What will the Missouri Supreme Court justices decide about McKee's dream for North St. Louis?
After listening to all 47 minutes of the oral argument
that took place in Missouri's Supreme Court yesterday (which we've uploaded below), it all seems to come down to a single word: "project."
What's a "project"? How specific does a developer need to be about a redevelopment "project" before a city can use its authority under state law to grant tax increment financing (or a TIF)?
Developer Paul McKee thinks he's been plenty specific about his dream to
revitalize more than 1,000 acres of the city -- or, at least, specific
enough to deserve the $390 million TIF that the Board of Aldermen
granted him in 2009.
North city residents such as Cheryl Nelson and Isaiah Hair, Jr.,
disagree, complaining that his pie-in-the-sky plan has caused their
property values to drop.
Their lawsuit was finally heard by the robed
justices in Jefferson City yesterday.
(For RFT's previous coverage, click here
When lawmakers crafted the
law, they left the word "project" pretty vague, but this lawsuit has
focused like a laser on that one single word. At the circuit level, city
judge Robert Dierker used a common dictionary to flesh it out, writing
that a "project" should be "shovel-ready" and should list specific
locations, actions and dates.
Now the question before the Supreme Court
Justices is whether they should adopt Judge Dierker's additions as
common sense, or conclude that he legislated from the bench and, therefore, went too
Arguing on behalf of the city, attorney Jerry Carmody told the justices that Dierker,
cynical and skeptical about whether or not this project could actually
succeed. Many are. But...his cynicism and skepticism has no place in the
analysis of whether or not the statutory requirements necessary to go
forward with this have been met."
McKee's lawyer, Paul Puricelli, posed a rhetorical questions to critics like Dierker:
are you trying to protect against? What is the danger here?.... This is
not a handout subsidy. It's a reimbursement. Nobody gets a single time
until you do the work to the satisfaction of the city."
But Bevis Schock, attorney for the plaintiffs, countered that the danger was right in front of them:
represent people who've been harmed. And the blinders of our opponents
to their loss is somewhat startling. It's undisputed in the record that
Mz Nelson's house had a lower value because it was blighted by this
ordinance. So who is harmed? My client is harmed!"
Listen to the whole oral argument below: