Sunday, August 28, 2011

Communities agree that the process of B.I.D. formation is not fair to everyone.

Activist Zella Jones speaks out against the process by which Business Improvement Districts are formed in New York City.

Chinatown no-BID activists, predominantly made up of small property owners, have also been crying foul over the last several years. This came to a head when the Chinatown community had to scramble to get official objection forms signed by property owners within the allotted 30 day period as prescribed by BID law. Regardless of the geographic size of a proposed BID service district the City, inexplicably, limits the amount of time for objection forms to be handed in to 30 days. This means that a one-block-BID and a seventy five block BID with thousands of tax lots has the same short period to object. This is ludicrous and speaks to the built-in-bias in favor of pro-BID developers and the Mayor's office which heavily supports BIDs. The way the system is currently designed, it behooves any group to draw in thousands of tax lots in order to ensure a limited amount of objections due to the short objection period and verification process.

Despite this overwhelming obstacle, the no-BID-Chinatown property owners have eclipsed the pro-BID supporters. The claims made by CPLDC, Margaret Chin, and the Small Business Service that 97% of Chinatown supports a BID, are bogus because there is no system to authenticate any ballot survey turned in to the SBS. There is also no way for SBS or Council Members to claim that every single pro-BID ballot is verified and authentic. The only vetted documents are the ones that are objections because they are accompanied by notarized signatures and copies of deeds (as required by law). These are legally binding documents, whereas unverified support ballots probably are not.

While property owners wishing to oppose the BID scramble to officially object, multi-million dollar public relations firmed who are buoyed by multi-billion dollar real estate developers are throwing out lies and playing with semantics to confuse the issue of BIDs popularity while slinging mud at legitimate opposition.

Zella Jones sent this letter to the editors of the Downtown Express Newspaper referring to the BID process in general, but in response to the proposed expansion of the NoHo BID, which she was able to stop, and the SoHo BID which is in the formation process right now.
She has spoken out in favor, however, of a Chinatown BID. With these built in flaws to the process, we're not clear why Jones sees fit to have a BID in Chinatown, but not one in her neighborhood.

To the editor:

Re: “B.I.D. group charges much opposition is from outside district” (news article by Aline Reynolds, Aug. 11)
These numbers are not adding up. There are 280 tax lots in the proposed district. Only 124 responded and only 99 approved the proposal. That’s only a 44 percent response rate and only 35 percent approval. This certainly does not constitute a majority.
Further, if approving owners represent only 30 percent of the assessed value of the area, there is not a majority by this factor either.
It is particularly unfortunate that the New York State law that enables the formation of business improvement districts does not suitably recognize the impact of a B.I.D. in areas that are predominantly residential.
The legislation reads: “Owners of real property within the district opposed to the plan have 30 days to file objections at the municipal clerk’s office. If either the owners of 51 percent of the assessed valuation of all benefited real property or at least 51 percent of the owners of real property within the district file objections, the district will not be established.”
This puts the onus on property owners who do not favor a B.I.D., and who may not be otherwise organized or funded, to launch a campaign equally as intense and expensive as the city-backed business proponents to actively solicit objections and affidavits and to lobby against its formation. Further, as opposed to the allowed 18 months for B.I.D. formation granted to the proponents, the opponents get 30 days!
This legislation needs change.
Zella Jones

Zella Jones responds to this posting: 

Dear Jan: 

I do feel that the legislation that provides for Business Improvement Districts should be revisited.  As it is currently written, and currently applied, the legislation is flawed. It warrants the attention of our elected leaders in its revision. 

I am not universally opposed to Business Improvement Districts.  There are benefits to collective representation and distinction in many areas of our City and particularly in City Council District 1 where there are so many diverse communities with distinctive needs, highly dependent on International commercial viability and attractiveness…not only to business owners but employment, as well.  Nor, am I opposed to a tax assessment structure that funds the mission, management, and operation of a district, though I would also favor reallocation of regular tax dollars to various City Services to allow for more “home rule” in their geographic allocation.  Some of this could be made available to “Improvement Districts” to defray additional assessments.  The current Community Board budget request system is too often ignored and, by its very nature not well focused on “hot spots.”  Indeed, Community Boards could benefit by more organized and recognized constituencies to back up their district requests.

In my opinion, there should be an additional option provided by the City and State, that could more adequately represent area stakeholders.  Other states and cities have adopted Community Benefit Districts.  In fact I have shared several examples and some research with you on this topic in the past.  A Community Benefit District is represented by resident, business, institution and nonprofit stakeholders.  The assessments are smaller because they are spread among all property owners.  These entities can also apply for and receive grants from third party foundations for specific initiatives.  The disbursement of funds and the initiatives sponsored are more representational because the board and its interests are diverse.  Such entities encourage collaboration and consensus.  In areas like the SoHo and NoHo where the majority of stakeholders and square footage of property ownership is not for commercial investment alone, this model could be very constructive.  There are neighborhoods in all five boroughs that could benefit by such recognized representation and oversight; but at present the State and City have no provision for incorporating it.

As regards the Chinatown BID, it is my observation, from my association with the Chinatown Working Group and intensive involvement with the Economic Development Working Team and involvement with BID structures in general, that the assessments are unusually fair for their distribution;  that the budget for the area is in line with a modest community-wide improvement, that such improvements could affect better commerce, jobs and wages and that the outreach was particularly representational, in terms of stakeholders/property owners and square footage.  I expressed that opinion as an interested citizen; there were many other opinions expressed.  I respect your right to disagree and your more intimate connection to the area.

As regards NoHo, the stakeholders in the proposed expansion area are predominantly residential/institutional and have expressed their majority opinion that a strictly commercial frame of reference does not serve their interests.  As it turns out the business owners in this area also agree.  In fact NoHo stakeholders are so invested in having dialogue and a unified vision that they have initiated the formation of a private nonprofit Community Benefit District to represent their collective interests, until such time as the State and City adopt similar provisions.  The funding is through voluntary membership; it is based on a percentage of gross square footage of property owned.  The budget may not be as substantial as a BID would provide, but the commitment to having one voice among elected and appointed leaders is high.  I am always proud to speak on their behalf.

Thank you for making available this opportunity to respond to your post.

Zella Jones

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