Archives for December 10, 2012

You Invest in Rail to Get the Dense Development

Here’s an important lesson from the Charlotte Observer: rail is a real estate development tool. You make public investments in rail if you’re prepared to allow a lot more population density near train stations, and not otherwise. What profitable rail lines all have in common is that the areas they serve have sufficient population density to support high ridership. Building rail out into low density areas only to let people waste the valuable land around rail stations on Park-n-Rides (ala SEPTA and Amtrak) is fiscal insanity:

Apartments are sprouting at a rapid clip along Charlotte’s Lynx Blue Line in South End, as developers look to cash in on a booming rental market and cater to young professionals who want to live near uptown.

While commercial development across the region is seeing slow growth at best, the South End neighborhood has seen a spurt of new activity this year with more than $200 million worth of new construction being announced. Apartments near the Lynx line are powering the growth […]

“(Developers) can get a huge premium being next to mass transit.”

Apartments near mass transit in Charlotte rent for an average $982 a month, compared with an overall city average of $638 a month, CoStar research shows.

Nationally, 65 percent of apartments built in metropolitan cities are within walking distance of mass transit.

“A renter is looking for convenience and lifestyle, and part of that equation is light rail,” said developer Stuart Proffitt, whose firm, Proffitt Dixon Partners, is building Fountains at South End, a 208-unit complex at the New Bern station.


Send Lehigh University a Land Tax Bill

I’ll give John Callahan the same advice on Lehigh University that I gave Rich Fitzgerald on UPMC – don’t just ask for a random amount of money. Send them a non-binding land tax bill.

Figure out how much money a private company would pay in taxes on all the land Lehigh’s using, and then send them a fake bill for it. Make sure the press knows how much it is. Then figure out how much less the average homeowner’s tax bill could be if Lehigh paid the equivalent of their land tax bill to the city, and make sure the voters know what that number is.

This would be more embarrassing for Lehigh than an arbitrary amount like $1 million. You need to show people the actual amount of money the city’s losing every year with all Lehigh’s land off the tax rolls. Count the amount lost to non-profits on the spending side of the city budget every year so it’s in people’s faces. You need to start acting like you expect them to pay the land tax, not like you’re begging for it.

Sal Panto Not Running for Northampton County Exec

Sal Panto has been signaling for a while that he’s not planning to run for NorCo Executive, and now he’s making it official. I’m a huge fan of Panto as Easton Mayor, and I’m glad he’s going to stay on and finish the job.

This makes the choice for County Executive pretty easy, although I’ll resist the temptation to prematurely endorse John Callahan because I’d like to see him steal some positions from me first.


Against Electing Row Officers

I want to echo Bernie O’Hare’s points here about what a horrible idea electing row officers is. The case for making a job an elected position is that there’s some kind of political content the person presides over that the voters disagree about. Or, that there’s some potential for conflict of interest if the Executive is doing the hiring.

But neither one of those criteria is even enough to say that a position should be elected. You also have to show that the voters would do better job than the County Executive at figuring out whether the person is qualified, and then doing their job well.

That’s definitely not the case. Most voters spend zero time thinking about what row officers do, and there’s no reason to believe they have well-formed opinions on whatever political issues these people are dealing with. There’s also no reason to think they’d be able to monitor these people day-to-day to make sure they’re doing the job correctly.

As we’ve seen with Philadelphia Traffic Court, when you create elected positions with no political content, elected officials compete on patronage, trying to boost their popularity by giving favors to people. It’s just asking for corruption and unprofessional conduct.