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, December 01, 2016

Testimony on adding residential buildings as paying members of business improvement districts in Downtown DC

I wrote earlier about the Downtown DC Business Improvement District's proposal to include multiunit residential buildings as an eligible class of property in its assessment district.

-- "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 am fine with the inclusion of such properties as residents are big beneficiaries from the programming and public space management activities by the BIDs. And I don't see a justification for resident owners -- in cooperatives and condominiums -- of being excluded since they garner significant appreciation in property values as a result of a BID's management, planning, and maintenance activities. But I do think more attention needs to be paid to ensuring the inclusion of residents on BID boards and committees. This is my testimony from a couple weeks ago.

Bill 21-905 “Downtown DC Business Improvement District Amendment Act of 2016

Committee on Finance and Revenue
Council of the District of Columbia

Wednesday November 16th, 2016

Thank you Councilmember Evans and members of the Committee for the opportunity to speak to you today about Bill 21-905 concerning the inclusion of multiunit residential buildings in the assessment class for the Downtown DC Business Improvement District.

Including residential properties in BID districts makes sense. Such property types are already included in other BID assessment districts elsewhere in the city. It is eminently reasonable to include these types of properties in the assessment district for the Downtown DC BID.

The importance of formalizing the inclusion of residents in BID governing and oversight processes. However, Bill 21-905 affords the opportunity to raise an important issue, inclusion of residents in BID governing and oversight processes.

BIDs in and around the Central Business District especially are increasingly mixed use districts including commercial office and retail properties, civic assets, and residential buildings among the many property types represented, although only some are assessed the BID tax. It was not anticipated when the process for creating BIDs was developed in the late 1990s that these geographies would become home to thousands of residents mixing with commercial activities.

The act and regulations enabling the creation of BIDs allows for a diverse membership on BID boards, including residents, although in reality such boards are dominated by commercial property owners, as it is commercial properties that provide the bulk of the assessment revenue which funds BIDs.

Currently, only the Mount Vernon Community Improvement District includes residents, albeit representatives of resident owner-occupied buildings, that is condominium properties, on its board.

No BID has a broad category of representation for residential tenants even though increasingly BIDs are populated by residents and ultimately the assessment is paid, pro-rata, by residential tenants as part of their rent.

The Council should address in its consideration of this bill, and when other relevant BID matters come before Council, including reauthorization of BIDs and the creation of new BIDs the representation of residential tenants on BID boards.

Ensure resident tenants, not just resident owners, can serve on BID boards. This is especially important because by default BIDs are the primary planners and managers of their geography, including the public spaces therein, it is important to raise the matter of lack of direct representation of non-property owning residents, that is, tenants, on BID boards. Building owners are represented on BID boards but it cannot be presumed that they can adequately represent tenants in terms of their interests as citizens in the neighborhood in which they reside.

In San Francisco, the Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefits District specifically includes a board representation category for tenants. Similarly, in the Charles Village Community Benefits District in Baltimore, which includes a variety of residential property membership categories, including even single family properties, in its assessment district. These offer models going forward for the inclusion of residential tenant members on BID boards. In DC, the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee has members appointed by various organizations, as well as a community member who is elected by the board, but any resident is eligible for nomination. These and likely other models demonstrate that it is possible to include residential tenants on BID boards.

It has been suggested in testimony that the Downtown BID will add staff to address resident participation and engagement issues, hold various public meetings, etc. But it is still important to offer the opportunity for tenants to be on the BID board, although we must recognize that many residents may not be interested in serving, and may have shorter term goals and interests when compared to property owners.

Inclusion of condominiums and cooperatives in BID assessment districts. Some testimony today referenced the new Southwest DC BID, which will include apartment buildings but not cooperatives or condominiums. Similarly, earlier testimony suggests that there could be financial hardship on the part of condominium owners, especially as they age, if condominium buildings were to be included in the eligible assessment district.

I argue that condominium owners benefit extraordinarily in terms of added appreciation and property value from the services of BIDs, which indirectly and directly improve the area around residential properties in their districts. There is no real justification for condominium and cooperative buildings to be automatically excluded from eligibility for assessment in BID districts because it is not in the public interest to support “free riders.” It is reasonable for condominium and cooperative owners to pay into BIDs, in recognition of the extraordinary financial benefits that they reap from BID services.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer this testimony.

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At 12:08 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

very off topic, my apologies:

At 3:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

since it's the only way we communicate back and forth, no apology is required!

From the release, it sounds more like an announcement of bid opportunities, than a "symposium" on infrastructure issues.

In an article in the NYT, they mentioned in passing that NYC runs its capital budgeting program on a 10 year cycle.

