Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Editorial--"Outside Developers" A Resource For Community Growth Or An Invitation to Plunder and Pollute?

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
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  1. "Preserving green spaces helps protect environmentally sensitive areas or endangered wildlife populations and even plays a role in filtering groundwater, but other benefits aren't so obvious. Communities with substantial undeveloped preserves of land often bring in more tourism money, for example, and limiting growth in these areas can encourage growth within their adjacent urban, commercial areas."

    With that said I am having a very difficult time understanding how heavy industry and large, intrusive and invasive rock mines, which are the opposite of green spaces full tilt, help support the county ideal of their new urbanism plan? Heavy industry invites more heavy industry and from the size of the rock mine (according to the county website)what do they think is going to occur? That no other noxious industry will locate near the mine? That heavy truck traffic won't greatly increase?
    It won't really be up to them if the land belongs to the mine, which is commonplace from what I read, that the mines lease land to cement plants and such.
    Are we to presume that residential neighborhoods will spring up around it and it will be an ideal city to live in with heavy industry so close to the city center?
    That's the thinking of someone who is off their meds or someone who trying to pull a grand illusion.
    Maybe both.

  2. Here's my problem with this new urbanist thinking: city living=good, country living=not so good. Not everyone wants to live in a city and this sounds a lot like the control police at work.

  3. FBI has swept through the state this morning making arrests on corruption involving gambling. Wonder how long it will be before the same thing happens in Shelby County? It's about ten years overdue with what's been going on here. Maybe the voter issue will finally get them going on may other things they should look into.

  4. There is absolutely nothing green about heavy industry and mining and it's is the opposite of so-called smart growth and new urbanism cutesy catch phrases like "sustainable" and "green infrastructure."
    What I find interesting is that this plan discourages suburban sprawl while encouraging heavy industry being closer to the "walkable communities." That's upside down from the start.
    If anything the heavy industries should be relegated as far as possible from the population core, not right in the midst of it.
    But if that was to happen, they're moved outside of city limits, then the county is on the hook for any problems.
    Looks like what they have done is place the burden on cities and further cemented that position with legislation.
    Who let that happen?

  5. Whom indeed.
    The Home Rule amendment seems to figure into this by granting broad power to the county and the waiver of liability is worrisome.
    The concept of Home Rule is understandable because it lets the local officials take care of local affairs put simply, however, in the hands of a dictatorial and self-absorbed governmental body it is a recipe for the abuse of powers.


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