Health corridor: Not so fast, council says

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The questions members of the Coeur d’Alene City Council will ask themselves as they debate whether or not to approve a proposed Health Corridor district range from the minutiae of legal jargon to the foundational issues of Socratic democracy.

The council voted to table its vote this week on the 20-year plan to revitalize and redevelop the area surrounding Kootenai Health until Dec. 3, but not before peppering ignite cda Executive Director Tony Berns with questions, some out of curiosity, some for clarification, some to critique.

“I wanted to know a little more detail about Kootenai Health’s role for funding,” Councilman Dan English said. “If you’re tax exempt you don’t pay into that, correct?”

Berns explained Kootenai Health’s PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) contributing $7.3 million over 20 years to public improvements, as well as funds to street development and open spaces.

The council asked about clarifying language within the proposal that deals with financial incentives for business owners within the 264-acre space if they comply with certain improvements. They asked about encouraging affordable housing and first-time home ownership. They asked about language that muddied who would be responsible for ordinance enforcement and amendments.

These questions and more came amid a barrage of examinations from Councilman Dan Gookin that explored the nature of sovereign government.

“Tony, I agree a lot of this stuff needs to be done, and I agree urban renewal would be a good way to do it, but I have some issues with a lack of specificity in the plan,” Gookin told the urban renewal agency’s director at the meeting. “We’re Council and we’re to give our blessing for this to go forward. This is the last opportunity for us to have any say-so in what goes on in the urban renewal district for the next 20 years.”

Gookin questioned the economic forecasting ignite cda and its consultants used. He asked what would happen in a financial worst-case scenario. He asked who picks up the tab if the proposed urban renewal district falls apart.

“Tony, going back to the specificity,” Gookin said, “this talks about vacant and underutilized lands, obsolete buildings [in the proposed Health Corridor]. Do you guys list anywhere in the plan where the obsolete buildings are?”

“They don’t have a list of where they’re at, actually,” Berns replied. “It just depends on what public improvements will be taken on in the future ... [such as] straightening out Ironwood [Drive].”

“Why not list them in the plan, for the sake of transparency, saying where they are?” Gookin suggested.

Berns later rejected the notion that a 20-year plan could see that far into the future with any accuracy.

Later in the meeting, Berns tried to address concerns the vision of the Health Corridor might try to build a future road where the Lake City Center currently sits, which re-ignited Gookin’s concerns.

“This [map] is what they would say would be an optimistic mobility design for this future concept,” Berns explained to Councilman Woody McEvers. “Will it happen exactly like this? No. If you can make this happen, this would be the best fit ... We have no plans to go in there and bulldoze the senior center, Woody ... We would work with trying to come up with strategies that make sense.”

“This reinforces what I say,” Gookin interjected. “The plan is vague. Because you’re saying, ‘Here’s a map; this is what we’re going to do, or not.’ So what we’re doing is committing right now 20 years of question marks, and that’s reinforced throughout the plan where it talks about generalizations ... If it’s so beneficial, and we really need to do this — and I agree, this stuff looks good. But what I like to see in a plan — the mayor tells me often it’s my favorite four-letter word — is specifically what’s going to happen where and when.”

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