A two-year planning study to help the city manage the next 20 years of rapid population growth is just past the midpoint. But already, the consultant’s ideas are having an impact on city council.

A key theme of the study is shifting growth away from suburban sprawl toward areas where streets and utilities are already in place. Obviously, that kind for growth is less costly for city taxpayers.

Thursday night, the council took a first step toward developing and redeveloping city areas that need revitalizing.

Law firm hired to work out development incentives

The council voted to hire Bradley, Arant Boult, Cummings, a Birmibngham Ala., law firm with extensive experience in real estate, economic development and related legal matters. The firm will be asked to help the city create incentives that will draw businesses and developers back to the downtown area. The project’s budget will be no more than $25,000 in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

One area that seems clearly to be undeveloped lies just south of the civic plaza where Church Street runs into S.E. Boad St. This district appears to be a prime target for the kind of  “infill” development that the Kendig Keas Cooperative, the city’s planning consultant, is recommending.

Ground-floor stores with apartments and condos above them

The plan is not only to bring commercial business into the heart of the city but to provide housing for people who will then shop at these businesses. The targets are young urban professionals who don’t want a single family home outside the city and seniors whose kids have grown and who want to downsize.

The problem is how to make what is now just an idea into reality. The consultant has recommended two incentives that the Bradley, Arant, Boult firm is qualified to provide — tax increment financing and PILOT programs.

Using a project’s future revenue stream to finance it

Tax increment financing employs increased property tax revenue that a redevelopment project brings in to pay off the bonds that financed the effort in the first place. It can be used to fund housing projects, economic development or redevelopment. Or it can finance such things as acquiring and clearing land or improvements that make an area more attractive to developers. An example might be the ornamental brick street paving installed by Lancaster, Pa., in its downtown area or decorative street lamps and street signs that create a theme in New Brunswick,. NJ.

The added tax money that redevelopment creates by raising property values is what is tapped to pay off the bonds.

A second device is called Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). Often property taxes discourage people from improving their properties because their taxes will rise if they do. People whose improvements qualify for a PILOT program get a freeze for a period that relieves them of the higher tax burden for several years.

Architectural design standards

Another area where the consultant’s ideas are evident is architectural design standards. The city already has what is called an overlay zone that imposes additional design standards on development in the “gateway” area around Thompson lane.

Councilman Eddie Smotherman has expressed reservations about the whole overlay concept, saying the city should strive for quality design everywhere. For the same reason, Aaron Tuley, Kendig Keast’s lead person on the Murfreesboro study, says his firm is not fond of overlay districts.

Thursday night, the council voted to hire Ragan Smith Associates, a  Nashville planning and engineering firm, to help develop citywide architectural standards. The aim is predictability so that developers will know in advance what is being asked of them when they undertake a project in the city,

Principal Planner Margaret Ann Ely Green said Ragan Smith was hired in 2007 to develop such guidelines and did make recommendations, but the guidelines never reached the council for approval. Green added that at present the city has only minimal guidelines — screening construction equipment on roofs and requiring that the fronts of buildings face the strees.

In other business, the council set a public hearing date of Nov. 5th on annexations and rezonings for four properties along Compton Road, Roxburghe Court and Manson Pike