EDITORIAL/Like a Lost Rabbit
Wednesday, January 29, 2014 12:00 PM
The Town of Lost Rabbit's survival is important to Madison County. The only question is, at what price?
Something smells fishy about Madison County's proposed settlement agreement with an insurance company over Lost Rabbit, and it doesn't have anything to do with the development's proximity to the Ross Barnett Reservoir.
The 260-acre development at the end of Hoy Road just east of the Madison city limits has been struggling for years because of a troubled $18.5 million Public Improve District (PID).
A PID is a creative financing mechanism where the lawyers get richer, the developers certainly win if they don't go bankrupt and, at the end of the day, it's taxpayers who are left holding the bag if one fails.
The Town of Lost Rabbit is described as less of a place to live than a cozy little nook of the world set aside for making memories. It's an example of the New Urbanism approach to home crafting. It was designed to be a unique blend of homes, town homes, condominiums, offices, shops and amenities.
But interject a little bit of Chicago.
A "deal" was made in Chicago last week between a couple of Madison County supervisors and Allstate executives on how best to get the Lost Rabbit development back into action.
This apparently includes the insurance company swallowing millions of dollars of bonds in exchange for "assistance" by the county.
But what kind of assistance is it?
We don't know.
Officials have been keeping a restructuring agreement with detailed maps and plans under lock and key for months now. They have denied public records requests, arguing it's a legal work product.
And now that a deal has been reached, they still don't want to share. Instead, they want to release bits and pieces that make whatever is in that 300-page report swallowable for taxpayers.
An apartment development could be a result of the deal. Also, part of the restructuring could involve 500-square-foot carriage houses and 1,000-square-foot cottages.
A revenue generating bond that may involve taxpayer backing could be connected to the arrangement.
The fall of Lost Rabbit is simple. It was a prime, award-winning development in concept. Times were good, so an $18.5 million PID to build marinas and fancy brick roads wasn't on anybody's radar. Then the recession hit. Sales fell. Assessments piled on. People went out of business.
Now, with lawsuits and assessments piling up, the taxpayers of Madison County may be bailing out developers who thought it was smart to build a town with a credit card.
All that's left to do at this point is speculate because the guardians of the report don't want to release the details that almost certainly will involve taxpayers.
If we know one thing from the county's past experience with bailing out troubled PIDs, be on the lookout for another tax raise next year.