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INTRO: Property taxes are the main tool for redevelopment agencies. Once a redevelopment area is created any increase in tax revenue stays with the agency to invest with businesses for redevelopment. On Tuesday the City of Las Vegas held its first meeting on a proposal for the largest redevelopment expansion in 15 years. Yesterday it held the first meeting on that expansion. More than half of it is in West Las Vegas. KNPR's Ky Plaskon was at the meeting.
SOUND: Doolittle Community Center
PLASKON: Just north of downtown Las Vegas at the Doolittle Community Center, people are doing anything but little. Lifting weights, swimming, chanting songs, playing soccer - all signs of a vibrant community. Normally the city wouldn't try to redevelop a single-family residential area like this says the redevelopment agency's Steve Van Gorp, but.
GORP: It is within a quarter mile of downtown, it is within a quarter mile of world market center so we see opportunities for more development opportunities there in proximity to downtown and major highways.
PLASKON: These 360 acres proposed for redevelopment are home to the Binion House - a 1940 home to the Binion Family, it has the oldest remaining school house in Clark County, the Moulon Rouge and the 1932 home of Famous Cowboy Roy Christiensen. For the most part, land use here hasn't changed in 6 decades. Dave Wooton who keeps horses like many homeowners in this area knows what would happen if the area is redeveloped.
WOOTON: My lifestyle would have to change in this valley, I would have to go somewhere else. That is the point I am making, it is a change of lifestyle for a lot of people, even if you got a high price for your property you couldn't preserve your lifestyle in this valley.
PLASKON: Over the next 4 months the city will consider if this area should be preserved says Van Gorp.
GORP: So the city has to decide if this is an area that is appropriate for preservation or an area that should be transitioned to other land uses.
PLASKON: Part of that process is holding meetings with property owners and letting them know that their lifestyle is on the table.
PLASKON: This meeting on Tuesday, composed of 50 homeowners was contentious at times. Abdul Shabazz, has a business and property in the area and told the crowd that they need to form an association to represent their interests on the proposal of redevelopment.
SHABAZZ: They just concern, they concerned, they concern but they just don't know, they don't know what is going on.
PLASKON: Many in the room feared the city would do what it used to in redevelopment, seize their property. Candidate for Assembly district 2 Harvey Munford watched the city try to answer numerous questions about that.
PLASKON: Are they explaining it well enough to the homeowners who are here? MUNFORD: Not really.
PLASKON: But Van Gorp says the City's days of forcing the sale of property are over.
GORP: What we are saying is that they can have options, they can stay and let redevelopment come in around them or they can choose to sell when it is appropriate. It is an economic decision for them weather they want to stay with the neighborhood or sell the property. So we are presenting options.
PLASKON: The city is proposing adding this area among a total of 600 acres to it's 3-thousand acre redevelopment zone. Height and zoning restrictions would be stricken, permitting would be expedited and parking requirements for new development negotiable, all with the hope of jump starting a new urban core of high-rise housing and commercial property. Van Gorp told them it would be enough for developers to start circling their property.
GORP: As soon as developers start looking at an area prices start going up
PLASKON: Most property owners here were eventually pleased with the idea of more money for their land. But one who refused to say his name sees a future that would not only drive up home prices, but drive out long-time residents of this low income area.
ANONYMOUS: Redevelopment is to push people out so that they can have access that is another way of obtaining the area. They know that these people don't make enough money to catch up, if they eliminate the eminent domain, lets just do it another way.
PLASKON: Executive Director of the United States Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness for the Bush Administration Philip Mangano says historically redevelopment has contributed to pricing people out of the market and putting them on the street.
MANGANO: Government contributed over the last 20 years in some of the unintended consequences that resulted in long term homelessness for far too many of our neighbors.
PLASKON: This area holds 9 low income housing projects where renters earn between 19 and 31 thousand dollars a year. Las Vegas homeless advocate Linda Leva Randel-El fears for the 11-hundred low-income renters that could be displaced by higher rent in the proposed redevelopment area.
LEVA-RANDEL-EL: Oh sure, even if we found places for people to live, they are not in the bracket that people call affordable.
PLASKON: City officials counter that 18 percent of the tax revenue raised through redevelopment is earmarked for low income housing by state law. This year the city's redevelopment arm will have 1.6 million dollars for affordable housing. But its hard to use that money efficiently because the law also says the city must use higher paid union employees for those projects. Sue Prescott, Neighborhood development supervisor for the City
PRESCOTT: Bottom line doesn't pencil out to be able to build with that money.
PLASKON: So the millions allocated to affordable housing from redevelopment meant to soften it effect of displacing low-income citizens isn't going as far as it could. Meanwhile the city is proposing a 20 percent increase in the redevelopment zone.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR