Supporters, Critics of South Orange Special Improvement District Speak at Public Forum
Thursday, July 21, 2011 • 5:59am
SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - Business owners asked some pointed questions about a proposal to create a downtown development district during a public forum on Wednesday night.
The forum was held at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. It included presentations and two public comment periods regarding the creation of a Special Improvement District, which would be funded in part by increasing taxes on businesses within its boundaries. The SID Advisory Committee, formed by the Village Board of Trustees earlier this year, hosted the forum.
Some in the audience expressed concerns about the process of forming a SID, noting that the decision rests with the Board of Trustees, not the property owners. Business owners within the SID, who will be taxed based on the assessed valuation of their property, cannot opt out of the district. Residential and tax-exempt property is not considered part of the SID.
“I am in support of this because I’ve seen what other communities can do,” said Matt Glass, owner of Eventage. “I see what a vibrant downtown does for residents and for businesses.”
Leslie Pogany, owner of Bunny’s Restaurant on South Orange Avenue, opposes formation of a SID. She asked, “Will there be a tally of the businesses that are for or against (the SID)?” She added that a SID “never works” unless the business community is supportive.
Elaine Harris, a South Orange attorney who opposes the SID, commented that the administrative costs of the SID as presented were “extremely high.” A preliminary budget set the salary for the executive director at $65,000, with an overall budget of $208,500 for the first year.
Businesses not included in the SID also had concerns. Melanie Conklin, coordinator of the Seton Village Neighborhood Association, said that business owners in the Irvington Avenue business corridor support a SID for downtown. However, she said business owners fear there will be a reduction of services. “They really want to know, specifically, how are we going to be taken care of if all the focus is shifting to downtown,” she said.
Other issues raised during the forum included the following:
-- the relationship between a SID and the Parking Authority, since parking issues are tied to downtown development.
-- the selection process for the nonprofit District Management Corporation, which would oversee the operation of the SID. A majority of the board must be made up of members of the business community.
-- the process for dissolving a SID. A SID would be created by an ordinance adopted by the Board of Trustees, which would also have the authority to end a SID.
The SID Advisory Committee plans to submit its report to the Board of Trustees in late September. It will be up to the trustees to act on any recommendations.
The boundaries of the proposed SID are roughly as follows: along South Orange Avenue from Church Street to Prospect Street; along Valley Street from South Orange Avenue to Third Street; and along Vose Avenue to Taylor Place.