Vacant properties, proposed taxing body, role of chamber discussed at JPNA meeting
by BRIAN NADIG
A proposed taxing body for the Jefferson Park commercial district would help attract businesses to the area’s vacant buildings and empty lots, according to Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce executive Amie Zander.
Recruiting new businesses is “our biggest challenge,” Zander told the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association at its April 29 meeting.
The chamber has proposed the creation of a Special Service Area that would generate more than $200,000 in property tax revenue annually to help beautify and market the business district. A special service area has been operating in the Six Corners business district for 10 years, and another service area recently was formed in Sauganash.
“If you have an SSA, you are more likely to get businesses to sign a lease,” said Zander, who previously was the administrator for the West Ridge service area. A commission of local property owners who are appointed by the mayor would set a budget for the service area, and “none of the money leaves the neighborhood, not a single dime,” she said.
Many service areas allocate funds for the shoveling of snow on the sidewalks. A resident at the meeting asked Zander if it is necessary to tax property owners for such a service given that storefront owners are required under a city ordinance to shovel and that the city only needs to do a better job of enforcing the law.
Zander said that business in Jefferson Park “overall do a pretty decent job” clearing snow and that SSA funds may be used to shovel sidewalks only in areas that are not regularly maintained.
Another resident said that the chamber should be addressing the eyesore created by the high number of gravel parking and storage lots which have opened in the past 15 years as buildings in the business district were torn down for development projects that failed to materialize. The man said that a law is needed that would require the owners of these properties pay a higher property tax each year that the site remains undeveloped.
Zander said that the owners of these vacant properties would be among those paying the SSA property tax. Some service areas have allocated funds to create marketing materials that are given to prospective retailers and to organize bus tours for developers in which available properties are showcased.
Zander said that an obstacle in recruiting national stores and restaurants is that these corporations often look closely at demographics, including an area’s median income, and that communities may be ruled out if certain criteria are not met.
Alderman John Arena (45th) told the association that he supports having a service area in Jefferson Park.
The proposed SSA would affect those residential and commercial properties located along Milwaukee Avenue between Montrose Avenue on the south and the Kennedy Expressway on the north and along Lawrence Avenue between the expressway on the east and Austin Avenue on the west.
Most of the 700 affected properties would be residential, including condominiums and single-family homes, but most of the SSA revenue would be generated from commercial properties. Under a proposed SSA budget for next year, the average residential property owner would pay about $170 in additional property taxes, a mixed-use property owner would pay $560, and a commercial property owner would pay $1,118.
State law requires that boundaries for an SSA be contiguous, but some municipalities, including Evanston, have interpreted that differently and have allowed certain properties to be left out of an SSA.
Zander told the association that the city follows a strict interpretation of the state law and does not allow any property on the affected streets to be mapped out. Several service areas in the city consist mostly of residential properties, due in part to condominiums located above storefronts.
The chamber will host community meetings on the proposed SSA at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, May 14 and 21, on the third floor of the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
It also was reported that the first Jefferson Park “Sunday Market” of the season will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, June 14, at the park, 4822 N. Long Ave. Vendor applications are available at www.jeffersonparksundaymarket.com or by calling 773-282-3879.