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Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

If apartment buildings are "forced" to join Business Improvement Districts, there must be a way for residents to be represented on BID boards independent of property owners

I have written about this issue from time to time concerning the NoMA BID in DC ("NoMA revisited: business planning to develop community," 2011) as well as the Capitol Riverfront BID ("Integrating citizen residents into "business" improvement districts: Capital Riverfront district as an opportunity and example of the need for change," 2014).

Apparently, DC's laws concerning the creation of business improvement districts tend to be specific to each district.  Currently, the NoMA, Capitol Riverfront, and Mount Vernon Triangle BIDs can include apartment buildings as qualifying for assessment, while this is not the case for the Downtown DC BID.

When I raised this issue with the then planning director for the NoMA BID years ago, she seemed shocked at my assertion that residents might have different interests than the property owners renting to them, and that resident interests may not be adequately represented.

The Washington Business Journal reports ("Live, work, play — and pay: Downtown D.C. BID eyes levy for condos, apartments") that Central Business District Councilmember Jack Evans has introduced legislation that would make apartment buildings assessment payers, condominium buildings--owner occupied, not managed for renters--would have the option to join if they want to.

From the article:
Under the proposed legislation, introduced by Councilman Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, condominium boards could choose to join the BID but would not be required to. Condo associations would be charged $120 per unit per year. Some seem inclined to join and others will wait to make the decision, Bradley said. Forty percent of the BID's residential units are condos.

Apartment buildings, on the other hand, will be treated as commercial properties and automatically assessed by the BID. The BID has met with 80 percent of the owners of downtown apartment buildings and many have indicated that they support this, Bradley said.

Condo boards, obviously, would assess residents for the added costs. Apartment building owners could cover the cost themselves or factor them into resident fees.

“Our intention is to be as helpful as we can in promoting downtown living, residential living, and that will be something we’ll give special attention to,” Bradley said. “So they’re getting a service and a benefit from this.”
-- B21-0905: Downtown DC Business Improvement District Amendment Act of 2016, Proposed, DC City Council

According to the Downtown DC BID's annual report:
As of April 2016, Downtown is home to 35 market-rate residential properties – 15 apartment buildings (3,584 units) and 20 condominium buildings (2,428 units).
The Avalon at Gallery Place apartment building located in the Chinatown section of Downtown has 203 units.

The issue of including residential properties in assessment districts.  I don't have a problem with the creation of "community service districts" with residential members.

And the reality is that residents within the district are benefiting from the extra services provided by the BID, and it is reasonably for them to pay in towards those costs, just as commercial property owners do.

My only issue is ensuring that resident tenants have representation on the board independent of the property owner. And that resident owners, if part of condominiums, have representation as well.

While the law that authorizes the creation of BIDs lists residents as eligible for board membership, the law does not specify how each class of property shall be represented.  It is up to the BID and how it structures its laws of incorporation and bylaws on whether or not to include resident owners or resident tenants as board members.

Note that the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District does have some residents on its board, while the NoMA and Capitol Riverfront BIDs do not.  But the resident members come from condominium properties.  Resident tenants on not represented on the MVTCID board.

Baltimore's Community Benefits Districts.  The Charles Village and Midtown "Community Benefits Districts" in Baltimore have had residential members--and single family houses at that--since their creation in the 1990s, although in the Charles Village district there has been a minority number of residents militantly opposed from the beginning.  Board membership is a mix, including residents, community organizations, commercial property owners, institutions, and representatives appointed by the Mayor and City Council.

-- "Benefits district" articles collection, Baltimore Sun

San Francisco.  San Francisco created Community Benefits Districts more than 10 years ago. While many are organized as business improvement districts exclusively representing commercial property owners, the legislation authorizes a variety of types of members, depending on the choices of the organizing groups.

More recently the city has created a new type of district called a "Green Benefit District" where residents can pay a supplemental assessment to support and maintain, parks, sidewalks, and public = and open space in their neighborhood.  Interestingly, the first GBD, for the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill neighborhood, has three types of board members, "property owners," "tenants," and "green space advocates."

Conclusion:  Representation of residents is the issue, not whether or not residential buildings should be including in business/community improvement services districts.  As it is, I think independent residents should have membership on BID boards anyway, because by default, BIDs are the planners and managers of place and space that ultimately is publicly owned or of the public interest.

This is doubly the case for those BIDs that are "mixed use districts" incorporating residential properties, be they owner occupied or renter occupied.

Condominiums are owner occupied and BIDs with condominium properties as members endeavor to include representatives from that property category.

To ensure that residential tenants are represented on BID boards, BIDs should aim to have some board members be representatives from the apartment tenant category.  This is somewhat counter to the property orientation of representation that dominates BID boards now, but corrects a current defect in democracy as it relates to BID board leadership as it is generally structured.

Hearing.  The public hearing for the legislation is scheduled for Wednesday, November 16, 2016, 11:00 a.m., Room 120 - John A. Wilson Building/City Hall. "Those who wish to testify should contact Sarina Loy, Committee Assistant at (202) 724-8058 or sloy@dccouncil.us, and provide your name, organizational affiliation (if any), and title with the organization by 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 15, 2016. Witnesses should bring 15 copies of their written testimony to the hearing."

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