Tensions Flare Over Ingleside Business District Plan

Cameron Crowe
Newswire21.org

Tensions flared when local merchants met with the Ocean Avenue Revitalization Collaborative to discuss plans for a community benefits district along the neighborhood’s busy commercial corridor.

The meeting was organized as a “Merchant Mixer,” a chance for business owners to share food, wine, and ideas of how to make Ocean’s a better place for vendors and visitors. But what began as a cordial evening soon dissolved into a barrage of accusations when the meeting discussed the district plan.

“I didn’t know this was going to be a Tea Party meeting,” said Howard Chung, an Ocean Avenue resident. Chung asked business and property owners to set aside personal interests and consider what the benefits district may provide for the community as a whole.

“It’s hard to see the forest when you have that one most important tree standing right in front of you,” he said at the April 21 meeting.

The collaborative hopes to have the district established by the end of the year, but can't without a 30 percent approval of business and property owners within the districts boundaries.

Merchants and property owners voiced concerns of how the property assessment fund will be spent under the proposed district. In particular, business owners spoke out against the $63,000 reserved under the CBD for “management and operations.”

“They’re trying to run a business off the backs of other businesses. Now that just ain’t right,” said Jesse Waters, owner of Waters Construction & Plumbing Co.

While many of the meetings attendees claimed the CBD is an unjustified tax, Cristy Johnson, executive director of the Excelsior Action Group, sees it differently.

“It’s different from a tax, you [business and property owners] control it,” she said to a skeptical crowd. “You control the services and how you manage your money.”

District Goals
A week earlier, nearly two dozen property owners and merchants met to talk about seven topics connected with the project, but ended up in an impassioned debate over the establishment of the district itself.

“We all have a common goal. Now all we need is a common ground,” Mark Gin, a owner of Copy Edge, said at that meeting. “I want a guarantee that the CBD will bring me business.”

If a CBD is established, commercial properties along Ocean Avenue – from Victoria Street to Geneva Avenue – will pay an increase in property tax that will fund projects like street maintenance, marketing for businesses, and community safety.

“The City’s broke so we are going to lose these services,” said Mary Harris of the OMI Neighbors in Action. Harris calmed frustrated merchants by outlining the processes necessary for a district to be established, noting that the proposed district is in a very early phase. “People are going to vote this up or down,” she said. “It’s democratic.”

Some agitated property owners left that meeting after sharing their concerns. Others worked on strategies for building support for the plan.

“You can look at this as a tax or you can think of it as an investment in your business,” said Patty Clement-Chihak, the program director of the OMI Senior Center where the meeting took place.