In the back room of a Buffalo Grove bar recently, Barry Stark told the crowd that the informational session about a possible special taxing district for Buffalo Grove's proposed new downtown felt like a political rally.
"Is anyone going to present the other side?" asked Stark, a member of the village's planning commission.
"This is a meeting for people who are opposed to the development," responded Marilyn Weisberg, an organizer with Save Buffalo Grove, a grass-roots organization working against a tax increment financing proposal for the area.
Dozens of residents attended the informal meeting on July 18 at the Village Bar & Grill, 48 Raupp Blvd.
Last year, developer Chuck Malk of the Deerfield-based CRM Properties Group presented to Buffalo Grove leaders a grand concept that would finally give the village a true "downtown." The estimated $350 million plan calls for a department store, children's museum, condos, apartments, retailers and restaurants.
In a tax increment financing district, bodies that get money from property taxes — such as school districts and village governments — see a freeze in revenue. Over the life of the district, tax revenue above that freeze amount is put into an account to be used to encourage growth in the area, through efforts including giving tax breaks to new businesses. The idea is that money used to revitalize the area will ultimately mean increased property values and long-term economic development.
The proposed site for Buffalo Grove's TIF district would be is a 450,000-square-foot area, bordered by Old Checker and West Lake Cook roads to the north and south. It would include the village's municipal campus at 50 Raupp Blvd. and the Buffalo Grove Golf Course.
Village leaders largely supported that idea, although some residents still scarred by the last effort to create a downtown have organized with Save Buffalo Grove to lobby against it.
The Buffalo Grove Town Center was built in the early 1990s using tax increment financing money. It was a "developer's TIF plan" that the village agreed to, but today the property is seen as an eyesore that never took off, according to Rich Heinrich, a former chairman of the village's zoning board of appeals who attended the meeting.
Heinrich said he's not against the development outright, but advised independent feasibility studies be conducted to first determine the flood plain analysis and the area's commercial viability.
"I don't want to see mistakes of the past repeated," Heinrich said.
Village Manager Dane Bragg said the use of a TIF district as an economic tool hasn't been ruled out for the proposal, but that it is too early in the process to fully consider it.
Save Buffalo Grove's presentation focused on that possibility.
Brian Costin, who works as the outreach director of the Illinois Policy Institute and also was a former candidate for Schaumburg mayor, lead the discussion to explain some of how tax increment financing districts work.
He also categorically denounced them as an abused scheme that costs taxpayers and benefits developers. He urged the attendees to contact their local representatives, voice concerns at village board meetings, demand the public's vote on the issue and even consider running for office.
"The fundamental principle is: it's not fair for everyone here to pay some of the highest property tax rates — if you live in Lake County — essentially in the country," he said. "If this developer is paying nothing toward property taxes, it means all of us pay more."
Meanwhile, Stark said he came out only to hear a review of the issue, and that the event was misleadingly billed. He said Costin has a biased view of the issue.
Stark, the sole dissenting voice at the meeting, said: "I'm here for both sides."