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Planned Tax Hike to Spruce Up Jefferson Park Business District Resurrected

By Heather Cherone | September 14, 2015 5:36am
 Jefferson Park Business District
Jefferson Park Business District
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

JEFFERSON PARK — A plan to raise taxes in the Jefferson Park Business District by an average of $1,100 a year to fund an effort to fill empty storefronts and spruce up the commercial district along Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues has risen from the ashes.

The decision to withdraw the chamber's application to city officials — which had been in the works for months — violated the chamber board's bylaws, President Lionel Rabb said.

Once a supporter of the tax hike, Rabb now opposes the plan, saying it is inappropriate to force homeowners to foot a portion of the bill for improvements designed to bring new life to the business district.

"It is unfair, especially to a neighborhood like ours in Jefferson Park, where there are homes mixed in with the businesses," Rabb said.

Rabb said the decision to re-institute the chamber's application to create a Special Service Area was based on "legalese" and "hair splitting."

Rabb said plans to move forward and raise property owners' taxes were not "set in stone."

Four board members of the chamber can ask to hold a special meeting to consider withdrawing the application, which would create a special district along Milwaukee Avenue between Montrose Avenue and the Kennedy Expy., as well as on Lawrence Avenue between Austin Avenue and the Kennedy.

But no members of the board had asked that such a meeting take place as of Friday morning, Rabb said.

There are five single-family homes within the boundaries of the Special Service Area, whose owners would see their taxes rise by about $300 a year. The owners of the 386 condominiums in the area would pay an additional $200 a year, officials said.

Chamber leaders asked city officials to change the rules and exempt those properties. City officials declined, citing the presence of residential properties in the more than 50 Special Service Areas throughout the city.

The tax hike was endorsed by 20 percent of the 703 property owners in the area, as required for approval by the city, chamber officials said.

Rabb said the plan was poorly timed in light of the looming tax hike that could cost the owner of a home worth $250,000 approximately $470, an 11 percent increase, officials said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected to introduce a spending plan later this month that would hike property taxes by between $450 million and $550 million, implement a garbage collection tax designed to generate $100 million and raise a host of other fees that officials said are necessary to deal with the city's structural budget deficit more than a decade in the making.

The proposal for the Jefferson Park Special Service Area is expected to be considered by the Chicago City Council in October, said executive director Amie Zander, who said she was excited that the application has been resurrected.

Zander was specifically hired to implement and run a Special Service Area in Jefferson Park and replicate her success as the executive director of the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.

The steering committee working to establish the special service area set a tentative annual budget of approximately $220,000 to fund efforts to attract new businesses by hiring real estate brokers to market the empty storefronts as well as to push Jefferson Park as a great neighborhood to open a business, Zander said.

The initial budget would have spent the largest chunk of money — $82,000 — on fixing up public property and improving the area's aesthetics, officials said.

The owner of an average commercial property in the business district would see the tax bill rise $1,118 a year if the plan is implemented. The owner of an average mixed-use property — with both residential and business tenants — would pay an extra $560 year while the owner of an average residential property would pay an additional $170 a year, officials said.

The proposal for a Jefferson Park Special Service Area was based on the successful effort in the Six Corners Shopping District, which helped attract more than two dozen new businesses and begin to reverse decades of decline, officials said.

Ald. John Arena (45th) supports the tax hike, and has said it will help spur development in Jefferson Park.

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