Sunday, September 27, 2009

Buehler Homes Taxes County Commissioners

Every once in awhile something makes its way to the agenda of Memphis City Council or Shelby County Board of Commissioners that simply defies imagination.

The resolution on Monday’s board of commissioners’ agenda to give 140 county-owned lots to Beuhler Homes for rental housing is one of them.

There are so many reasons that county commissioners should at least go slow – if not vote against – a plan that seems to have more questions than solid assurances. Perhaps, the best way to do it would to be to take the time to carefully analyze the implications of this plan rather than respond to the politics of it.

So far, the push for the 140 lots has raised eyebrows but the political urgency behind it has raised even more. There seems to be a “take no prisoners” strategy to get it passed which in itself does nothing so much as spark more questions.

Payment Due

Opponents contend that the company is the equivalent of a public-sanctioned slum lord and advocates claim it as a company committed to constructing affordable houses in the urban core. In other words, there are a lot of concerns that need to be answered about Beuhler Homes.

Commissioner Mike Ritz raised a huge reason when he pointed out that the company owes $1.1 million in overdue property taxes. At a time when so many people say that government should operate like a business, it’s hard to fathom a private partnership getting off the ground if one of the partners had that kind of encumbrance.

One Central Garden resident put it succinctly in her email: “Why take properties from people who can't pay taxes and give it to someone who is not paying his property taxes?” It’s a fair question. At the least, it would be prudent for the board of commissioners to have a signed, enforceable agreement from Buehler Homes for payment of its delinquent taxes before it considers doing anything with the company.

We’re not sure what Commissioner Steve Mulroy meant when we referred to making “some sort of moral statement,” but in truth, the only kind of statement that matters is a “paid in full” statement from the county trustee’s office.

Core Questions

The question by Commissioner Henri Brooks – who has been faithfully driving a core city initiative – proved there are concerns even more important than the monetary ones, citing the low-quality standards by Buehler Homes and complaints from many in the neighborhoods where they are located.

To address this, the company said it improved its designs as a result of negotiations with a design review process set up by the board of commissioners. However, the designs bear scant improvement over the houses that have, in Commissioner Brooks’ words, disregarded the interests of the inner city. Hers are cautionary words since she actually represents part of North Memphis where the lots are located.

Buehler Homes has given a lot of promises to get county approval of its lots, but if the past is the best predictor of the future, it’s hard to feel too much optimism that things will fundamentally be any different.

That legacy is stark testimony to the ambivalence that county government has shown for the more than 20 years that it has been enabling Buehler’s housing business. After all that time, Buehler Homes isn’t ever named as an example of the kind of urban infill that strengthens neighborhoods and the urban fabric. More to the point, it’s regularly pointed to as an example of the kind of disregard that is often prevalent whenever the client is the working poor, whether it is public transit or urban housing.

Plugging In CDC’s

There is hope of do things differently, and community development corporations are showing how it can be done. Back when Buehler Homes’s relationship with county government began, CDC’s were few and far between. Fortunately, that is no longer the case, and the most inventive, effective strategies originate there.

Because of the evolution of the CDC’s, it seems reasonable that decisions about the best use of county-owned lots should directly involve them. Perhaps, this takes the form of the CDC’s vetting the proposed uses, or even better, that the county asks them to develop ways that the lots could be used as leverage for their revitalization plans.

As proposed now, the use of these 140 lots is entirely up to the discretion of Buehler Homes, and in this way, the rental housing to spring up there could be in direct conflict with the aspirations of its residents and the plans of the CDC in that area.

It’s a serious disconnect. Even if county government is not interested in the opinions of the CDC’s, it would seem logical that county government itself would at least not take action on 140 lots unless it had its own over-arching neighborhood redevelopment plan – one that answers what kind of neighborhoods county government wants to create, what tool box of county incentives – including its lots – could be created to stimulate healthy neighborhoods, what is the consensus vision of the neighborhood and its CDC and what could county government do to work with city agencies who are much more engaged in the life of Memphis neighborhoods.

A Better Way

Ironically, Buehler Homes moved to the county board of commissioners’ agenda while an item that supported legislation to allow the county to donate tax sale property to CDC’s for commercial purposes foundered. There are 250 of these ordinances in other communities, so we’re hard-pressed to understand why there’s foot-dragging here, but hopefully, approval will be given in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, supporters of the land transfer from county government to the Buehler Homes suggest that anything is better than what exists now, but that’s one step (a short one) away from the “anything goes” approach that plagues declining Memphis neighborhood.

There should be a better way. It should involve development of a master plan for the neighborhood in conjunction with University of Memphis planners, a CDC and neighborhood residents, the assembly of all city and county incentives, a city-county neighborhood design review team and involvement of civic resources like the CD Council, UrbanArt Commission and the AIA chapter.

In other words, it’s past time to quit talking about how important our neighborhoods are and do something to help them. It’s time to make them a priority and to concentrate our energy, focus our resources and engage our imagination to do something that sets national standards.

The Right Call

One thing for sure: there will be people at Monday’s board of commissioners meeting to urge a different way of doing business. The CD Council has expressed its concern about “Buehler’s track record of building unattractive and low-quality housing.” Another member said that if the company is given the 140 lots, it “totally undercuts the efforts of real transformation in our inner city/often historic neighborhoods.”

It’s likely that some North Memphis constituents and neighborhood redevelopment leaders will oppose the resolution Monday or at least ask for it to be evaluated within a larger context. We can only hope that the board of commissioners listens.

15 comments:

Louise said...

Remember he did this once before with a behind the scenes twist of State legislation (sanctioned by the County Commission) that allowed him to qualify over 120 single family homes as "multi-family" for tax incentive purposes.

Those 2 story brick monstrosities that he created as a result of "design review" are almost as bad as the windowless one story soon to be hovels. His attempt at front porches and planting a square of grass are ridiculous.

I could go on, but even the uninitiated can drive down streets in Uptown, Midtown and South Memphis and spot the Buehler homes with no problem.

I don't know if the CDCs are the know all, end all, but I do know that their involvement is very important to the redevelopment of these neighborhoods. Not every neighborhood has a financed, working CDC standing up for them, but they could serve as at least a type of clearinghouse for design review for any redevelopment of these lots, not just those done by Mr. Buehler.

I hope in the end his substantial political connections play a back seat to the importance of revitalizing Memphis in an appropriate, caring and sensitive way.

Anonymous said...

CD Council, UrbanArt Commission and the AIA chapter. Throw in a group of third world planning students-and you can BET nothing will ever get approved that some real world developer (even a mouth breathing pond scum politico)can afford to build.

Not if you have to replace all the copper and aluminum fittings. two and three times.

Anonymous said...

Two words: David Upton

Anonymous said...

If you have taken action already, thank you so much. If you have "not" please do. I wanted to offer a few succinct reason why you should call your commissioner and/ or attend today's County Commission meeting at 1:30 p.m. to ask commissioners to vote "NO" to Mr. Harold Buehler being given 140 parcels of property as well as provide a few possible alternative solutions.



1. Giving Mr. Buehler 140 parcels of property is a piecemeal approach to community development. That action is not how you strategically transform inner-city communities into healthy sustainable neighborhoods.



· Memphis/Shelby County should create comprehensive community plans for inner-city communities. These plans should be developed in partnership with the Shelby County, City of Memphis, Community Stakeholders, Higher Education Institutions, such as the U of M Planning & Development Dept., and planning/ design professional organizations like ULI, AIA, Memphis Regional Design Center.

· Best Practice – Milwaukee, WI is doing just that and is about 90% complete with creating community plans for its inner-city neighborhoods and a master plan for the entire city.

