The past week has seen the issue of a Business Improvement District in downtown Asheville become increasingly controversial, as more organizations and individuals have weighed in on the matter. There will be a community forum on the issue 5 p.m. tonight at Pack Memorial Library, organized by BID opponents.
The forum is organized by StopAVLBID, “an ad-hoc coalition of community members,” according to a statement it released today, that “includes activists working within the Occupy movement, local cooperatives, community media, downtown employees, anti-poverty advocates, and the Asheville Homeless Network.”
“The BID proposed by city staff will impact both the downtown area encompassed and the surrounding Asheville neighborhoods,” the group declares. “A coalition of concerned residents and activists are holding this forum to allow for voices marginalized by the debate to be heard. Concerns include increased taxation designated for use by unelected property owners, the anti-democratic origins of the proposal, the privatization of public space, and the private security functions of the BID.”
Despite the group’s opposition, it claims to welcome “all community members regardless of their position on the BID to participate in the community forum in a climate of mutual respect and conversation.”
Last week, skepticism about the proposal for the BID — a special service district funded by a seven cents per $100 tax increase on downtown property owners — emerged from a number of quarters. A group of residential property owners released a list of concerns, asserting that the BID is skewed to favor businesses instead of residents and that its cost “seems excessive.” That group claimed that they have conducted their own survey, with 94 of 101 respondents opposed to the measure.
The topic was front and center at the May 29 Asheville City Council community meeting, with a majority of speakers, ranging from conservative developers to radical activists, critical of the proposal.
The worker-owners of Firestorm Cafe also released a statement harshly criticizing the BID as “a misappropriation of public funds for private gain.”
But supporters of the measure weren’t silent either. The Asheville Grown Business Alliance voiced their staunch support for the proposal, declaring that the BID is a way to pursue long-term goals “somewhat insulated from the changing whim of politics.”
Today, Council member Marc Hunt announced his support for the BID, though he wants its governing board to be city-appointed, rather than board members appointing their own successors.
“Additional enhancements to Downtown that would occur under a BID would yield greater economic vibrancy and growth, and that will be critical to attracting and growing great employers and great jobs for our people,” Hunt writes. “I feel strongly that there must be public accountability, and a self-perpetuating board would not ensure that. I would favor an approach where Council appoints all BID board members according to representation from specific stakeholder groups.”
I’ve also set up an informal Facebook poll on the matter. So far responses are running about 2-1 against the BID, with plenty of interesting discussion. Council will vote on the BID June 12.