East Village’s Damen Ave. Residents Question Special Service Area Expansion, Subsequent Tax Increase
by Jon Graef
Members of the East Village Association made their feelings known Monday about the West Town Chicago Chamber of Commerce’s plan to add Damen Avenue to the neighborhood’s Special Service Area #29, which taxes landowners on commercial streets.
“It’s a moneygrab,” member Rich Anselmo said, when EVA President Neil McKnight prompted members to comment about the chamber’s plan to extend the SSA’s reach to Damen Avenue, from the south side of Augusta Avenue to north side of Huron Street (see map, right).
Currently, the SSA border boundary centers along Chicago Avenue from Halsted Street to California Avenue. Residents are upset because of the prospect of increased taxes for what they perceive as unfair burdens placed on residents in order to support commercial developments that they say simply aren’t there.
“I live on Damen. I get a big real estate tax bill. Enough, OK? Of the 17 lots on my street, one is mixed use,” Anselmo said. “It’s zoned as residential. It’s developed as residential. Why does my block have to support the SSA? What is going on?”
The City of Chicago defines a Special Service Area, which are called Business Improvement Districts, or BIDs, in other cities, as “local tax districts that fund expanded services and programs through a localized property tax levy within contiguous areas.” (As The Pipeline reported a few months back, the city’s Inspector General has its eye on SSAs, according to a Crain’s Chicago Business story).
Each of the city’s 44 active SSAs has a commissioner, who is appointed by the mayor to oversee and recommend the annual services, budget and Service Provider Agency to the city. The SSAs are co-managed by the city with local non-profits called Service Providers.
The proposed expansion of the West Town Special Service Area would tax landowners on commercial streets in order to provide publicity for SSA businesses, public way maintenance, and to attract and retain new tenants, amongst other projects. In addition to the expansion on Damen Avenue, the SSA would also cover Ashland, Chicago, Grand, Milwaukee and Ogden Avenues. (Pictured: A Cleanslate worker salts the streets/provides pubic way maintenance; SSAs and Chambers including Wicker Park and Bucktown and West Town use tax dollars on supplemental cleaning services through vendors like Cleanslate).
At Monday evening’s meeting, residents concerns about the SSA were twofold: First, they were concerned about the potential tax increases, which one resident said would be roughly $800 for a three-flat apartment building.
“This is a huge tax increase, and we don’t even get a say in it,” one resident said. “I don’t even know what [the SSA does]. Pick up trash?”
Secondly, residents and EVA members were concerned about what they felt was a lack of communication on the part of the West Town Chicago Chamber of Commerce. Most residents expressed confusion about what the SSA exactly does, and lamented that finding the plan for the SSA expansion on the West Town website was difficult.
EVA President Neil McKnight said the neighborhood organization would determine a formal position at the next board meeting, and would invite members of the West Town Chamber to speak in order to clarify for residents what the SSA would do.