Editorial: Incentives right for condos

The Lawrence City Commission was right to grant tax incentives for former Mayor and Commissioner Bob Schumm’s mixed-use development in downtown Lawrence.

Commissioners voted, 3-2, to approve about $1.3 million in tax incentives for the condominium and retail project in the 800 block of Vermont Street.

Plans call for a five-story building with retail space, offices and 12 condos to be built where two vacant lots sit. The building would have an underground parking garage, and a one-bedroom condo would be permanently designated as affordable housing. The 600-square-foot affordable unit is expected to sell for $95,000.

The cost benefit for the city will be 1.82, meaning that for every $1 in public incentives, $1.82 of benefit value will be returned. The city’s policy is that the cost benefit be at least 1.25.

This is the second time Schumm has sought incentives for the development. Last year, a city-hired consultant recommended that Schumm’s request for incentives be approved, but city commissioners voted 3-2 in December 2016 to reject the incentives, saying the project did not offer enough public benefit.

In his original plan, Schumm planned to live in one of the condominiums that would have benefited from the tax incentives. In the revised plan, Schumm offered to remove his personal condo from property tax breaks in the incentives package.

Commissioners opposed to the incentives last year were Leslie Soden, Matthew Herbert and Lisa Larsen. On Tuesday, Herbert and Soden again voted against incentives, but Larsen supported Schumm’s proposal.

Larsen said the project enhances the vitality of downtown, is sustainable in that it adds density, uses environmental building standards and uses existing city infrastructure.

“It broadens our tax base,” Larsen said. “The numbers just don’t lie.”

Commissioners Mike Amyx and Stuart Boley voted with Larsen.

In his comments against the development, Herbert said he thought it was “wholly inappropriate” for a former commissioner and mayor to request tax incentives from the city. He said public servants should understand that such service comes with sacrifices.

Herbert’s criticism is off target. Schumm, who left the City Commission in 2015, should not be penalized for his prior service on the commission. Such an approach might hinder others from stepping forward to serve in the future.

Schumm followed the city’s guidelines, and his project exceeded the city’s public benefit requirement. The development warranted incentives and the commission was right to approve them.