· Vote no on the agenda item



2. Poor maintenance and visual appearance of Mr. Buehler’s “current” properties. Many of Mr. Buehler’s homes, which as the owner of them he is ultimately responsible for their up keep, are neighborhood eyes sores – in there boarded up condition and in many instances with residents occupying them. Without raising the maintenance of property standards, I’m afraid of the condition the new homes will fall to over time.



· Memphis/Shelby County should explore strengthening and raising our anti-neglect guildlines and/ or ordinances for commercial and residential property. Memphis/Shelby County should also explore “maintenance of property guidelines and/or ordinances” to hold all property to a high standard.

· Best Practices – New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida have within the last five years past aggressive maintenance of property guidelines and/ or ordinances





3. Mr. Buehler's 1.1 million in back property taxes. I’m not aware of the circumstances that lead to this situation but it will send a conflicting message to the larger community to award someone, who is behind on paying property taxes with 140 parcels of property in part because you want to get them back on the property tax roles.





4. This action arguably amounts to a NO-BID Agreement between Shelby County Government and Mr. Buehler for a Public- Private Partnership to develop the 140 Parcels. In most Public-Private Development Partnerships there is a Request for Proposals (RFP) process along public input and involvement being sought throughout the process.



· Best Practices – local Hope VI initiatives called for RFP's to be submitted and actively engaged residents about their vision for the community and their opinions on the designs of the homes.



5. The CDC’s are against this. I worked for a CDC for eight years and CDC’s are on the front lines of transforming these neighborhoods. This piecemeal approach undercuts the real community development efforts that they are doing.



· Work with the CDC’s on creating community plans were city and county assets can be leveraged for their highest potential

· Maybe the CDC’s or reputable developers are interested in the some of the properties



6. Lastly, I know you all often hear “do something” about our inner-city neighborhoods. Please don’t mistake that request for “something” to be done as a request for “anything” to be done. As a resident of one the neighborhoods plagued by the current Buehler homes, what we (residents of the inner-city) are requesting is for the “right-thing” to be done – that its strategic, intentional, and comprehensive in nature.

Anonymous said...

well, certainly the plans should be produced 'pro bono' by those named organizations-the local planning department was eviscerated last year for 'budgetary reasons' the remainder are all busy doing road plans for I 269.

Anonymous said...

Buehler Homes or another Development group should team up with the U of M City and Regional Planning Dept to create a comprehensive plan for revitalization in North Memphis. The U of M has already finished a South Memphis revitalization long term plan for South Memphis (SoMe).

Through the partnership of CDC and faith based organizations, community block grants, etc. the development of the neighborhoods could fit in with the overall long term vision for the neighborhood.

Just so happens the U of M new Director of City and Regional Planning Dr. Ken Reardon is renowned for his work in revitalizing poor blighted African American neighborhoods like East St. Louis, Illinois and the New Orleans 9th Ward. East St. Louis enjoyed over 45 million dollars of capital investment and a light rail that now delivers it's residents to higher wage jobs across the bridge.

The process of planning with grassroots groups is better known as the bottom-up approach to planning. It can be done in Memphis. The city and county needs to begin improving the area corridors and thoroughfares by adding new sidewalks, street trees, lighting, adding bike and pedestrian pathways and generally improving public infrastructure.

Anonymous said...

By the way Memphis is the only city in the state and maybe one of the only large cities in the nation without a Planning Commission Board whcih was disolved back during the 70s because of political reasons. The city council and county commission are somewhat acting as a planning commission which continues to set our city further and further behind. Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville are passing the money to improve public infrastructure across the state back and forth and leaving Memphis out.

The Council or County Commission need to create a Planning Commission Board as well as a recreate a Park Commission Board to assist them with their efforts to revitalize the area.

This board should be comprised of the best environmental, urban, transportaion, neighborhood, and economica planners along with architects and a representative or two from the private sector. It's time to change the way we do business. Smart city please do your research on this topic.

Chuck said...

There are some good responses here, particularly Louise, and anonymous 1:34 & 2:22.

The notion that revitalization plans both general for the entire city and specific for neighborhoods is desperately needed.

