Friday, March 23, 2012

Met Council Steps Up to the Plate

At a time when many intergovernmental grants are cutting funding (such as Community Development Block Grants) and increasing burdens on localities, the Livable Communities Grant Program of the Met Council is stepping up to the plate. Livable Communities is increasing its available funds by introducing Transit Oriented Development (TOD) grants.

TOD grant money will be awarded to municipalities that have community development projects in areas that are close to mass transit lines or primed for it in the future.  Eligible uses for the TOD grants include site investigation, environmental cleanup, predevelopment activities, site acquisition and infrastructure improvements. The eligible areas in which to use the grant funds are few, as can be seen by the following qualifications and the map located here.

·     In a Transit Improvement Area (TIA) designated by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) or TIA-eligible station areas located along light rail, commuter rail or bus rapid transitways operational by 2020.
·    Within one-quarter mile of any spot along high frequency local bus lines.
·    Within a one-half mile radius of bus stops or station on high-frequency express routes where significant passenger infrastructure is in place.

The Met Council has approximately $30 million to use on these grants and plans to make most of the funds available over the next few years. The money was introduced last fall, when the Livable Communities Program discovered that it had significant reserves of money accumulated over the years from previously awarded projects that fell through or didn't use the money in time. The Met Council realized it had the opportunity to step in and provide more community development funding at a time when many cities were facing difficulties, and decided that TOD grants would be a great opportunity to help areas that are building their mass transit capacity.

Since its inception in 1996, the Livable Communities Grant Program has been a long-time friend of redevelopment, increasing density, mass transit and linking residential areas with job centers. The new TOD grants provide an opportunity for cities to accelerate projects that will help them prepare for a future time in which gas prices are skyrocketing and the demand for mass transit is increasing.

Not everyone is a fan of the TOD grants, however. Some say that it excludes cities based simply on geography, and doesn't account for those in greatest need. Many cities in the metro aren’t eligible simply because they don’t have a rapid transit line coming in the future. Others say that giving cities money for land acquisition could be a recipe for stalled projects and empty promises. In the end, its success will most likely be mixed, but it’s encouraging to see that the Met Council is stepping up its commitment to fund sustainable community development at a time when so many Minnesota cities are hampered by budget cuts. 

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