Despite the thinner than usual community turnout, Costco Wholesale and Lincoln Premium Poultry dominated discussion at the Fremont City Council meeting on Tuesday night when council members voted to approve (7-0) a Blighted and Substandard Declaration.
The declaration covers 992 acres of land located just south of Fremont. Costco Wholesale hopes to purchase approximately 417 acres of that land owned by Hills Farm Inc. that lies within the blighted area. Costco plans to use area for the construction of a fully integrated poultry processing operation touted by proponents as a way to stimulate an economic boost to the Greater Fremont and Dodge County area.
Under the Nebraska Community Development Law, the governing body of a municipality the size of Fremont has the authority to afford the maximum opportunity to rehabilitate or redevelop land declared blighted and substandard. Such declarations allow for certain economic incentives and tools that developers may utilize in the development of projects. Some of those tools include tax incremental financing which, in this case, could help Costco fund certain infrastructures and utility improvements.
According to the study conducted by JEO Consulting Group, Inc., the land in question meets the requirements for “blighted and substandard” for various reasons. Those justifications include but are not limited to: deteriorated structures; defective or inadequate street layout; unsanitary or unsafe conditions; improper subdivision layout or obsolete platting; conditions that endanger life or property. The report goes on to list in detail all issues identified by JEO that resulted in the recommendation to declare the area “blighted and substandard.” The terms “blighted” and “substandard” represent official legal designations as specifically defined in the Nebraska statutes.
Not everyone present agreed with JEO’s conclusions. Greg Barton of Barton Law Office out of Lincoln stated that approval of the study by the council represented an illegal act. Explaining his position, Barton said Costco and other proponents declared the land blighted for the sole purpose of obtaining tax incremental financing benefits.
“The only way that 400 plus acres (of Hills Farm land) could be declared blighted was by throwing in another 500 plus acres … to circumvent the Nebraska Community Development law,” Barton said.
However Costco proponent David Mitchell, representing the Greater Fremont Development Council contended, stating the Hills farm property has always been a prime area for industrial and commercial development because industry has been growing up around it, creating a more urban area. However, because insufficient funding needed to achieve the substantial land upgrades and site preparations that would adequately meet the 500 year flood plain regulations no developers had ever been interested in the sight until now..
He continued, saying with the arrival of Costco and the “blighted and substandard” study, Fremont now has an opportunity to develop and improve the value of that area.
“This is not something new. This is something we wanted to develop for a long time,” Mitchell said, adding that until now, and due to barriers like the lack of a “blighted and substandard” designation, significant funding opportunities had never before been available.
Approval of the study allows for the preparation of a redevelopment plan for that area through the use of incentives that could help facilitate the construction of Costco’s proposed poultry operation.
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IN OTHER COUNCIL NEWS
Fremont City Engineer Justin Zetterman resigned to pursue further career aspirations as a civil engineer for the E&A Consulting Group, Inc., out of Omaha.
“I have enjoyed the opportunity to work in Fremont and the opportunity to work with the truly wonderful employees of the city … and to serve the people of Fremont,” Zettermen said.
With his departure the responsibilities of the City Engineer will fall to the interim appointment of Director of Public Works Dave Goedeken to the position. The appointment, takes effect July 16.
In response to Zetterman’s resignation, Diane L. Brown, Fremont candidate for mayor, introduced a resolution that, if approved, would appoint Brown to a city advisory position to aid the city in its search for a new engineer. Last week she submitted a similar resolution with regards to the search for the new Fremont City Administrator. According to Brown, “the upcoming election creates uncertainty and an inability to offer reliable employment to potential” city administrator and city engineer candidates. Council officially received the resolution but no action has yet been taken on either of Brown’s resolutions.
Council officially acknowledged and approved the reception of three tort claims against the city regarding storm and flood damage that occurred June 18 when an extreme weather event resulting in over 6 inches of rainfall within a period of two or three hours. The rain overwhelmed the city’s storm water management system as well as the wastewater treatment capacity and caused backup and severe flooding in several parts of Fremont.
Council approved the recommendation of the city insurance broker IMA Inc. to enter into a 3-year agreement with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska for the City of Fremont’s Medical, Dental, Prescription Drug Plans, and with Blue Cross’s recommended vendor for COBRA and Flex Administration. Director of Human Resources John Hemschemeyer pushed for the change because with offices in Omaha, Blue Cross Blue Shield is more localized to Fremont. Additionally, an analysis of the proposed change projected annual savings of $470,000 during the first year.
A keno satellite application by Whis’s End Zone Lounge on South Broad Street was approved by the council.
Council members voted to approve a contract with Dodge County Humane Society for animal control services in the City of Fremont. Both entities have worked together to address animal control for the city under a contract initiated in 2015 and set to expire in August this year. The renewed contract would include a 3 percent increase per year beginning in 2016 for the one year length of the contract.