components and surface improvements needed, including cracked foundation walls and rusted service doors, with fire and life safety deficiencies for today’s uses. Every building in the area has some evidence of deterioration from “minor to severe,” Bugner said, with flooding likely contributing to that deterioration.

“The failure to address these issues will only compound the issues in the future,” Bugner said.

Those issues also impede development opportunities, Orr said. In an age when businesses are receiving municipal incentives, the extra costs developers face in the TIF area can be detrimental. Nelson said that she has brought numerous developers to the area, but costly repairs and making sure new development does not contribute to flooding has been a sticking point.

“They love the location,” Nelson said. “They love the opportunity. But they hate the infrastructure issues. In order to put a building on that piece of land, they need help dealing with water detention.”

Orr added, “If we want to develop property and we have extraordinary expenses and we want to induce some development of the vacant land, without a TIF, we ain’t going to make it.”

Flossmoor Public Works Director John Brunke said flooding issues have plagued downtown for ages, with an average of some flooding once a year, in addition to connected issues such as sewer backups.

“It’s been like that since the viaduct was built in the early 1900s,” he said. “All this area drains to the viaduct, so it’s important that everything we do in the area we’re dealing with the stormwater improvements and mitigating as much as possible so we don’t impact the viaduct any worse.”

To that end, the village has already done some work. Residents passed a $10 million bond referendum in part to help address those issues, and Flossmoor has brought in roughly another $1 million in grants thus far. Orr said the TIF budget over its 23-year period is $9.3 million in a best-case projection.

“We do not see this as a major source of revenue; we see it as one of several sources of revenue the village is trying to put together in order to accomplish our real goal,” Orr said.

Nelson said it is imperative as the village turns 100 in 2024 that these flooding issues get addressed.

“It’s critical that these buildings get up to speed,” she said. “We want to set our village up for success for the next 100 years. Establishing a TIF is part of that process.”

Nelson added TIF feedback from existing business owners has been positive. Several people in attendance praised what Orr called a “conservative” approach to drawing the map for the TIF. Orr said they wanted to make sure it stayed focused on the area impacted by flooding issues. The risk is that if consolidated too much it might not produce any increment.

“It just might take more time,” Village Manger Bridget Wachtel said. “We saw that with the first TIF.”

Brent Bachus, a Flossmoor resident who serves as president of the H-F Park District board but was not a voting member of the Joint Review Board, offered his support for the project during public comment.

“You always get nervous about TIFs a little bit,” he said. “As a longtime resident … who has watched the viaduct and everything, long overdue and certainly supportive and excited for you.”

Orr has noted this is only the second time Flossmoor has utilized a TIF District. She previously called the now-closed first — to the northeast of the intersection of Vollmer Road and Crawford Avenue, related to the development of Meijer — a “huge success.”

“We have not abused the system,” Orr said. “We have not abused the tool at all and refrained from using it for anything other than extraordinary circumstances.”

Nelson added that Flossmoor did all of the work preparing for the TIF in house, with Orr drawing up ordinances under contract with the village, and Brunke offering his expertise as a professional engineer. Typically, these early steps can cost municipalities $40,000 or more, she said. Orr added that input also came from people who know Flossmoor well.

“We have the gentlemen who are out there on the street 24/7, so when they tell you we have problems, it’s not some consultant coming in, who walked up and down the blocks and said, ‘Oh, you know, this qualifies.’ That’s not it. We have the real guys in the trenches.”

A public hearing is slated for Feb. 6, 2023, with the adoption of TIF ordinances on the docket for Feb. 20. 

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