Jeff Park Chamber seeks to form taxing body to help revitalize commercial area; about 700 properties would be impacted


by BRIAN NADIG

Funds generated by a proposed taxing body that would affect about 700 commercial and residential properties in Jefferson Park would be used for beautification improvements and to attract new businesses to the Milwaukee-Lawrence and Lawrence-Austin commercial districts.

The Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce is seeking to have a special service area created that would generate at least $200,000 annually in property tax revenue to fund improvements to the commercial areas. A commission of local business and property owners appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel would set an annual budget to pay for items such as marketing materials, lamp post banners, planters, public art, sidewalk cleaning and business recruitment initiatives.

"We’ve all seen how this tool has helped to bring businesses back to the Six Corners community," chamber executive director Amie Zander said. “It makes complete sense to continue the program down Milwaukee and Lawrence avenues.”

The Jefferson Park Special Service Area would run primarily Lawrence Avenue between the Kennedy Expressway and Austin Avenue and along Milwaukee Avenue between Montrose Avenue and the expressway. Every property in the designated area would be in the special service area because the city requires boundaries to be contiguous.

Under a proposed budget, property owners in the area would pay approximately $65 in additional property taxes for every $1,000 that they usually pay, according to PLACE Consulting, which the chamber hired to help with the application process.

For the 2015 tax year, the average residential property owner would pay about $170 in SSA taxes, a mixed-use building owner $560 would pay about and a commercial property owner would pay about $1,118. Property owners pay their 2015 tax bill in 2016, and the special service area would be listed on their property tax bill along with the other taxing bodies.

"Several months ago the chamber conducted a survey of businesses and residents to gauge the interest in SSA creation, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Zander said.

About 30 percent of the 178 respondents to the survey identified themselves a property owners in the service area, and 65 percent said that they live in the study area. Nearly half of the respondents said that that the condition of the commercial areas is not conducive to business success, while most said that they are "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with the safety, lighting and transportation options in the area.

Zander said that the chambers welcomes additional comment on the proposed service area and that it will hold community meetings at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, May 14 and 21, with the locations to be announced. Letters will be mailed notifying the affected property owners of the meetings.

Of the 703 affected properties, 457 are residential, 142 are commercial, 58 are retail-residential and nine are vacant. There also are 37 exempt properties, including properties owned by the city and nonprofit organizations.

While most of the properties are residential, commercial properties will generate more than half of the revenue generated by the special service area. It is not unusual for the majority of properties in a service area to be residential, in part because of condominiums that are above storefronts, such as in the Lake View neighborhood, according to PLACE Consulting.

The chamber is proposing a tax rate of 0.45 percent of equalized assessed valuation for the 2015 tax year, and the maximum tax rate is 0.75 percent. The chamber plans to be the service provider for the Jefferson Park SSA.

"The creation of an SSA is the next logical step in the revitalization of the Jefferson Park business districts," Zander said. “Attracting new businesses, cleaning, landscaping and snowplowing are just some of the options we will have moving forward.”

There are about 50 special service areas in the city, and the life of a special service area is 10 years, after which it can be renewed for up to another 15 years. A special service area budget can vary each year, and in some instances a service area commission has chosen not to levy a tax in a particular year.

Alderman John Arena (45th) said at a business forum during the recent election campaign that he would encourage the chamber to consider forming a special service area given the success of them in other areas.

Information about the proposed SSA is available at www.jeffersonpark.net.


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