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Zoning board tables request for mixed-use development

Dozens of people packed a public hearing at the Fulton County Office Building Wednesday night to weigh in on a proposed multi-million dollar development on Rochester’s south end.

The Fulton County Board of Zoning Appeals met to hear a request for a special exception for Manitou Crossing – an estimated $81 million mixed-used development that could span roughly 85 acres of land northeast of the U.S. 31 and Indiana 25 interchange.

Realty Metrix, located in Algonquin, Ill. – a northwest suburb of Chicago – is the commercial real estate firm that has expressed interest in developing the land into a neighborhood that blends affordable multifamily housing with retail and hospitality. A special exception was requested, as the project calls for an estimated 660 apartments units, with the potential for a new YMCA facility, to be located in a general commercial district.

After hearing the public’s concerns, the Fulton County Board of Zoning Appeals ultimately tabled a decision on whether to approve the request. Further discussion, with a possible vote, is anticipated for the board’s next meeting, Feb. 9. In the meantime, the board is to seek more information.

With the land split between the county and the city of Rochester, two public hearings on the special exception are required. The matter goes before the Rochester Board of Zoning Appeals at 6 p.m. Jan 26 at Rochester City Hall.

In addition to the public, Rochester Mayor Ted Denton on Wednesday also shared his concerns with the development while delivering his State of the City address at the Fulton County Museum.

The mayor shared his thoughts after fielding a single question from Rochester Board of Public Works and Safety member Rick Figlio, who said it is the greatest concern among residents he’s talked with as of late.

“I’m going to be very candid. There are some concerns,” Denton said. “I think the one item on the list that is concerning, that gets my attention right away, is 660 low-income apartments. That’s a lot of apartments, and we’re not talking about jobs coming into the community, we’re talking about possibly increasing our population by 2,000.”

He added that low-income housing to that extent would not be satisfying just the local need. He also said the city conducted its own study that determined installing infrastructure for water and sewer utilities would be a $14.5 million venture.

He also voiced a concern about turning 85 acres of land into an impervious surface, which generates more stormwater runoff and could result in harmful side effects, particularly for Minnow Creek.

“There’s a lot of due diligence left to be done, but it’s all going to come down to money and what you have when it’s all over,” Denton said, adding there are areas of concern that haven’t been looked into yet. For instance, public safety and how large of a police force would be necessary to accommodate the population growth.

Indiana House Republicans pushing ahead on tax cut plan

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana House Republicans are forging ahead with their push for broad business and individual tax cuts even with ongoing skepticism from other GOP leaders in the Statehouse.

The Republican-dominated House is expected to vote next week on endorsing the proposal that would potentially cut more than $1 billion a year in various taxes and send it on to state Senate for action. The House Ways and Means Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to advance the plan after rejecting several changes Democrats argued would do more to help struggling families.

Republican leaders in the state Senate and GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb are hesitant to make large tax cuts now even after big jumps in state tax collections are projected to boost the state government budget surplus to a whopping $5.1 billion, or 29 percent of state spending, by the end of next June.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown of Crawfordsville said he was optimistic of winning Senate support for the tax cut plan.

“Just think, we have $5.1 billion in reserves, and that’s Hoosier money, that’s money paid by citizens,” Brown said.

Key parts of the House plan would cut Indiana’s current individual income tax rate of 3.23 percent over the next four years to 3.0 percent. That would ultimately reduce state tax collections by an estimated $500 million a year when fully implemented in 2026.

The plan also proposes cuts in several business taxes, potentially cutting those tax bills by between $700 million and $850 million a year.

Republicans turned aside proposals from Democrats to modify the bill with steps such as increasing the state’s tax deduction on rent from $3,000 to $5,000 a year, eliminate the sales tax on diapers and tampons and lower the current 18 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax to 15 cents.

“We’re looking at giving a billion dollars to corporations and we’re not doing anything for people who are the infrastructure of our state,” said Democratic Rep. Greg Porter of Indianapolis.