Something I need to read:

You know more about DC's budgeting stuff than I do. Do they have a webpage like this?:

Here's something too:

2. I am planning -- hopefully I'll be able to finish them -- a couple pieces for "New Year's Day". One is going to juxtapose the Imagine 2030 planning process in Boston with DC's comp. plan process.

The idea being we should pair something like that. The Comp Plan is fine but does nothing in terms of setting an agenda for anchor projects and activities.

The Comp Plan is less than a "master plan" or business plan.

We need more.

I did recommend that in the last amendment cycle (2009) but the "Long Range" planning staff didn't give a f* generally or specifically in terms of taking the opportunity to offer some rethinking in terms of how we do planning.

Anyway, the Imagine 2030 list of items (maybe it should be 2035) will include a few items specific to the planning process, including formalizing a capital budgeting process separate from the annual appropriations cycle.

But based on the above stuff, I could have a follow up piece specifically on the capital budget matter.

Note that I've also suggested that tax abatement and other tax increment financing matters, alley closings, property sales, and eminent domain matters (DC doesn't do a lot of that) should be part of the capital planning process.

That would integrate alley closings, eminent domain, and property sales into one master process whereas now every such item is a one off.

At 8:51 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

well my definition of a troll is one who is hijacking someone else's conversation, so again, I apologize. You put a lot of work into a post and I don't mean to change topics.

On that topic, I think the problem with having condo on BID is more of a practical one than a theoretical one. How are you going to get that represenations? DO larger condos get more of a voice than a 4 person unit? I can see why a BID would want to steer clear of the question.

(If anything, I'd do a rethink of BID and start to transfer those functions to responsible ANCs, particularly in more residential areas. )

On capital budgeting:

Web pages, sure DC is world class on that.

Again part of the problem is structural.

CFO being a congressionally mandated separate office, and as such as a very different set of concerns than office of planning/zoning/etc.

So you can't coordinate the capital budget/comp plan into a singapore style master business plan for 10 years.

And throw in lack of control on WAMTA! your TDM point -- we all know the areas that will be redeveloped and have the blessing of private money coming in to invest, but there isn't much thinking on a government side on it.

(And again, schools! and re-investment! Why is the Shaw Middle school been empty for 30+ years)

And it isn't just normal government divide, these are critical functions outside the control of elected officials.

So, yes a "portfolio" theory might help.

(something like wh

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

portfolio theory, my post that "we are all asset managers now" ...

2. minor housekeeping point. Each condo or apartment building wouldn't have a representative, it's about representatives from each class of payee.

3. The point you make about how some BID activities could be devolved to "ANCs", I am working on a post (in my head only at present) along those lines.

... Basically I would split the property tax up into four tranches. The big nut, and then three portions for (2) transit; (3) a city-wide "parks" district, but it could include other cultural assets (e.g., the Lincoln Theatre etc.); and (4) "neighborhood services."

The latter is what you and I are thinking about. At the Nader presentation I met a woman from W5 with a PhD who was running for ANC and she had the idea of creating "neighborhood improvement districts."

I did a back and forth with her, she thought it could be funded by increasing the price for building permits.

I said that wasn't reasonable, why shouldn't people pay for the benefits they get? (Along Prof. Shoup's point that it's best to use public resources on people already committed to helping themselves.)

... and I had been thinking about the "parks district" funding stream (a la Chicago and other city and county parks and forest districts in Illinois, the Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority in Greater Detroit) in relation to the Anacostia River project and generally.

4. In the early 1990s Minneapolis created a 20 year TIF to fund neighborhood improvements, with the monies directed by neighborhood groups.

They realized early into the project that for the process to work, they needed to create a capacity building and support infrastructure for the neighborhood groups, otherwise it would be a disaster.

This blog entry mentions that program briefly, but also discusses other systematic neighborhood improvement initiatives.

- continued -

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

5. This also comes up -- neighborhood and or commercial district support mechanisms -- with DC and the proliferation of Main Street initiatives.

DC just approved one for Columbia Heights and for the area around Eastern Market (but separate from the immediately adjacent Barracks Row program on 8th St. SE). The previous year they did some more, including Tenleytown.

I should have applied to be the manager of the Eastern Market one but I didn't because I went back and forth about the problems in creating it, and the lack of sustainability etc.

Anyway, the REAL PROBLEM is the failure to have a systematic program to support commercial districts in different ways, appropriate to their needs and conditions.

What the Eastern Market district needs is focused marketing and promotion, and some business development. The Main Street program and approach isn't set up really to do it the way it needs to be done, at least in DC. And the city isn't committed to long term funding. And there are so many groups seeking funding throughout the city from a hyper limited pool of potential funders...

PLUS, similarly, Destination DC doesn't fund systematically sub-city tourism development initiatives, the way that most other cities do.

Capitol Hill needs to be one -- and that would accomplish what the Eastern Market district needs, something I have been working on intermittently via Eastern Market (but it's like herding cats or wrangling the two little girls next door, very very very very very hard).

But Georgetown and Dupont Circle at a minimum also could use that kind of systematic support.

Plus other efforts at a scale down from that.

6. It's just so f*ing frustrating to know from the outset how the Eastern Market Main Street thing will play out...

At 12:25 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

On the "housekeeping"; yeah, I see that one seat on the BID would be reserved for "condos".

But on a practical level, how do you determine that? Appoint someone who lives in a condo? Ask for nominations? How do you actually get some buy in? Condos or co-ops? What size condos -- as I said a 150 person unit should be a little more represented than a 4 person unit.

And none of it has much do with the actual functions of the BID.

Yes, taking a property tax stream as a "NID" and somehow integrating it with an ANC would make a lot of sense.

I'd say 90% of ANC work is transactional -- zoning, DDOT, ABC --- and not much to do with quality of life.

For instance, on public safety, why isn't an ANC doing more on mapping crime hot spots? maybe not the best example, but again de-volving responsibility down.

On Main streets: yes. I know at the ANC level I've now had a number of conversations on lack of street traffic during the day. You need to do the tourism thing. Again the AirBNB example. And the Main St program isn't useful for that.

Query: isn't main streets funded by a federal stream of money?

At 4:27 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

nope. Never federal (well, at one time the NTHP was federally chartered and did get a lot of federal funds, but that ended a couple decades ago I believe.)

1. Main Street was a program of the national trust, but it has been spun off as an allied c3, and now it's based in Chicago.

Think of it as two levels: a technical assistance program offered/marketed on a national basis by a c3 (not unlike the American Planning Association); and active participating on the ground programs, members individually or through state affiliates. The Nat. Main St. Center prefers to work through state-based organizations who in turn designate organizations within states. (In DC it's the DC government, in Maryland, it's the Maryland DHCD. In Ohio, it is Heritage Ohio, the state historic preservation organization, etc.)

The nat. organization does training, conferences, consulting, etc. In the earlier days they would convene "assessment teams" to go in to each prospective place, but I doubt that happens now.

Now it's a lot of self-assessment at the local and state level.

Anyway, when DC first started its program, it used monies paid to the city by the Freedom Forum for the land that is now the Newseum. Eventually those monies ran out, and now it's funded through the regular appropriations process.

At the beginning they paid a lot for top notch technical support and training from the NMSC (e.g., I went to the main "four point" training a number of times, including at a significant discount for the national training, but the in-DC opportunities were free. I don't think they are doing this nearly as much as before.)

It was anticipated that the programs could develop to the point of self funding, through memberships and donations, but there are too many programs chasing the same limited set of funders.

2. In that 2006 citation I mentioned the "Elm Street" program of Pennsylvania. (Maryland developed a comparable program called Pine Street, but it might now be defunct.)

It was designed to apply the Main St. approach to neighborhoods. (Similarly, around 2002 the Trust was creating a kind of allied program, called the Preservation Development Initiative, funded by the J.S. and J.? Knight Foundation, focused on the cities that had been Knight-Ridder newspaper towns, but it died too, unfortunately.)

I think it is a great concept/idea and a way to organize NIDs.

One "tension" in the Main St. model is that it wasn't set up to do "maintenance," unlike BIDs. The Elm St. model separates physical maintenance matters from what is called the Design (which really should partly be considered planning) point of Main St. So it becomes a "five point" program instead of four (bus. dev., internal management, promotion, design).

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

with regard to ANCs being proactive, unlike what they figured out in Minneapolis, we don't have a technical assistance/development infrastructure.

I wrote this 9 years ago about how ANCs/"neighborhoods" could think about "doing their own plans," including identifying and monitoring problem properties. Obviously, it could be extended to a wide variety of matters, such as public safety, accidents, etc.

In fact, the point in my model Councilmember platform about "metrics" is along this line in the vein of "what gets measured gets done" but also what gets assessed becomes noticed systematically and can be addressed.

e.g., the thing about metrics I think a lot about whatever the criteria that DC uses to pick roads for repavement, it oftens seems disconnected from a process which would start by rehabilitating the worst roads first.

I don't understand, e.g., Columbia Road between 14th and 16th is horrid, and between 13th and 14th is really bad. Blair Road between Cedar St. and Piney Branch Road is particularly horrid (I forget sometimes because it is one of the only stretches of road in the metropolitan area that I tend not to bike on because it is so narrow that I ride on the sidewalk).

But these streets take years and years to be repaired.
(Although 2nd St. NE by the Senate Office buildings was one of the worst blocks in the city pavement quality wise for many years and it was finally repaved earlier this year, I keep meaning to write about it, because road repaving also serves cyclists and we should acknowledge it.)

