By BRADEN LAMMERS
The Jeffersonville City Council may file legal action to stop progress on two museums that plan to locate in downtown Jeffersonville.
The council on Monday directed its attorney, Scott Lewis, to ask a court to determine whether the process the Redevelopment Commission, and subsequently the two museums, has followed was legal.
Leases, for the Clark County Museum and the Vintage Fire Museum and Safety Education Center, were approved by the redevelopment commission Aug. 1. But shortly after the approvals, the city council asked the museums to put their plans to renovate and move into the spaces on hold.
The council at the time said the leases had not gone through the proper steps for approval and that neither site was properly zoned. Because the properties at 721 and 725 Michigan Ave. — for the Clark County Museum — and at the former Bales Auto site along Spring Street — for the Vintage Fire Museum — were purchased by the city for former Mayor Tom Galligan’s plan to construct a canal, a change in the tax -increment financing, TIF, plan had to be presented to, and approved by, the city council, according to Lewis.
Corporation and Redevelopment Commission Attorney Les Merkley previously brought the procedural issue before the council that areas within the TIF district were not being amended correctly. However, he also said previously that because the properties in question were being leased and not sold to the entities, an amendment to the TIF plan was unnecessary.
Councilman Mike Smith said he spoke with Jeffersonville Planning Director Shane Corbin and said another issue was that the properties have not been rezoned to allow a museum to locate at the sites.
“The sad part about it is you’ve got people down there that are actually spending money and doing things [when they] have not gone through the process,” Smith said.
However, it may be up to the museums to make the zoning change.
Merkley said that if a property is not zoned for its intended use, it’s usually left up to the tenant under the provisions of the lease agreement. He added that he has a possible solution to the zoning issue, but would not disclose it.
“I have my legal opinion on this issue, but I’d rather not state it during a public meeting,” Merkley said.
Lewis said the contentions that the council has made about the two sites has been raised before.
“Our position is not new and they went ahead and entered into leases after we contested this at more than one meeting,” he said.
The council directed Lewis to seek the declaratory judgment. The ruling, if pursued, may help to determine how the redevelopment commission moves forward in the future on properties that were purchased as part of the canal plan.
Following the council meeting Merkley was asked about the legality of the process leasing the two buildings to the museums. “I am confident we have done everything legally; I’m not going to comment on anticipated pending litigation,” he said.
DUFFY’S LANDING ILLEGAL TOO?
Issues were also raised with properties near Duffy’s Landing that were purchased outside a TIF area, but used TIF money.
“It’s come to my attention that [the redevelopment commission] purchased these properties and placed restrictions on their development,” Lewis said. “In my opinion, I believe that the redevelopment commission did not have the authority to purchase those properties.”
Merkley said the purchase by the redevelopment commission is not limited to all property within TIF districts, but provisions allow for purchases of land outside the designated area that benefit a TIF district.
The redevelopment commission agreed to buy the properties under that allowance. The properties adjacent to Duffy’s Landing lie between both the Inner City Road and the Falls Landing TIFs. The commission approved buying the properties earlier this summer, 4-0, with Commission Member Jack Vissing abstaining because a landowner is a relative.
Lewis also questioned a restriction for no development to occur on the sites.
“That is contrary to the role of the redevelopment commission,” he said.
Merkley said the redevelopment commission constructs parks as well.
The plan for the property adjacent to Duffy’s Landing is to extend the parking lot, add a handicap-accessible bathroom and create a greenspace along the Ohio River. Mayor Mike Moore said previously that the landing will take on added significance with the plan to redevelop the Jeffersonville Marina, because a boat launch near Spring Street would be removed leaving Duffy’s Landing as the only place in Jeffersonville to launch a boat.
Lewis was also directed to determine the legality of the Duffy’s Landing purchase.