By Scott Tibbs, January 4, 2018
When the city council voted to reduce the height of buildings that could be built downtown "by right" - meaning without explicit city approval - it set up a controversy over what it will mean for future projects. Many were rightly offended when the the Herald-Times said the change is going to "put in place a system that allows officials to require gifts and favors in exchange for their approval."
It was an overly harsh statement. But while it does sound like the H-T is claiming this will encourage corruption in the sense that politicians are personally taking bribes, that is not what the editorial board meant. It was good that was clarified later, but the clarification was a mealy-mouthed, weak clarification. The clarification was good, but that is not enough. The Herald-Times needs to own their error with an actual apology.
So why not simply apologize? "We worded the statement poorly, we left an impression that we did not intend, and we apologize for that." Is that so hard? That is what normal people do. We all say things poorly, both in private conversation and on social media. You apologize and move on. That is how normal human interactions work. By not apologizing when an apology is due, the newspaper breeds distrust and a lack of willingness to cooperate. Be the bigger person.
As to the policy itself, the debate is by no means settled. The council could repeal the ordinance as easily as they passed it. That could be an issue in the 2019 city council election, with the Republican candidate for Mayor arguing the regulation should be reversed.
So yes: Developers will have to give concessions to the city to get approval to build - affordable housing, green space, or other amenities the city wants to see downtown. Certainly, A monetary payment to city government is one possible requirement.
The problem is that kind of negotiation leverage kills predictably. Developers will not know what is required of them from the start of their project, and they will likely will find new requirements as the process goes along. Instead of an easily-understandable set of rules and standards, we have the whims of city officials. That is the kind of thing that kills both commercial and residential projects, and the jobs created in building them.
The biggest problem, though, is not this specific policy. The problem is with the overall governing philosophy. Central planners always think they know better than the people who own and develop the land. This is just one more example of that, in giving government just a little more power over what people can do with the property they own. That is the mindset that needs to be reversed.