The remaking of the Westgate Village Shopping Center with a Costco Wholesale Corp. store, gas station, and drive-through Starbucks was approved yesterday after a month of political theater and criticisms between Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and owner Liz Holland.
But even with the 5-0 approval from the Toledo Plan Commission, another controversy, this time over taxes, again placed Mr. Finkbeiner as a critic of the project.
The plan commission praised the new design as one of the finest they had approved and a watershed moment for the flagging commercial Westgate area, near Ottawa Hills and Toledo's Old Orchard neighborhood.
"This will be the best development we've ever approved," commission member Rey Boezi said.
"One thing it's done is greened-up a regional center," Mr. Boezi said.
Even with the verbal high-fives and glowing assessments, Mr. Finkbeiner said he was concerned about setting the precedent of the city's paying $300,000 to the Washington Local School District as part of a tax-incentive package.
That still-unsigned deal was approved under the administration of Mayor Jack Ford. Mr. Finkbeiner now has final say.
Ms. Holland said she has to honor her deal with Costco within about two months and that the lost $300,000 would be a deal-breaker.
Because there is asbestos in one of the buildings to be razed and dry cleaner solution in the ground, the site qualifies to become a "brownfield enterprise zone," meaning it must be cleaned up.
The site is eligible for a break on property taxes, called an abatement.
That tax normally would go to the local school system, so state law requires the city share the extra income taxes expected to be generated from the new jobs created in the enterprise zone.
Toledo and Washington Local schools agreed to a $300,000 payment over five years. Most environmental cleanups involve industrial sites. This is one of only a few to involve retail in the state, Mr. Finkbeiner said.
The mayor said that because a promise had been made, the "honorable thing" would be to try to find the money from other sources, perhaps from federal sources.
He said he feared setting a precedent.
Mr. Finkbeiner's chief of staff, Bob Reinbolt, echoed that concern.
"This is new ground. Pretty soon it's five police officers can't be hired" because of lost revenue, he said.
Ms. Holland said state law directs the city and school system to come to an arrangement. She pointed out that just the income tax alone from the construction payroll for the first year is estimated to be $325,000.
"[The school system] understands this project is necessary as a catalyst for development in Westgate," she said. "It is not coming directly out of the city's coffers."
On the design front, the mayor said he was happy with changes made to the original site plan for the $35 million project that added a public art park with a brick wall and wider sidewalks.
He and others complained the original plan didn't do enough for pedestrians or create an urban village-like atmosphere - obligations they said are mandated by the city's 20/20 master development plan.
That contention sparked a debate over the master plan's role in the regular planning process, which is more concerned with parking spaces, numbers of trees, and other specific details.
The master plan, established last decade, is meant to be a general guide, and the zoning code the more specific rules created with the master plan in mind.
Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick