June 28, 2011 |

South Siders learn more about possible improvement district

The diversity of retail on South Side that attracted so many residents to the area is no longer as vibrant, according to some South Siders.

"It is a great neighborhood but it faces both challenges and opportunities," said Kim Collins last week. She assisted Susie Puskar, the neighborhood outreach coordinator for the South Side Local Development Company, who gave a presentation at the Brashear Association last week.

Ms. Collins and Bryan Boak, who also spoke, are local business owners and are among the 10 members of the Improvement District Steering Committee.

"By working together we can accomplish what individuals cannot. By improving East Carson Street and the surrounding neighborhood, we can make South Side better for everybody," Ms. Collins said.

She explained the South Side Planning Forum created a steering committee to develop a plan for an improvement district, which can then advocate for community issues and provide services and improvements to the quality of life for residents. Similar to a home owners association, an improvement district is led by a community board and has a professional staff.

Services to be provided could include: cleaning, public safety, marketing, planning, maintenance of public areas like parks, advocacy, special events and infrastructure improvements.

The additional services the community wants would be paid for by an annual service fee which would be mandatory if the improvement district is voluntarily formed by South Siders. The community would have to adopt a plan to determine the amount of the fee and control how the money is spent.

"A question that we get all the time is: ‘Don't I already pay taxes?" Ms. Puskar said. Her response is the service fee is not a tax and all the money collected goes to South Side, not other neighborhoods.

The fee would go for additional services not already being provided by the city.

One reason that the improvement district is considered necessary is the South Side Local Development Company is slated to close in June, 2012. With the closing, South Side could lose such amenities as: the two person clean team that sweeps East Carson Street every day, the soup contest, the home tour and public space improvements.

The neighborhood would get to choose the fee structure and the plan for the improvement district.

One question raised was whether the fees would be too high for some residents or businesses. The response was that the steering committee is very concerned no undue burden be placed on elderly or disabled homeowners.

What is the district's annual budget? "That remains to be seen," Ms. Puskar said.

The community and the steering committee would decide the budget, program, service area and cost sharing.

City council would have to enact an ordinance allowing South Side to proceed with plans for the district. There would then be a public hearing to discuss the matter. Property owners would be contacted by mail and would be able to send back a response if they oppose forming the district. If 40 percent of the property owners disapprove, the planning stops.

Such neighborhoods as Mount Washington, Bloomfield, Garfield and Lawrenceville are also exploring the concept of forming such a district.

"Call your councilman. His office is part of the steering committee. He has to see that we support the district," Ms. Puskar said.

"What do you like about the South Side?" Ms. Puskar asked. "It's the coolest neighborhood in the city," one man responded.

Other responses were: the neighborly attitude, the capability to walk all through the area, the safety, the library, the Greek architecture, the playgrounds and pools, the outdoor seating, the movie theater, the local shops, the park, the bike trail and the Farmers' Market.

What are some neighborhood problems that need to be resolved? Answers included: bad sidewalks, garbage, drunks, parking, vandalism, the closing of stores and the Market House, overcrowded rental properties, absentee landlords and drivers who are not aware of pedestrians.

An improvement district could hire a code enforcement officer for South Side to help alleviate some of the problems mentioned, Ms. Puskar said. Among other things, a dedicated officer could run checks on the occupancy of bars to see they are not overcrowded.

"From the steering committee's point of view a lot of residents support the idea of an improvement district, in fact, more than we expected," Mr. Boak said.

Ms. Puskar said she could be contacted for more information or discussion at 412-481-0651, ext. 11. She asked attendees to contact their neighbors, come to more meetings, sign petitions and host events.

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