City councilmembers outnumbered voices calling in, in support or disapproval, as part of the required public hearing held Wednesday afternoon on a proposed 15th Ave E business district in the city council’s Community Economic Development Committee Wednesday afternoon. Most of the people the council heard from during the meeting were among the group of neighborhood advocates who have gotten the BIA to this point.
Jeffrey Pelletier of Board and Vellum and Danielle Hulton of Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe presented to the five council members present, including District 3’s Kshama Sawant.
They presented the BIA as a long time coming, a byproduct of the 15th Avenue East Merchant’s Association, first discussed three years ago, with three formal meetings and several informal ones that led business owners like Ross King of Rainbow Natural Remedies to move forward with the BIA.
Christopher Forcyzk, owner of Smith, was one of three commenters but the only one speaking against the proposed tax assessment that would be levied on property owners along 15th Avenue between E Denny Way and E Mercer Street.
Citing a 31% decrease in sales compared to 2019, Forcyzk said it wasn’t a good time to add additional costs on businesses. In addition to the cost issue, he also cited the process for approving the BIA as another reason to oppose its creation. “I personally have been on the street for two years and have never met anyone from the 15th Avenue business association,” he said, suggesting a two-year pilot could be run with just the large property owners on the street like Kaiser Permanente paying the tax.
Forcyzk said he had a petition with signatures from 30 businesses on the street opposed to creating the BIA. KUOW spoke with Taelor Sloane of Hopvine Pub, who portrayed the BIA as a product of the larger businesses on the street.
To the council committee, Hulton framed the contributions of the large ratepayers on the street as a benefit to the smaller businesses. “I think the large ratepayers are really invested in our neighborhood and would like to help the small business owners,” she said.
Out of 37 property owners, the BIA still has received signatures in support from just 15, but those property owners represent nearly 73% of the total that would be collected by the BIA.
Pelletier told the council that another group of property owners who represent just shy of 8% had expressed verbal support for the BIA. 60% is the required threshold to establish a BIA, though the city recommends getting to 65% if one property owner makes up a large share of the district like Kaiser Permanente does here.
Jill Cronauer of Hunters Capital also spoke up at the public hearing, in support of the BIA.
Hunters Capital is one of the organizations that has been moving the BIA proposal forward, and Cronauer framed the BIA as being beneficial to smaller businesses along the street, who she said would receive an oversized benefit relative to their contribution. “Our office is on Broadway…and we see the positive effects of the daily street cleaning, graffiti removal, tree lighting, ability to convene as a group to solve issues and obtain additional grants,” she said.
Don Blakeney, identifying himself as a nearby resident, was the third commenter who spoke in support. Blakeney is also the executive director of the U District Partnership, which is partially funded by the U District’s BIA, in place since 1996 and recently renewed for a 12-year term by the city council in 2020.
The U District BIA’s ordinance stipulates that at least three members of its advisory board must be commercial tenants, and at least two of those tenants should be subject to triple-net leases. Councilmember Alex Pedersen suggested inserting similar language around triple-net leases into the 15th Ave E BIA legislation. Committee chair Tammy Morales also expressed interest in an amendment ensuring tenant representation on the ratepayer board, as well as language around preventing small business displacement on the street.
Councilmember Sawant didn’t voice an opinion on the proposed BIA during the nearly hour-long committee meeting.
After its public hearing, the legislation will be considered again in the same committee on Tuesday September 21 at 2pm. If passed, the 15th Ave BIA would be the second-smallest Business Improvement Area in Seattle in terms of assessment, just ahead of Columbia City.
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