On a recent Monday night in Wichita, about 20 people gathered in a conference room at the Americans for Prosperity offices to hear a presentation about the Wichita infill plan called Places for People. John Todd was giving the presentation. Todd was a real estate developer in Sedgwick county, most notably in Park City for many years. He has decades of experience in developing and selling homes that were once blighted or tax roll properties. The presentation was meant to enlighten anyone interested in what Places for People is and just how it could impact them.
Places for People is at its heart, an urban infill strategy. According to Mary Hunt with the Wichita city planning department, the project came out of the Wichita Infill Advisory Committee.
At Todd’s presentation, the use of a land bank as part of Places for People was a topic of concern for attendees.
At the June 19 Sedgwick County Commissioners meeting Hunt noted that per state law “Land Banks acquire, maintain, & dispose of abandoned foreclosed and distressed property to stabilize neighborhoods and encourage reuse or redevelopment of property.”
Hunt also address a big concern for many people: eminent domain
“There is no provision for eminent domain in the Kansas land bank law; they couldn’t do it if they wanted to.”
James Barfield, who lives on Edgemoor, addressed the land bank proposal as what he thought it was.
“They call it a land bank, I refer to it as a land grab. This to me, is nothing more than a warmed over version of bills that have been presented to the state legislature for the last probably four years, and it is never passed.”
At Todd’s presentation, the question was raised by one woman why the city had to get involved with infill issues and land bank problems, to begin with.
“Does the city ever say they have to do this because there is no private entity that wants to take this on?”
Land banks are not a new concept. Throughout the country, some have been successful. Hutchinson has one that only deals properties with no structures. Other land banks have been accused of blocking developers and individual access to property for development.
One criticism of Places for People is that its possible components are not clearly defined.
Another concern is the cost. The price tag of what it would cost the city to redevelop a 62 square mile section of Wichita was not touched at the City Council or Sedgwick County Commissioners meetings that voted to approve the plan. Though Hunt did references the potential tools that could be used.
“Accessing all of those economic development programs that we already have like business improvement district and tax increment financing and the like and of course we have our CIP as a tool for implementing,” said Hunt.
Page 19 of the Public Investment Strategy for Place for People lists the type of funding that could be used to pay for the infill project. The “toolkit” as the strategy calls it is bond financing, supplemental taxes, tax reductions, and tax credits, just to name a few. Of note in the report is the reference to Community Improvement Districts (CID) to pay for Places for People. A CID is a special sales tax for a specific district. Per the report, “The special sales tax for the district can be up to 2 percent.” No one knows if the entire 62 square mile area of Places for People could or would be subject to a CID tax or just certain neighborhoods.
All the votes for Places for People at the Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission approved a plan to explore how to make it policy. There is no executable policy right now. However, in a city that consisted voted down tax increases, the question of what it will cost is important for many. It is part of the reason 20 people came to the meeting in downtown Wichita on a Monday night to hear from an experienced developer.
“I am very concerned about what is happening to our country; we are losing our rights through an administrative state,” says Todd.