Democrats also sought to lower the state’s 7 percent sales tax rate, which is the second highest in the country, to 6.5%.

Brown said he supported such action but that other Republicans wanted to focus on lowering the individual income tax because nonresidents pay sales taxes.

“I had this debate with leadership all up and down this building and I lost,” Brown said.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray has been consistent in saying he believes action on tax cuts should wait until the 2023 session when lawmakers draft a new two-year state budget and will have more information about the economy’s direction after federal COVID-19 relief payments end.

“You’re trying to weigh all that revenue coming in and the opportunities that you might have to send that back to taxpayers and businesses against the idea that there are headwinds out there, least of which is inflation and supply chain challenges, workforce issues, things of that nature,” Bray said.

The House Republican plan would cut the property taxes charged on business equipment by nearly $400 million a year, according to legislative staff estimates. Utility company taxes would be cut an estimated $220 million annually, while broadening a sales tax exemption on business equipment purchases could cost between $85 million and $250 million a year.

Holcomb has proposed a reduction of property taxes on new business equipment purchases and shares the reluctance for major cuts now.

“I want to make sure that we have an accurate picture and that our fiscal radar is not artificially inflated,” Holcomb said.

Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis said he believed the tax cut caution was appropriate while chastising Republicans for not wanting to put more money toward needs such as pre-kindergarten programs and lowering college tuition.

“I don’t like the fact that we’re not investing now and the idea of preventing future legislatures from investing is really troublesome,” DeLaney said.

Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for US businesses

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday came during a spike in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.

The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected and OSHA had estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

In dissent, the court’s three liberals argued that it was the court that was overreaching by substituting its judgment for that of health experts. “Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies,” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a joint dissent.

President Joe Biden said he was “disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law.”

Biden called on businesses to institute their own vaccination requirements, noting that a third of Fortune 100 companies already have done so.

When crafting the OSHA rule, White House officials always anticipated legal challenges – and privately some harbored doubts that it could withstand them. The administration nonetheless still views the rule as a success at already driving millions of people to get vaccinated and encouraging private businesses to implement their own requirements that are unaffected by the legal challenge.

The OSHA regulation had initially been blocked by a federal appeals court in New Orleans, then allowed to take effect by a federal appellate panel in Cincinnati.

Both rules had been challenged by Republican-led states. In addition, business groups attacked the OSHA emergency regulation as too expensive and likely to cause workers to leave their jobs at a time when finding new employees already is difficult.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, called the Supreme Court’s decision “a significant victory for employers.”

The vaccine mandate that the court will allow to be enforced nationwide scraped by on a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the liberals to form a majority. The mandate covers virtually all health care workers in the country, applying to providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. It affects 10.4 million workers at 76,000 health care facilities as well as home health care providers. The rule has medical and religious exemptions.

Biden said that decision by the court “will save lives.”

In an unsigned opinion, the court wrote: “The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it. At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have.” It said the “latter principle governs” in the healthcare arena.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent that the case was about whether the administration has the authority “to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo.” He said the administration hadn’t shown convincingly that Congress gave it that authority.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett signed onto Thomas’ opinion. Alito wrote a separate dissent that the other three conservatives also joined.

Decisions by federal appeals courts in New Orleans and St. Louis had blocked the mandate in about half the states. The administration already was taking steps to enforce it elsewhere.

More than 208 million Americans, 62.7 percent of the population, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of those have received booster shots, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All nine justices have gotten booster shots.

The courthouse remains closed to the public, and lawyers and reporters are asked for negative test results before being allowed inside the courtroom for arguments, though vaccinations are not required.

The justices heard arguments on the challenges last week. Their questions then hinted at the split verdict that they issued Thursday.

A separate vaccine mandate for federal contractors, on hold after lower courts blocked it, has not been considered by the Supreme Court.


Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.


This story corrects that four justices noted dissents in the health care vaccine case, not just Alito and Thomas.