Maple Leaf: What are the other options?

I serve on the County Redevelopment Commission (RDC).  The following is a copy of a Letter to the Editor of the Brown County Democrat. The purpose of the letter was to reinforce the need for a collaborative approach when considering development projects that can have long-term impacts on the community.

Maple Leaf: What are the other options?

 The explanation for the funding for the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) has identified that “tourists will pay for it through the innkeeper’s tax.”  It has also been stated that building the venue will require borrowing at least 10.2 million dollars and issuing a bond.  Although the strategy is to make the bond payments from the innkeeper’s tax, if the revenue from the venue is not sufficient to cover the payments, the responsibility to meet the bond requirements falls on the county taxpayers.

The project is also being marketed as a “too good to fail.”  If this is true, then take some time to market the venue to private developers who can raise capital to fund the venture.

Maple Leaf in a different location (Gnaw Bone? Bean Blossom? Ski World?) could be an “anchor” facility that could support further residential and commercial development in the respective area that would be compatible with the comprehensive plan. This could include more housing that attracts businesses that can serve both the residential and tourist market.

A different location might also have the highest likelihood of resulting in positive trends in all the County’s Community Vitality Indicators (CVIs). CVIs include assessed value, per capita income, population growth, school enrollment, and educational attainment rate. A government owned venue does not generate property tax.

Establishment of the innkeeper’s tax required State government to pass a law – IC-6-9-14 Brown County Innkeepers Tax. The statute requires “county government” to provide the management and oversight of the revenue and to establish a five (5) member convention and visitors commission (CVC).  The law states that the purpose of the commission is: “to promote the development and growth of conventions and visitation in the county.”  CVC members are appointed by the Commissioners and Council.

Wikipedia identifies an extensive list of tourism related categories that would “promote the development and growth of visitation in the county” that includes: Cultural, Historical, Preservation, Education, Athletics, Arts, Agricultural, and Wellness/Fitness to name a few.

In regards to the statute, CVC member Barry Herring has remarked: “I think it’s primarily supposed to promote heads in beds. It’s supposed to promote overnight stays because it’s an innkeepers tax, that’s generated by innkeepers.”  

The statute does not restrict tourist related options to those that may result in hotel stays. In fact, any of the options could result in overnight stays.

In reply to a question about the possible competition from the Opry, Herring replied: “We’re looking at it like a Branson (Missouri) scenario. We think the more, the better.”  Note that Branson has been referred to as “the music capital of the entire universe” and includes numerous theatres built by nationally recognized entertainers. Gatlinburg has Dolly Parton.

The fact that Mr. Herring as the new owner of the Brown County Inn who is also a new member of the CVC had an epiphany regarding the options for investing revenue from the innkeeper’s tax should indicate that other investment opportunities may have been missed over the years.

The Comprehensive Plan is also mandated by law (Title 36, Article 7, Planning and Development). The Plan Commission is the body responsible for maintaining a comprehensive plan, which is required to be developed and maintained (IC 36-7-4-501) if the community wishes to exercise the power of zoning. The plan is the foundation for assessing whether new ideas fit into the strategy that citizens will support.

The Plan must be updated to include a tourism strategy that identifies the categories of tourism that taxpayers may want to support with revenue from the innkeeper’s tax.  It is up to all the county citizens to decide how the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax can best be invested.

In addition to the plan, procedures also need to be developed by the plan commission and shared with the public that identifies the process that will be used by members to assess the benefits of a project against the criteria identified in the plan. This change can help assure the community that the plan commission performed their due diligence before providing a recommendation.

At the Area Plan Commission (APC) meeting on August 22, Bruce Gould presented the request for the required zoning change for MLPAC. Citizens had up to three minutes to communicate their support or lack of support for the project. Mr. Gould had the opportunity to provide a rebuttal. APC member Paul Navarro suggested that the county first conduct a traffic analysis and effects study before voting on the recommendation. The APC with few questions and little to no discussion among the members quickly voted to recommend approval. Paul Navarro was the only dissenting vote.

MLPAC proponents emphasized the possible benefits to the Town of Nashville and the tourism industry but did not provide a convincing argument as to why this was the best option for the county. The next step in the process requires the commissioners to listen to input from the citizens and to consider the APC ‘s recommendation for the zoning change.

I am a fifth-generation Hoosier who has enjoyed hiking, camping, biking and vacationing with my family in Brown County for over 50 years. My wife and I bought property here over 18 years ago with the intent of retiring here full-time, which we did in 2014. The current comprehensive plan identifies the vision for Brown County that I support, but it could be more specific in order to clearly identify what Brown Countians want and do not want regarding change and new development.

 Tim Clark
Brown County

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any commission or board.    

