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Council to request study of Mountain Green development area; Plans remind county official of Whistler, Canada

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In a split 4-2 vote on June 20, the Morgan County Council approved sending a request for proposals out to study property at the foot of Trappers Loop.

Developers of the 122 acres being called the Mountain Green Town Center have plans for retail, residential and mixed uses, and have slightly changed their plans over the years to where they now want more retail than originally spelled out.  The change would necessitate a modification of the development agreement Dwayne Johnson currently has with Morgan County.

Johnson’s plans for the development remind Morgan Economic Development Director Steve Lyon of Whistler in British Columbia, Canada, which has a compact, chalet-style pedestrian village at the base of a large ski resort that was a 2010 Winter Olympics venue.  Lyon said there is a lot of demand for office space in Mountain Green, and the developer foresees mixed use to include office or commercial space topped with residential condos.

County officials want to know what those development plans, with or without a new, full Interstate 84 interchange, would mean to the county in the next decade.  Lyon is pretty sure it would result in more property and sales tax revenue, as well as job opportunities.  But how much?

The county may have to shell out $2,500 to find out.  The average cost of such an economic market analysis would run about $15,000.  But Lyon already has $7,500 coming from Business Expansion and Retention (BEAR) grants, and $5,000 coming from the developer.  The county could take its portion from its restaurant tax fund, which currently has a balance of $47,000.

Councilman Robert Kilmer encouraged Lyon to ask the developer to throw in more than $5,000.

“I want to see the developer fund this rather than taxpayers,” said Kilmer, who joined Councilman Roland Haslam in voting against requesting proposals for the study.

County officials are making some guesses about the future worth of the Mountain Green Town Center.  Lyon said the first phase could include up to $75 million worth of development with retail and mixed uses.  The second phase would include Class A and Class B office space.  Future phases would include light industrial and residential uses.

Right now, the 122 acres of green belt generates approximately $4,500 in property taxes.  If development goes forward, revenues and property values would sky rocket.  Property values would likely increase even more if an interchange came to fruition there, Lyon said.

And the developer as well as county officials have some plans for that increased revenue.  Lyon said he would look at potential tax incentives to be paid out of the potential revenue.  The study would help him determine how much incentive the county could or should offer.

The study would also show state transportation officials just how critical a new full interstate interchange could be to development and job creation in the area.  If a case can be made that the interchange is integral to economic development and job growth in the area, funding for the interchange could be moved up the priority list, or the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP).

“Overall, this benefits everyone, including the school district.  We have to expand the tax base,” said Council Chairwoman Tina Cannon.  “This is a way to do that.”

Lyon would like to put the economic market analysis study out for RFP by July 1, have companies’ bids back by mid-July, and have the study in hand by August.  That will be just in time for a state transportation commission tour of the area in October, Cannon said.

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