In any community, there's always a tension between local based business and resources, and bringing in "outsiders" with "special qualifications." When the now defunct Chimney Rock Development (2006-2007) was first considered by the Shelby County Planning Commission the project was proposed by Ridgeview Development LLC of Brentwood, Tennessee and Exquisite Development LLC of Destin, Florida.
But problems arose after the fact and these two development companies were shown to have *questionable roots. Which raises the question of why they were considered to begin with and how sound is the county's judgment in considering new developments in their push to implement their Comprehensive Plan (which is based on the concept of "New Urbanism") objectives?
*(See page at footer of site on SC Comprehensive Plan)
The project would be built at the foot of Oak Mountain in Shelby County southeast of Birmingham. The Birmingham News reports that the project is to embrace New Urbanism, in which homes, jobs and commercial areas are within walking distance of each other.
That's in keeping with Shelby County's Comprehensive Plan, which aims to combat suburban sprawl. As a result the project drew an initial favorable reaction from the county manager, Alex Dudchock.
The newspaper publication circulated at the charrette (regarding Chimney Rock Development) listed Ridgeview Development, LLC in Brentwood, TN as a contact for the “planned community”. The area code for the phone number is for northwest Florida.
Further inquiry revealed that the address, 330 Franklin Road Suite 135A, Box 107, Brentwood, TN 37027, listed for Ridgeview Development, LLC is the UPS Store. The UPS Store provides mail drop service.
There was no record of Ridgeview Development, LLC in the Tennessee Secretary of State corporation records section. Exquisite Development is listed as "inactive" in the Florida Secretary of State records.
With a myriad of local developers that could have been chosen why go to an "outside" developer? Wouldn't a municipality and/or county want to "keep the money in Alabama" as much as possible? And wouldn't they also choose a known proven performer that will be in business after the fact to remedy any issues that may arise from the development?
When companies with proven records of good development exist in the community, you'd think they'd be the first choice-- they "know the territory," they have ties to the community, the leaders and executives make their homes in the area, and the local labor force is familiar to them.
Why seek outside developers? There are large national organizations, even global consortium's, that have skills and experience that make them as capable as local developers, maybe even more so: they've built malls and planned communities before, with a record of successful projects. They might even be a low bidder on a local project, because of their economies of scale; the engineers and planners and environmental impact specialists are already on the payroll or on call, "we do this kind of thing all the time." Good. Come do it here, and we'll help you out, with appropriate zoning variances, tax relief or deferrals, and similar inducements. Happens all the time, with varying results.
But those results exist, and can be checked.
On the other hand, an outside developer that ties only to a PO box and a defunct shell corporation-- what's that all about? Why trust millions and millions of dollars of the community's hard-earned tax base and citizen income to a shadow? Why offer unnamed persons or corporations tax breaks and favorable zoning? There are many reasons, only a few of them good.
1. A large developer may want to keep a low profile to avoid being gouged on local land prices.
2. Staying quiet may avoid unnecessary speculation and an influx of “quick-buck” con men that will complicate the development process and drive up costs of labor, land, and local materials.
More likely, a “shadow developer” is a sign of these dangerous practices:
1. Local political figures taking bribes or being offered lower-than-market opportunities in the development, as “one hand washes the other.”
2. The developers include local public officials who profit personally from decisions that are supposed to be made purely in the public interest.
3. Local public officials concealing their links to the developer through use of family members or corporate shells.
4. Local officials who are responsible for oversight and regulation of the new development “look the other way,” or “bend the rules” for their new-found friends, the anonymous developers.
5. The shadow developer or development company has a poor history: they may exploit local labor, they may have ignored environmental regulations and thereby directly or indirectly caused gross pollution and degraded the environment.
6. The shadow developer may have key executives with a history of criminal or civil prosecution for a variety of offenses; simply put, they are “bad actors” with an outlaw past or a history of questionable (and actionable) behavior.
7. The shadow developer may have a history of incomplete, mis-managed, or failed enterprises, and can’t provide decent references.
Let’s face it, most job seekers in this difficult business climate want to present themselves as well as possible; if you’re good at what you do, you WANT your prospective employer to know all about it. A Developer is looking for a job, like anyone else-- he, she, or it wants to transform one kind of land into another: farms become factories, fields become residential communities, outmoded industrial property can be re-packaged or re-purposed into local housing or public facilities like schools, or university or hospital campuses.
A good developer leaves the land better than when he found it; by transforming it, the developer makes a return on investment, improves the environment, and provides jobs and an industrial or knowledge-based infrastructure where there was nothing. A GOOD DEVELOPER DOESN’T HIDE IN THE DARK, HE’S PROUD OF WHAT HE DOES.
A Good Developer works WITH the local community, servings its needs, providing good alternatives for those that must be displaced, and working within the framework of local law and custom. A Good Developer listens to the needs of the WHOLE COMMUNITY, and a Good Development does the greatest good for the greatest number.
No one’s saying that Developers who risk capitol and provide expertise shouldn’t be compensated; there's a lot of big money in development, people who do a good job are entitled to get rich. They are NOT ENTITLED TO ENRICHMENT at the expense of the community, by colluding with local officials for favorable “deals,” or by ignoring environmental issues.
Honest money is not earned in the dark, by shadow figures and shell companies who ignore the light of public scrutiny, shun fair oversight, and keep excessive business secrets. No one has a “proprietary interest” in questionable or illegal behavior.
The project is *defunct as far as we know and that's good considering there were far too many red flags that this may have resulted in yet another fleecing of the metro area and the taxpayer's money in addition to the environmental risks of developing too close to the Cahaba River.
We'll say it again--the fact that this development was even considered where it was proposed and would have used some seemingly shadowy "outside" developers raises some very serious questions about the judgment of those involved in this project and perhaps any future projects considered by Shelby County.
*(Blocked by the Water Board in Jefferson County due to the close proximity of the water supplies, but after it had already been approved by the Shelby County Planning Commission.)
So say we the Opinion Board of the Vincent Alabama Confidential