Mayor Herenton let AC Wharton run the joint Memphis & Shelby County Division of Planning and Development and he ran it into the ground. He either pushed good people to leave or after he got his pet project "Sustainable Shelby" done he fired people. There has been zero effort to produce specific, measurable, targeted objectives and strategies for revitalization of inner city areas.

Memphis meanwhile did fragmentary plans with little attention to comprehensive policies. Federal government programs set the outcomes, with no coordination with any social support programs.

Shelby County's pending unilateral action is another reason for consolidation. Maybe we won't get better decisions but we'll at least know who to push for better practices.

Chuck

Anonymous said...

I find it so very interesting that in the 4th to the last paragraph starting with "There should be a better way.", that you never mention the Office of Planning and Development. As Anon 2:22 said it has been eviscerated, but it began way before last year. Part of a grand plan hatched during the Rout administration and carried through by A C Wharton.

It was a slow and painful death, and a pity to watch. There are no planners with vision left; well actually there are no planners outside of zoning with any experience or creative thinking.

For the future of Memphis, please bring them back and stop the madness.

Anonymous said...

MOST OF THE PEOPLE WHO DON'T LIKE THE SITUATION HERE DO LITTLE AND MOSTLY NOTHING TO IMPROVE ANYTHING IN THE INNER CITY AND MOST CERTAINLY NOT WITH HOUSING. BUEHLER IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE. DON'T HATE THE PLAYER, HATE THE GAME. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE MELVIN TRAVIS, HENRY BROOKS AND ANYONE ELSE WHOS HATING ON THE PLAYER. STAND UP AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE NOT JUST MORE BUREAUCRATIC NOISE THAT GETS NOTHING DONE FOR THE INNER CITY PEOPLE. BUEHLER COULD JUST LEAVE IT ALL BEHIND LIKE THE REST OF THE WHITE FLIGHT BUILDERS OUT THERE, WHICH HAVE MADE TONS OF MONEY OUT IN THE BURBS BUT PUT NOTHING BACK INTO THE CITY OF WHICH SUPPLIES THEM WITH THE INFRA-STRUCTURE TO MAKE THERE BIG BUCKS(SEWER,WATER, ETC.) IT SEEMS THAT BUEHLER IS CREATING SOMETHING FROM A LIABILITY(INNER CITY LOTS) INTO TAX REVENUE THAT WASN'T THERE AND KNOW THAT TAX REVENUE IS HIS BURDEN OF WHICH HE IS PAYING DOWN, AND KEEPS ON DOING SO. GO BUEHLER, GO!!! YOU HAVE MY BLESSINGS.

Anonymous said...

The question that needs to be asked is... Are the Beuler homes sustainable. Are they of built of quality materials? Are the Beuler homes energy efficient? Do they fit into the character of the neighborhoods? Will some of the tax dollars be returned to support inner city public improvements(sidewalks, street lights, etc). How about are tax dollars from the project going back into area CDC's?

Anonymous said...

Buehler is a pox on the inner city, and it's not good enough any more to let him drop his crappy houses into our city neighborhoods with no standards or maintenance. He's a slumlord, not a saint. He's looking for a profit not a cause. Shelby County should be careful who it gets in bed with.

Anonymous said...

at least SOMEBODY tried to do SOMETHING in North Memphis besides sling crack and shoot each other.

Who is to fund these cutesy neighborhood plans? where do the implementation dollars come from?
Who will oversee the plans and improvements they demand?

Zippy the giver said...

All I hear is he's building houses substandard, self admitted, so, what's his big plan?
I don't see any plan.
His plan is to make a lot of money and screw you.

aiya said...

Office 2010
Microsoft Office 2010
Microsoft word
Office 2007
Microsoft Office
Microsoft Office 2007
Office 2007 key
Office 2007 download
Office 2007 Professional
Outlook 2010
Microsoft outlook
Microsoft outlook 2010
Windows 7