I am trying to get Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee to begin including as a regular part of the minutes, a running tally of all open items, matters for which we passed resolutions calling on the city to do something, and they haven't.

I mentioned it more than a year ago, and got some resistance, and brought it up again this week, and there was much greater receptivity, so I think it will finally happen.

(But I got the idea from the UM Regents Meeting package in the early 1980s. The huge volume included a section every month listing the status of all lawsuits in which the university was a party.)

At 5:30 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

you mention airbnb. One of the tensions within BIDs and sometimes with Main Street programs is what I call the need to plan for the district's vitality as a whole versus representing specifically types of traditional brick and mortar businesses.

For example, food trucks are an element of vitality, but restaurants hate them. (This was an issue in Adams Morgan, also with the Latino Market in the foot of Mt. Pleasant, but they eventually were kicked out over this issue.)

They think they are losing customers and they may be, but in reality some people want to eat in a particular way that isn't met by sitting down in one of those restaurants.

By accommodating a wide variety of methods of "eating" more people are served and more people ultimately visit the commercial district, which overall benefits even the complaining businesses. They will probably make up for the business going to food trucks with other customer segments.

The same goes for accommodations. Cities need to acknowledge that not everyone wants to stay in a hotel or motel and there are many segments of the market, and that systematic accommodations plans as part of tourism development and management planning should be supportive, within reason, of bed and breakfasts and other fractional rental types, including hostels, even camping.

Unions are against it and hotels, but the reality is that many of the people staying in airbnb type accommodations likely weren't going to stay in their hotel anyway, they just wouldn't come at all.

Since hotel taxes are a key revenue stream, I understand jumping to the tune of the hotels on the part of "convention and visitors bureaus."

But I think what needs to happen is that controls need to be put on, including the payment of visitation taxes, and limits on the number of dedicated properties (as opposed to people renting out part of their house, a couch, etc.). Individuals doing this as a way to make extra income in an owner-occupied place ought to be encouraged while there should be limits on diverting houses from the residential market more generally (apparently that is a problem in SF and LA--we did stay in such a unit in SF a few years ago, it was one unit of a three or four unit property, the other units were rented out to long term units).

... in 2008/2009 before there was airbnb in a big way in the plans I did for Cambridge, MD and Brunswick, GA there was a section on accommodations planning that mentioned they needed to take a broad view, but also address the issue because certain segments of the market weren't being served. I imagine had this been an issue at the time, I would have recommended it be studied with the intent of it being accommodated and integrated into the overall visitor/tourism planning and taxation system.

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well, your Airbnb comments is broader than mine. I was really just referring to the mini landing pages they have on DC neighborhoods, good pictures, far better than any other local govt. tourist information.

In terms of the larger question you're posing, yes. Double that with the example of the LINE hotel, which is very questionable in terms of the benefits being given for the alleged tax breaks. Yes daytime (non work traffic) is good, honestly I'd rather see it being dumped into WeWorks.

(The WeWork on FL Avenue has really "vibrantiezed" the area.)

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...


1. Yes, you might've mentioned the airbnb pages before, or I wuz looking at them in relation to Capitol Hill. Yes, they are well done. (Note that in printed materials Montreal's pages on their neighborhood districts are succinct and superb.)

2. I agree that hotels generally, even in neighborhoods, might not be a good item for tax incentives. We need a fine grained economic impact analysis of those types of properties. (That's one of the lines in the Imagine 2030 post in terms of having a definitive ec. impact study on different types of properties.)

But that we also shouldn't put in significant barriers for fractional stays.

3. didn't respond to your point about representation in terms of "how." I agree that's the biggest hindrance. In the current set up in most of these types of organizations, boards are self replicating, so the traditional property owners would be voting on which residential representatives to select (it wouldn't be an appointment by a particular building).

Although this leads to a crazy idea, thank you. Elections could be for a two-year term, similar to ANC elections, as part of the normal election process.

I'll have to write that up separately.

Granted lots of people wouldn't vote, but...

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

On the BID/NID condo representation, goes back to the issue of governance. Are you getting good governance out of a board? What does that even mean? Seems like setting up a weak system with a "Rotten borough" for condo owners.

On the Airbnb, yes, your points there are all very valid. You'll see they just set up a system in NYC where you are limited to a 60 day rental as an owner, trying to balance the equities there No question short term rentals take units out of circulation.

(Again a problem with taxes. When the city looks at a problem through a revenue lease (hotels, speeding tickets, parking meters) the analysis and outcomes are very distorted.

At 2:35 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I am having a hard time getting hold of people at the Dogpatch Green Benefits District, and I should probably reach out to the Charles Village CBD too.

... this is a problem generally, as you know, with boards of all types.

And ANCs, and NYC's Community Boards, and ...

not to mention City and County and Town Councils...

and Congress.


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