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Chamber pulls back on plan to expand ‘Business Improvement Area’ and property assessments across Hill

The Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce is pulling back on a years-long plan to expand a Business Improvement Area (BIA) property assessment that would provide hundreds of thousands of dollars for providing street clean-up and merchant support across the neighborhood.

In the announcement from the chamber’s executive committee, the group said it is “re-assessing how the BIA is organized at a larger level based on the changing political situation right now in Seattle.”

“[I]t is apparent that while the intent of the proposed BIA is for a stronger and better Capitol Hill, a shifting political reality in Seattle has made communities less trustful of how money is being spent,” the chamber announcement reads. “Seattle and Capitol Hill are very different places from when this proposal was crafted.”

The announcement follows a CHS report two weeks ago that surfaced opposition to the proposal planned to transform the chamber and the Broadway’s existing BIA into an approximately $1.6 million organization called the Capitol Hill Alliance with a so-called “Capitol Hill 2020” vision for growth.

Jeff Pelletier of 15th Ave’s Board and Vellum and director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce board said the group is still sorting out what the pullback will ultimately mean for the initiative but it is likely that any path forward will miss the 2018 legislative cycle at City Hall and push the plan back at least another year.

At the launch of its campaign in February 2017, the chamber said it already had support from about 30% of the property owners to be impacted by the assessments which could run between $2,000 and $5,000 per year for most of the 850 or so properties involved along Broadway, 12th Ave, 15th Ave E, 19th Ave E, Melrose, E Olive Way, and Pike/Pine. Owners representing 60% of qualifying commercial property in the existing and newly proposed area must vote to approve any agreement to create new borders under the city’s Office of Economic Development program. Then each BIA agreement must be approved by the Seattle City Council. The expanded Capitol Hill BIA would have been similar in structure to ones in Pioneer Square, SODO, University District, Ballard, West Seattle and downtown.

To expand the BIA, the chamber needs signoff from “those responsible for 60% of assessments” — not 60% of property owners. In effect, larger landowners can have a larger say about whether a BIA should be implemented.

But it was opposition from owners of smaller commercial buildings and, especially, homeowners associations from qualifying multifamily residential buildings that rang loudest against the proposed expansion. Part of the pullback, the chamber says, will include a “re-evaluation” of how condominium buildings might be included or assessed in the BIA expansion.

Many of the people CHS heard from supporting the newly formed CATCH — Coalition for an Affordable and Thriving Capitol Hill — represented the neighborhood’s condo and co-operative buildings with the expansion zones that would have been included in any assessments.

The chamber says other “issues such as sunset clauses,” another issue raised by the coalition group, will also be re-evaluated.

Pelletier tells CHS that even with possible smaller assessment goals, “the intent is to still accomplish the goals of the 2020 plan.”

“In terms of how that looks and what it means for how the Alliance is structured, we will be focusing on incorporating feedback from the community which will the Alliance a stronger organization,” Pelletier said. “The intent of this was to always have a locally funded and run answer to many of the challenges the neighborhood faces and this will enhance that.”

CHS asked Morris Groberman, who has headed up the effort to publicly oppose the expansion and part of ownership of many properties across Capitol Hill, about the chamber’s decision to pull back on its expansion plan. We’ve also asked him about efforts to achieve some of the BIA’s goals including clean-up, sidewalk cleaning, graffiti removal, trash removal, and street safety at his properties like the Harvard Market shopping center at Broadway and Pike. UPDATE: Groberman tells CHS he has read our report and the chamber’s letter but declined to comment on the pullback and did not offer comment on our question about private landowner solutions.

The struggles with the BIA expansion have been a strategic blow to the chamber organization. A top initiative for the group for more than three years and the top goal for a new director, the chamber also hired a campaign coordinator to help lead the effort to gain the needed 60% support mark. But it has not been an easy push and chamber director Sierra Hansen stepped down from her leadership role after two years on the job in late 2017.

The pullback on the expansion will not immediately kill off the chamber’s plan. “We consistently receive feedback that the unique, local needs of the neighborhood are not and cannot be addressed by the City alone,” the chamber announcement reads. “There isn’t sufficient attention, advocacy, or resources for Capitol Hill. The current Broadway BIA has successfully helped Broadway remain clean, safe, and prosperous for decades and has helped inspire a broader approach that can help more of the neighborhood.”

The existing BIA also continues to support Broadway merchants. This summer, the existing Broadway-focused BIA will put funding towards homeless outreach services to help merchants along the artery cope with the area’s unsheltered population.

The chamber, meanwhile, says it is continuing to shape a BIA expansion. “Our team will continue to reach out to neighborhood stakeholders to help make this a plan that is based solidly in Capitol Hill that does the work that the community wants,” the group’s announcement concludes.

The full announcement letter is below.

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6 thoughts on “Chamber pulls back on plan to expand ‘Business Improvement Area’ and property assessments across Hill

  1. Yeah, people are fed up and in some ways it’s a damn shame.

    Agencies got too greedy, government forgot that these programs have to actually work in order to sustain the political will, and now the climate has changed.

    Maybe it had to be this way.

    Note to the BIA – I don’t think people look at Broadway and think it’s clean, safe, or prosperous. It’s in the worst shape of any of the streets mentioned. That’s probably the heart of your challenge. Show you can deliver value there and then people will want to be included.

    Also, the pitch for this expansion was tacky at best – arguing straight out that people could pass the tax increase on and therefore it wouldn’t cost them anything. Gross.

    • 100% agree on broadway being a great example of this bia’s effectiveness. To be fair, the problems faced are really not something that can be solved by such an organization. If anything they should be 90% focused on nagging the city/county councils to do their jobs and clean up the business districts. They don’t need more money to do that.

    • I agree that Broadway is not as “prosperous” as it might be (too many vacancies), but I think that it is reasonably clean and safe, thanks to the BIA efforts. Just compare it to Pike-Pine (not clean at all, lots of serious crime), which is not (yet) included in the BIA.

      • Maybe the vacancies make it feel dirtier and more dangerous to me than it really is.

        Probably you’re right that Pike Pine is objectively dirtier, but it’s also much livelier. From a crime perspective I bet it matters a lot whether we count the corner of Pike and Broadway, and the stretch of Broadway between Pine and Union as part of Broadway or part of Pike-Pine. :) That should be addressed regardless! Although the Broadway QFC can get pretty sketchy as well.

        Either way, making 12th, 15th, and 19th and most of Pike/Pine more like Broadway reads more like a threat than a promise at the moment and I think that’s a lot of the problem.

  2. I agree that the city has to forcefully articulate what they’re doing with all the new revenue they’ve raised. I’m inclined to cut them some slack – supporting the growth of a city that hit a big growth spurt is a really hard job, and I’m thankful that someone wants to step up and do it.

    Personally, as someone who lives in the area of the proposed BIA – I’m willing to pay some amount more for a cleaner neighborhood in Pike/Pine.

    That said, the high cost of the assessment, the chamber of commerce’s process and near-exclusive focus on business interests made it very difficult to support as proposed.

    So I think it’s a good thing that this iteration isn’t happening, but I look forward to another conversation about what’s good for the neighborhood.

  3. There was a time not long ago that the property and city sales taxes you paid where for basic things the BIA has proposed.

    Why do people / property owner have to pay MORE for basic city services? Where is the money we already pay going?