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Council gives VA blight designation but says law sets low standards for blighting
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Council gives VA blight designation but says law sets low standards for blighting

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Neighbors showed pictures of the green lawn and tall trees at the Veterans Affairs campus and asked the Lincoln City Council how this lovely oasis could be considered blighted.

Veterans suggested the city slow down the process of redeveloping the VA campus by rejecting blighted designation until the federal government decides where it will build a new VA clinic in Lincoln.

But the Lincoln City Council voted 4-3 Monday to designate the 63.5 acre campus near 70th and O streets as blighted so developers can move ahead with plans to create apartments and houses for veterans and seniors, and physician office buildings.

The blighted designation allows a developer to use tax increment financing and the group redeveloping the VA campus has said it needs that extra financial help.

Even the council members who voted for the blighted designation pointed out that state law sets a very low bar for what can be considered blighted or substandard.

The undeveloped land in this case is pristine and adds quite a bit of value to this site, said Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird.

But the campus does meet the definition for blighted and substandard, according to a consultant hired to do the study, she said.

And Dave Connely, who owns a home near the campus, pointed out that the council hearing was "not really about a blighted area. It is about the money."

The VA campus proposal creates moving parts that don't mesh well, City Council members learned.

Veterans Affairs is looking for a site for a new VA clinic in Lincoln and is expected to announce that decision in December.

The group developing the VA campus, under a 75-year-lease agreement with the VA, have put in a bid for the clinic.

However, the developers need to start work on an apartment building for low income and homeless or near homeless veterans by Oct. 1, or they will lose vouchers necessary to run the housing program.

* Neighbors don't want a four-story apartment building in their backyards. They want developers to move that building to another location on the campus and have suggested that the developers put it in the spot reserved for a VA clinic should the developers not get a contract with the federal government for that clinic. That would mean waiting until December.

* Veterans want the apartment building built near a new VA clinic no matter where it is in Lincoln, so they want the developers to slow down construction on that apartment building.

Several council members said they think the developer is listening to the neighborhoods’ concern about putting a very tall building next to their homes.

"I trust the redeveloper is going to work with the neighborhood to address those concerns. And if they don't, call me," said Trent Fellers, who voted for the blight designation.

Also voting for the designation were Gaylor Baird, Carl Eskridge and Jane Raybould. Voting against were Roy Christensen, Cyndi Lamm and Jon Camp.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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