Questions should have been asked two years ago

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As the Williston City Planner and members of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) addressed the elephant in the room last week about the property owners' intent concerning backdoor beautification that abuts Block 12, we couldn't help but ask ourselves, "Why now?"

The CRA spent months and months trying to figure out how to improve that part of the city between Main Street and NE 1st Street. The property was overgrown with vegetation, littered with everything imaginable and consumed by abandoned buildings. Since the city cannot legally go on private property for maintenance, the solution seemed simple: buy it.

More months of determining fair market value, meeting with property owners and hiring a real estate agent to broker the deal followed. Finally, an agreement was reached and the CRA spent $163,000 and claimed all the property in the back except for two holdouts.

Then came the engineering study and all that accompanies it – everything from working with the Florida Department of Transportation to the water management folks. Block 12 was not to be a "we'll get it done soon" project.

Two years later, everything was in place and the project went out for bids. But the cost came back substantially more than anyone had thought of – about $200,000 more.

Last week, the CRA learned it will take close to half a million dollars to build a parking lot. The intent is to provide parking for not just Main Street businesses, but those along Noble Avenue too. Maybe even recruit some new businesses to fill the half dozen or more empty buildings in the immediate area.

Then came the elephant: will those business owners – many of whom rent – be willing to make the back side nicer? Paint? Signs? Awnings? Will they want customers coming through their back doors once the parking lot is complete? Will Block 12 parking be used by more than the employees who work there?

For so long several property owners have opted to not make aesthetic improvements, fearing the ad valorem taxes will increase. Will they feel the same way now? Will ample parking bring more traffic to their businesses, which in turn could offset any tax increase?

Truth is, the base ad valorem taxes for Block 12 properties is all over the board – from $300 to $1,800, depending on the size of the building. Most owners pay significantly less than what a residential property is taxed for.

Block 12 is prime real estate if you go by the old adage location, location, location. But for many, it's an eyesore – a blight in the center of our town.

The CRA now has to consider whether it will exhaust all of its funds to continue the parking lot. Funds that took a long time to generate and could be spread around doing good works in more places.

The questions that left most everyone puzzled last week should have been asked two years ago. Not now.

We ask, why weren't they?