ALBANY PARK — Tax increases can be the third rail of politics at any level, but a proposal to levy an additional tax on some Albany Park property owners met with widespread support from residents at a community meeting held Tuesday night.
The forum attended by about 40 people was the first of three scheduled to discuss the establishment of a Special Service Area in Albany Park. Special Service Areas are localized tax districts created to collect funds to provide enhanced services to a commercial district, such as snow plowing and beautification.
Scott Berman, vice president of economic development for the North River Commission, represented the Albany Park SSA's advisory committee and said the SSA could help clean up the area.
"I was born and raised in Albany Park. We've been 'up-and-coming' my whole life," he said. "We would like to plow our sidewalks. We would like to eliminate the rolling tumbleweeds of litter."
The SSA would largely focus on creating a "vibrant, safe, clean, beautiful and welcoming commercial district," according to a vision statement provided by the advisory committee.
"It's difficult to invite people out of their homes if the businesses look shabby," said Berman.
The boundaries for the proposed SSA would encompass the neighborhood's main commercial corridors:
- Montrose Avenue, from Central Park Avenue to 2650 W. Montrose Ave.
- Lawrence Avenue, from Kimball Avenue to 2901 W. Lawrence Ave.
- Kedzie Avenue, from 4907 N. Kedzie Ave. to Irving Park Road
- Kimball Avenue, from Lawrence Avenue to Leland Avenue
- Irving Park Road, from Spaulding Avenue to Sacramento Avenue
"As go our main streets, so go our residential streets," Berman said.
There are a total of 1,111 Property Index Numbers within the boundaries of the proposed SSA, meaning properties located only on the streets referenced above.
The advisory committee is recommending a .4 percent tax on these PINs — with a cap at .425 percent — which is projected to raise $423,768 annually. Commercial properties would account for 56 percent of that total, residential 25 percent, and mixed-use 18 percent. The initial life span of the SSA is expected to be 10 years.
During a Q-and-A session after Berman's presentation, the majority of attendees praised the initiative, and the primary criticism of the plan was that it didn't go far enough.
Eric Filson, a representative of Albany Park Neighbors, expressed the group's enthusiasm for the SSA, tempered only by its disappointment that the SSA will stop at Kimball Avenue and cover only one-third of the stretch of Lawrence Avenue within Albany Park.
The group's litter cleanups, he noted, encounter most of their trash west of Kimball. "It's inhibiting to bring people from out of town into my community," he said.
If the goal is to make the neighborhood more attractive to residents and create a destination for visitors, "It feels like a great percentage of our members won't benefit" from the the SSA, said Filson.
"We will put that on the table," said Berman of the suggestion to expand the SSA to Pulaski Road, along with a second proposal to extend the SSA east on Lawrence Avenue across the Chicago River to California Avenue.
Regarding the question of why residents should have to pay a tax for services businesses should be financing themselves — maintaining facades, picking up trash in front of their buildings, shoveling their sidewalks — Berman responded: "You're not paying for them. You're paying for the benefit we all get."
David Maletin, owner of a mixed-use building in the 3100 block of West Montrose Avenue, came to the meeting skeptical of the SSA proposal but had changed his mind by the forum's conclusion.
"I'm convinced this group here has its heart in the right place. They're doing this for the right reasons," he said.
The SSA would cost him an additional $908 per year, which Maletin considered a fair tradeoff for not having to shovel the 225 feet in front of his building.
"One reason I really support it is almost to punish neglectful owners," he added. "I'm very frustrated with poorly maintained buildings."
Annie Coakley, a representative of the Department of Housing and Economic Development, said there are currently 47 SSAs operating in Chicago, a 70 percent increase in the last 10 years.
"It's a great way for a neighborhood to spend money on services the city won't provide," she said.
Two more meetings to get public feedback on the proposed Albany Park SSA are scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at 4650 N. Pulaski Rd. and 7 p.m., June 12 at Horner Park Field House, 2741 W. Montrose Ave.
The final SSA application is due to the city on June 14. A final public hearing will be held before the City Council in the fall, with the Council voting on an ordinance to create the SSA in November. If approved, the SSA would take effect in next January and collect its first taxes in the fall of 2014.