Dear South Side Planning Forum Member Organizations,
During the past year and a half of the numerous public discussions to determine the merits of a Neighborhood Improvement District within the South Side Flats, I believed it was very important for me as your elected representative to be present for the discussions and available for input when requested. Ultimately reserving decision until all voices, regardless of their position, had their chance to be heard and a final plan had been adopted by your members.
Now that the South Side Planning Forum's process is complete and a final plan has been accepted, I will be requested to introduce that plan to City Council. I would like to provide to you why I cannot support City Council action on the plan.
At the very first open meeting to discuss a possible Neighborhood Improvement District for South Side Flats, I communicated to those present I would remain neutral and give the process the room needed to have a full discussion. However, I also said I could not, would not, be supportive of a plan that assessed residents.
My responsibility as an elected official is to assure a detailed accounting of how $5 million collected over five years was to be spent and what benefits it would provide. Sweeping streets and providing for more police was too broad and loosely defined.
I do not believe it is productive of me to reject this plan without offering solutions that will bring us all to the desired result without putting undue burden on home owning residents: A safe, vibrant and clean neighborhood with the highest quality of life for all.
In the weeks and months ahead, I will be sharing with you and the neighborhood at large, measures I believe will ultimately achieve this by providing for a pathway to connect local and state governments, community organizations, residents and businesses in crafting a solution.
We all want the same things: safe streets, a clean neighborhood, the highest quality of life for residents and a thriving business district. Residents and businesses alike benefit from these things, but the question is: What is generating the need for additional public safety services and what is generating the need for additional public works services?
The trash on the streets is coming from a broad range of businesses dealing in convenience and single use containers. I also believe the need for additional public safety services is driven by state and local policies that have permitted a vehicle dependent tri-state destination entertainment district with alcohol as the centerpiece to exist within the heart of a residential neighborhood.
With the zoning classification for East Carson Street being Local Neighborhood Commercial, how did this happen? What role did development play in encouraging it to happen? And now that it has, whose responsibility is it to provide for the needed services to offset the impact and protect the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood?
Not residents, but state and local governments and businesses should bear this responsibility. The state permits the alcohol license to exist and the local municipality grants occupancy for that alcohol license to operate.
Uncertain financial times played a large role in my decision making process. Property values have increased for many, but with the uncertainty of the property reassessments looming and many worried if they will be able to meet their tax obligations, I had hoped this discussion could be held until the reassessment issue was settled.
I made this request of the steering committee, but it was not received. In additional meetings with the steering committee, I expressed concerns over what I saw as the lack of a well-rounded, comprehensive business plan clearly showing in detail how the funds were to be spent and what would be the clearly defined deliverables and outcomes.
Improvement districts can achieve the desired results when constructed as a well-orchestrated partnership with city departments (Police, Public Works, Bureau of Building Inspection, etc.), each supporting the other. The benefits of these relationships are apparent in the success of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the Oakland Business Improvement District.
Much of the concern and dissatisfaction in the neighborhood centered around the state law permitting the formation of Neighborhood Improvement Districts. In discussions with state elected officials, I found their concerns were much the same as those being expressed by those in the neighborhood. I would like to continue discussions with our state elected officials to see what can be done to address those concerns.
Bruce A. Kraus
Councilman, District Three