Chattanooga City Councilmen Erskine Oglesby, Anthony Byrd and Jerry Mitchell plan to restart the Business Improvement District process on Tuesday, one week after the original ordinance failed.
An ordinance to establish a special district of property owners in downtown Chattanooga failed on its second reading due to a lack of a second after a fiery, two-hour public hearing and council debate. Now, Oglesby, who represents District 7 that includes the proposed district, is championing a resolution-based approval of the district after the "extremely disappointing" fate of the first ordinance.
"I think overall it's important for our downtown. Not just about downtown but for the impact it will have overall in our city," Oglesby said. "I've been involved in the process since the very beginning, I've heard from both sides, and I believe that it's something that can be of great value to our city. And the majority of people that I've spoken with, whether it's property owners or business owners in the same area, want to support it also."
The original ordinance was based on a petition of property owners within the proposed district who showed support for it. That support came from 60.51% of property owners representing 81.96% of the assessed value in the area of central Chattanooga, exceeding the 50% and 66.6% thresholds required by the state to bring the business improvement district to the council.
The ordinance limped its way to a public hearing and second reading, with support from just five council members on first reading. At the public hearing, most property owners present supported the district, equating it to a homeowners association to benefit the chunk of downtown. Council members then debated the ordinance for more than hour, amending it seven times.
"I thought we made a lot of headway with all the discussion we had in council, so I see no reason to extend this process out any longer than it needs to be," Oglesby said. "So the fact that people were saying they weren't informed, that's not entirely true."
The amendments introduced by council members allowed certain property owners to opt out, gave the council the right to confirm the inaugural business improvement district board appointees and required the district's board to adhere to state open meetings acts, perform an annual audit and assume all liability for itself, and specified some language.
While Oglesby says most of the conversation was productive and many of the amendments will be reflected in the upcoming legislation, he says some were far-reaching or opposed the state statute on business improvement district formation and could not hold up.
"The process is what it is and we've already had several [districts] formed in the state under the same rules," Oglesby said. "The state law kind of got boggled up into all this ... it kind of put some of the confusion into this process and some felt they didn't have enough time to process [the information]."
Nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Co. has ushered the business improvement district through the nearly yearlong process leading to this point, orchestrating the petition and presenting the proposed district to the council on several occasions. President Kim White said that the speedy reintroduction of the district provides hope for those who supported it.
"There have already been six [business improvement districts] formed in the state of Tennessee through this process, so I'm sure we can get through it, too," White said. "I just think at the end of that meeting, it came off the rails, but it has such property owner support, more than Nashville got for theirs."
Oglesby said he, Byrd and Mitchell will introduce the second attempt at a business improvement district at Tuesday's 1:30 p.m. strategic planning meeting to get the ball rolling on the several-week process because it is important to his constituents.
"It's in my district which I was elected to represent, so I'd like to have this happen sooner rather than later," Oglesby said. "The large majority, as the numbers [in the petition] show, they want it. They see value in how this can help them as business owners within the ... district and there are a lot of people still excited about its potential because, though we didn't vote it through, it didn't get voted down either."
Like the first round, once the new resolution makes it to a council agenda, it will undergo a new first reading. If it passes, it will go to a public hearing and subsequent final vote, per state law. The city is required to publicize the public hearing three weeks ahead of time. However, according to White, the councilmen reintroducing the legislation may do so as a council resolution, alleviating the need to establish a new petition.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.