Sunday, May 22, 2005

Farmington RDA Example of Need for Some Type of Development Tool

The Deseret News carries a story on the Farmington Station transit-oriented and mixed use development about to get underway, and discusses the role of the RDA in helping it happen.

I sit as a representative on the Taxing Entities Committee (TEC) appointed by the Davis County Commissioners for RDAs in Davis County. In my role as economic development director, we have been working with Farmington City and developer Rich Haws for some time making this project happen.

The project is a great one, particularly for Davis County, where nearly 50% of our workforce commutes out of the county to go to work each day. Davis County also has the smallest percentage of its property tax base generated by commercial/industrial property of the four major Wasatch Front counties. What we really need is a better balance, with more basic sector jobs in the county.

Farmington Station will help us do that, by creating an office park area that will be upscale and competitive with such great business locations as LakePark and Research Park in Salt Lake. But the area is difficult to develop, with very little basic infrastructure in place, high water tables, and some older farm uses. The one thing the site has in spades is transportation access. The site sits just off the newly reconstructed Park Lane interchange in Farmington, where I-15, Highway 89, and the Legacy Parkway all converge. Also, the site will soon be home to a new commuter rail stop.

Left to its own devices, the area would have developed, but probably with small scale commercial/retail development, homes (we grow lots of homes everywhere in Davis County!), and not much else. To encourage the type of use that would be beneficial for the Davis County economy, developers needed help in the way of basic infrastructure.

Cities and counties have very few tools to invest up front in infrastructure cost. Wealthier communities like Layton have a somewhat easier way to do so because of their financial wherewithall, but a small town like Farmington -- good luck! One of the few tools available is the RDA law. Fortunately, the project was put together in such a way as to meet the requirements of the law, and the TEC saw the value of the project -- even the school representatives, who praised what the project would do, but voted against it because RDAs can only use property tax revenues, which impact school districts most.

This type of project shows the clear need for some type of tool to help communities by giving them the ability to front infrastructure investment to incent beneficial development. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water, state legislators! Find a way to allow projects like this to happen.

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