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Maple Leaf: Not in the plan

I serve on the County Redevelopment Commission (RDC).  The following is a copy of a Letter to the Editor of the Brown County Democrat. The purpose of the letter was to reinforce the need for a collaborative approach when considering development projects that can have long-term impacts on the community.

Letter: ‘Zoning for Maple Leaf: Not in the plan’

The Brown County Comprehensive Plan states that the purpose of the plan “is to provide guidance on decision making regarding Brown County land use, public service and zoning that enhances the quality of life for the residents based on the county’s natural beauty and rural atmosphere.”

The comprehensive plan further states that “the desire to preserve” is the major element in guiding the comprehensive plan for the county, and states: “People continue to come to Brown County to visit and live. We must plan to ensure that the residents’ reasons for choosing Brown County as a place to live are protected and preserved.”

The Area Plan Commission approved the zoning for the assisted living facility and the senior apartments. The zoning request for an adjacent property from agriculture to commercial to accommodate an entertainment venue is incompatible with the planning principles stated in the comprehensive plan, and the commitment made to the senior residents and neighboring property owners in the area.

Further, given the intent for Mr. Snyder to sell a section of his farmland for commercial purposes, it’s possible that he may choose to sell more land in the future. Now may be a good time to update the comprehensive plan to identify community expectations for the types of development for Snyder farm that the community will want to support. The update to the plan should also include a tourism-related policy and strategy.

The “voice of county residents” is captured in the comprehensive plan that guides any zoning related changes.

Although the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center has not been formally approved by the commissioners and council, advocates of the project will be requesting a zoning change at the APC on Tuesday, Aug. 22 at 6 p.m.

This request should be denied.

The APC should consider beginning the process of involving the community in making any needed updates to the county comprehensive plan.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any commission or board.

Tim Clark, Brown County

Failing to Plan: Planning to Fail

I serve on the County Redevelopment Commission (RDC).  The following is a copy of a Letter to the Editor of the Brown County Democrat. The purpose of the letter was to reinforce the need for a collaborative approach when considering development projects that can have long-term impacts on the community.

Maple Leaf Proposal: Let’s Not Fail to Plan
By Tim Clark

At the June 20, 2017, presentation to a crowd of approximately 100 people on the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) at the Brown County Playhouse, Commissioner Diana Biddle stated:

“We have planned ourselves to death: Strategic planning, strategic planning, strategic planning.”   “It is time for strategic doing,”  

Although this statement received a round of applause, and may accurately reflect the perception held by many in the community, there can be more to the story.

The Purdue University, Center for Regional Development has described “strategic doing” as including “engaging the community in building a prosperous, sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.” This future must be identified in a comprehensive plan and strategy. The last revision to the county comprehensive plans was in 2011, and the county does not have a published strategic plan.

Regarding the proposed MLPAC, the community at large has not had the opportunity at official public meetings to provide input on the best investment options for the revenue collected from the inn keepers tax nor were they involved in providing feedback on the size, scope, and location of a venue.

Further, citizens have not been provided with sufficient details on the nature of the $10.2 million dollar debt including information about the right, if any, to remonstrate. Although principal and interest on the debt can be paid with revenues from the inn keepers tax, taxpayers are likely at risk for the total debt.

Despite this lack of community engagement, advocates for the proposed MLPAC are on the Area Plan Commission agenda on August 22 and intend to request a zoning change for the Snyder Farm site.

An initial outline of the “proposed” MLPAC review and approval process was developed by the county attorneys – Barnes and Thornburg.  The Brown County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) initiated a review on the proposed MLPAC in the context of a county wide perspective. This review included an outline of an initial action plan that involves collaboration among all affected government offices to ensure the due diligence expected from taxpayers.

At the July 13, 2017, RDC meeting, Commissioner Biddle stated that the initial process that was outlined by Barnes and Thornburg was changed to the extent that project reviews and approval no longer required the involvement of the RDC.   An updated outline and timeline has yet to be shared with the public.

The RDC is pursuing federal grants to fund updates to the county comprehensive plan and to fund development of an economic development strategic plan.  These plans along with a five-year budgeting capability would include the key elements of a county strategic plan –likely the first ever such plan in the history of Brown County government. Because of the long lead time involved with government grants, self-funding the development of these plans may be an immediate and needed course of action.

To support the aim of “engaging the community in building a prosperous, sustainable future for ourselves and future generations,” either the RDC or another objective third party should be asked to take the lead in facilitating the review and approval process. This will help ensure community support for the proposed MLPAC and its alignment with the existing or updated county comprehensive plan.

For those where planning may be an abhorrent concept, Benjamin Franklin is credited with the axiom that: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Let’s not plan to fail.

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any commission or board.