Some in Huntsville Want a Vote on Previously Approved Incentives

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The Ravenwood Village Development Project is a multi-million dollar deal that will bring a 450,000 square foot commercial space anchored by Target next door to Huntsville's Wal-Mart.

Right behind the new retail shops will be between 150 and 175 homes averaging $200,000 in a brand new subdivision.

The project is a done deal as of the end of April when Huntsville's city council approved two tax agreements offering the Houston developer a tax reimbursement and abatement plan. Councilmember Mickey Evans says the tax incentives offer benefits to the city and the developer, Property Commerce Development.

"This is a quality major development for both Huntsville and Walker County," Evans said.

As a part of the approved TIRZ agreement, the city and the county will repay Property Commerce a maximum of $8 million over 17 years for expenses incurred during the developing process. The so-called 380 agreement or tax abatement plan has the city and the developer sharing a maximum of $6 million over 10 years of generated sales tax revenue.

Evans says the city and its residents win because for one, both agreements are based on the performance of the development project as a whole. The developer puts up all the money up front and must make good on estimated projections before the city or county pays anything out.

Even though they are circulating a petition, there are those who say they are not against the project. They say residents, not the council alone, should have voted on those tax agreements.

Dick Lindman is just one of several citizens who says the tax breaks given to the Ravenwood Project will bring direct competition to Huntsville's own locally-owned businesses.

"All we're really seeking in this petition drive is that the council give the folks an opportunity to understand what the issue is on and vote on it," Lindman said.

Sandra Bates Bell, who owns the Stardust Room, says as a business owner, she wishes the city council could have left the city's growth up to nature. She says if they had, all local business owners could benefit from economic development.

"I just think that they're trying to push artificial growth through the town for some people's benefit," Bell said, "but it's not a benefit to the small business owners of the town."

The petition drive to bring a referendum on the tax agreements began early this month. On Thursday, petition organizers must submit 2,000 signatures of registered voters to the city council. Only then is a referendum vote possible.