Volume 20, Number 47 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 6 - April 12, 2011
Chin and BID feel the heat at forum
BY Aline Reynolds
Soho residents and property owners packed the basement of St. Anthony’s Church Tuesday night to rail against the proposed business improvement district planned through the heart of their neighborhood on Broadway.
“There are no French sound-and-light shows, or no slideshows — this meeting is really about answering your questions,” said Barbara Cohen, a planning consultant representing the B.I.D. at the meeting organized by City Councilmember Margaret Chin.
The B.I.D.’s steering committee, Cohen said, drafted a proposal that reflects the interests and concerns of all stakeholders in the district, and not just commercial property owners.
“What we’re saying to residents is, we’re willing to put $700,000 of our own money into this district, and we’re asking the residents to join us in deciding how it’s spent,” said Brian Steinwurtzel, co-chairperson of the B.I.D. steering committee.
The business improvement district, which the City Planning Commission approved unanimously in late January, would stretch along Broadway between Canal and Houston Streets. Its bylaws would be created if the B.I.D. is enacted into law, which is now contingent on approval by the City Council, where Chin, who represents the Council district, presumably holds the power to make or break the proposal.
“We think that’s a good thing for them and for us,” Steinwurtzel added of both the property owners and residents.
The B.I.D., Steinwurtzel stressed, would do more than merely pick up the slack from the Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (ACE) in collecting litter on Broadway. (ACE will be discontinuing its Broadway sanitation services at the end of June due to funding shortages.) The B.I.D. would also decrease overcrowding and illegal street vending and help improve communication between the neighborhood’s two police precincts.
Another crucial service the B.I.D. would provide, Cohen added, is technical assistance to property owners who must adhere to city-enforced landmark requirements when making building renovations.
What was supposed to be a question-and-answer forum following the B.I.D. organizers’ introductions quickly turned into a free-for-all, in which audience members repeatedly spoke out against the B.I.D. Some implored Chin not to vote for it when the proposal comes before City Council.
“I see absolutely nothing here that we need or we could use,” said a woman who gave her name as Patricia. “When you hear capital improvement, you gotta run,” she said, referring to the $45,000 in funds the steering committee has proposed to allocate for this category.
Jason Adams, who lives in the B.I.D.’s catchment area on Broadway, said he has not been given any convincing reason to vote for the B.I.D.
“There are no bylaws — we’re voting on a blank check,” he said. “It’s a distraction for us to support someone’s salary.”
The opponents’ main objection to the B.I.D. is the additional taxes that would be imposed on Broadway property owners, which they fear would translate into hiked maintenance fees. Many believe it’s a tactic to privatize public services — hence, a form of “taxation without representation” — and that the B.I.D. would only benefit commercial property owners, which would finance 90 percent of the organization’s annual budget.
Carl Rosenstein, who owns the Puffin Gallery at 435 Broome St., deemed the BID un-American.
“It’s quite outrageous to have these people come in here and say they’re going to form a government and tax us,” he said. “It deserves a challenge in court. We have to fight this tooth and nail.”
Broome Street resident Lora Tennenbaum questioned the unequal voice that condo and co-op residents would have in the B.I.D.’s decision-making.
Steinwurtzel, however, explained that, while it’s true that the voting power wouldn’t be equal between tax lots, it would be fairly distributed among buildings in the catchment area according to their assessed value.
The sole advantage many residents feel the B.I.D. would provide is sanitation services.
“If sanitation is the issue, let them hire people to keep the streets clean the way ACE does, and leave us alone,” said Ingrid Wiegand, who lives at 48 Grand Street.
“I’d be willing to work with A.C.E. to figure out how to better market their services and put shame on those that don’t support them,” chimed in Grand Street resident Sharon Livesey.
Business services, she pointed out, could be accommodated via a newly created business association or another community group.
A few community members in attendance actually had questions about the program.
“Tell me what you’re going to do about the traffic that comes to your B.I.D.,” said Greene St. resident Victor Schwartz.
The B.I.D.’s board of directors, Steinwurtzel replied, would work with the city’s Department of Transportation to install traffic lights, stop signs and other street signage, as deemed necessary.
Residents and some property owners also fear that, once the B.I.D. is in place, there would be no turning back. The B.I.D.’s board of directors could, in fact, vote to dissolve itself, but that has never happened in the history of B.I.D.s in New York City, according to Chin’s office.
See: Sen. Squadron delivers the news