Payment in lieu of taxes.
It's a phrase that should be on the tip of every Davenport City Council member's tongue as they mull Palmer School of Chiropractic's rezoning and expansion plans. At least, that's true if they're truly serious about addressing Davenport's in-fill problem at its core and the needs of its poor, blighted neighborhoods.
After Wednesday night's City Council meeting, Palmer's planned expansion looks like all but a done deal. Council members used words such as "when" instead of "if" when asking Palmer representatives followup questions. And then, the City Council voted unanimously to move the proposed Planned institutional district (PID) to its second of three readings.
And approval isn't necessarily the wrong outcome. Palmer is an important cultural and economic institution and its leadership is correct to look toward its future needs. Palmer's 10-year reinvestment could be a boon for area contractors and Davenport's central city.
Palmer's planned expansion is a project worthy of City Council support. But only if it includes cash for the very problems exposed by this project.
The project's detractors have reason for concern. City staff said Wednesday night that an additional 47 housing units — buildings Palmer right now doesn't own, but probably will — would likely be lost throughout the build-out. Advocates for the poor say upward of 100 people could be displaced. And the conclusion of Palmer's housing study that the project wouldn't disproportionately hammer the poor are, at best, highly questionable.
Gentrification is a legitimate problem. So, too, is a continued winnowing of housing stock in the central city.
The timing of Palmer's proposal, in some ways, couldn't be better. For the first time in years, City Council members — such as Rita Rawson, Marion Meginnis and Maria Dickmann — are speaking passionately about affordable housing and available existing stock. Davenport NOW, a program that's long encouraged pricey new builds on Davenport's fringe, is getting the hard look it deserves. Even more conservative members of the City Council have called for a reworking of Davenport NOW, that incentives in-fill and is attainable to low-income residents.
The council is, finally, taking a long view. And, as we've previously argued, Palmer's expansion should be a model for future development, particularly among not-for-profits. It's only a matter of time before St. Ambrose University, for example, also finds itself in need of more room. And it's these non-profits that could provide the seed money for which Rawson and her allies have been seeking to kick-start the initiative.
Payment of lieu in taxes (PILOT) is a widely tapped method for extracting money from otherwise tax exempt organizations that rely on public services. In Coralville, a University of Iowa health center pays $1 million a year to that city as part of a PILOT agreement. Frankly, U of I is probably getting hosed.
But imposing a substantially lesser annual fee on Palmer as a condition for its plan's approval is simply a matter of good government.
It could be the first of a list of PILOTs providing revenue specifically targeted for inner city housing. It could be leveraged for bonds. It could begin a system that provides grants to rehab dilapidated homes. It could funnel money to the very people who would get shoved to the city's fringe if nothing is done and those like them.
One can concurrently support Palmer's needs and the poor, disproportionately black residents who would be most wounded by the school's expansion. And a PILOT is what makes that possible.