The case for the JU-area CRA, and the City Council candidate pushing it


Back in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, Arlington 
 was considered to be one of the best areas 
 of town. Its neighborhoods had some of Jacksonville's best schools. There were thriving businesses throughout the area. It was a rapidly growing suburb located within the border of the consolidated city of Jacksonville.

Now we are in 2015 and the magic is gone. Of all the areas in Arlington, the section near Jacksonville University (JU) has deteriorated the most. During the 1970s, this area was a typical middle-class neighborhood anchored by a private college that brought in students from around the nation.

JU has added new programs and increased in academic prestige, but the areas around its campus have deteriorated. This is an issue that the city has not really addressed; however, there is one Arlington resident who is willing to take a bold step: City Council candidate Michael Anania wants to form a Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) near the JU campus.

Exactly what is a CRA, how does it operate, and will it help to redevelop the area near JU? A CRA is a special tax district. In most neighborhoods, all taxes go toward the city/town/village in which the neighborhood is located. The municipal government decides how much of the taxes are returned to the area to be "reinvested" in the community.

The CRA concept takes funding beyond what is needed for basic government services and returns that funding to the specific neighborhood. In this case, you might have the Arlington Commercial Corridor Reinvestment Authority formed to oversee the use of the funding of the CRA. An attorney from the General Counsel's Office is assigned to advise the authority's board and, while not a voting member of the board, the district's sitting city councilman usually serves as a liaison between its members and the City Council.

In the case of 50-plus-year-old neighborhoods like those near JU, it helps that there is not the need for a lot of budgetary items. The streets and roads are in place, the population has stabilized, and the police and fire protection has already been established and generally does not need to grow. Without a CRA, the tax base actually goes toward other parts of town.

When a CRA is formed, a tax base is set using the year the district is started as a base year. In this case, the tax base would be set based upon the property taxes and appraisals given in October 2015. As redevelopment, inflation and new development push up the tax base, all property taxes above the base year are then returned to CRA to be used for public improvements and business incentives. The CRA would be time-limited to a period normally set at 40 years.

A JU-area CRA would also be a way to provide grants to small businesses that agree to move into this part of Arlington. Currently, the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) is offering grants in its CRA for up to $50,000, with a forgiveness rate of $10,000 for each year the business stays in place. The other requirement is that the grant be spent on improvements that cannot be moved if the business relocates. This built-in requirement creates a sense of permanence.

While JU is the epicenter of this CRA, it will actually run along a corridor on either side of University Boulevard, with Fort Caroline Road on the north and the Arlington Expressway to the south. The CRA will also run east along a corridor on either side of Merrill Road, from JU to the I-295 Beltway. This T-shaped CRA will help to restore Arlington's commercial core to its former glory.

Another tool to be used within the CRA is the Rev Bond; if a new building or another property improvement occurs, up to 95 percent of the property tax generated by the improvement in year one can be used to issue bonds. These can be used to improve the property or to make public improvements near the property.

These older sections of West Arlington are starting to decay; by coming up with the idea of creating a CRA within this area, Anania is leading the way to restoring the West Arlington neighborhood. Of course, he is not ignoring the other portions of Arlington. Parts of Anania's commitment to the entire Arlington area include:

• Limiting occupancy in single-family residences to no more than three unrelated adults. This would stop the erosion of Arlington as a family-oriented community and help to reduce drugs and crime in the neighborhoods.

• Making Arlington's commercial districts a safe, inviting area for business professionals while encouraging family-oriented businesses that serve both adults and children.

• Help the residences in each of Arlington's distinctive neighborhoods make neighborhood decisions at the neighborhood level. By enhancing the Citizen Planning Advisory Committee (CPAC), Anania will bring local government and meaningful interaction with it to the community.

• Create safe zones and end the club culture that leads to violence and drugs.

• Enable law enforcement to move from responding to and reporting on crime to be part of a program of more active policing and crime prevention.

Anania will take his experience as a Navy veteran, a local business owner and a 30-year Arlington resident and use this knowledge to make Arlington a better place to live. As the chairman of the CPAC that currently includes Arlington, Mike Anania is familiar with the concerns of the residents and how our government operates, and will be able to better serve the constituents of Arlington.

Fifty years ago, Arlington was the place to live. Now there are many areas in Arlington where people are afraid to go. One candidate has the foresight to restore the Arlington community to its former glory.

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