Opposition to NID evident at Planning Forum
The proposed Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) within the South Side Flats was again the primary focus of the monthly South Side Planning Forum meeting.
The controversial issue drew about 75 local residents -- many of whom loudly expressed their opposition to the NID, as they did at last month's meeting -- to the Brashear Center meeting room on March 13.
In a NID, property owners agree to a self-imposed annual fee for services which supplement those provided by the city, such as a security team and street cleaning.
Supporters view it as a means to secure quality-of-life services in light of the neighborhood's prolific number of drinking establishments.
Opponents call it double taxation and, as alcohol-fueled problems are caused by bar patrons, have frequently called for a tax on those patrons.
If there is a consensus among all forum organizations to proceed, the plan would next go to city council.
No vote was taken at the meeting.
Stating there is a lot of misinformation about the voting process, neighborhood outreach coordinator Susie Puskar introduced attorney Gavin Robb, who represents the NID steering committee, to explain the process.
Mr. Robb said the process is governed by state law.
If a NID plan is submitted to city council, council must pass a resolution to allow the process to begin.
At that time, the city clerk would send every property owner and leasee in the NID district a map, the plan, and other documents. Included in the mailing would be a notice of the first public hearing.
At that public hearing, the public may attend and speak before council.
Council could amend the NID plan if they choose after hearing community input. Council also has the option at that time to end the process.
If and when a final NID plan is approved by council, it would be sent to every property owner (but not leasse) in the NID district.
Another public hearing would follow.
Then, all property owners in the NID district would receive a ballot.
According to the state law, property owners must register their disapproval within 45 days by filing written objections.
If less than 40 percent of all property owners disapprove, the NID can be formed if city council approves.
If a property owner does not return a ballot, it is considered a yes vote -- a state law which has particularly angered many residents at prior NID meetings.
Mr. Robb said city council has passed nothing, nor scheduled any public hearings at this point.
To a question on how a proposed NID for Mt. Washington was stopped before it ever went to city council, Mr. Robb said the group in charge must have decided not to proceed.
To a question on whether the planning forum could squash the NID, Mr. Robb said yes.
Forum chair Hugh Brannan said the forum's five organizations -- Brashear Association, South Side Chamber of Commerce, South Side Community Council, Side Side Local Development Company, and South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association -- have been meeting for 20 years.
There must be consensus among all organizations to proceed on any action that comes before the forum.
"The plan is currently being reexamined by the steering committee," he said of the NID.
"Your concerns have been heard," he said.
Under the plan, seniors and disabled low income people who qualify for Allegheny County's property tax rebate program (Act 77) will be exempted from NID fees.
The annual fees per $10,000 of assessed property value are: $20 for those who qualify for the homestead exemption; $30 for the owner of a residential non-homestead, or rental; $40 for business owners off East Carson St .; and $50 for commercial property owners on East Carson St. from 10th to 25th streets. Caps are set for most categories.
The fees are expected to raise $1 million annually.
Attendee Michelle Berard said she and other residents have obtained the 40 percent of signatures that would be required to defeat the NID.
"We can defeat this on its face," she said.
She said she and other residents are asking the planning forum to recognize their opposition and vote no.
If it goes to city council, she said, "this community will defeat you."
An attendee who said he is in the "bar business," suggested a $4 cover charge at all bars: $2 would go to the bar for security and other services, and $2 to the community for cleaning streets, etc.
He also suggested working with the Liquor Control Board (LCB) to vary the times the bars close so all patrons don't hit the streets at the same time, and doubling the street light output on Carson St.
If all the above are done, he said, there would no longer be angry residents at these meetings.
More information on the proposed South Side NID can be found at the website: www.ssimprovementdistrict.com.
The next forum meeting will be on April 10.