Pending Business Improvement District resolution causes friction at Chattanooga City Council meeting

Pending Business Improvement District resolution causes friction at Chattanooga City Council meeting

June 11th, 2019 by Sarah Grace Taylor in Breaking News

District 7 Councilman and Economic and Community Development Committee Chair Erskine Oglesby speaks during a community meeting on the South Broad District revitalization plans at the Development Resource Center on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

Updated at 9:27 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11, 2019, with more information.

City Council Chairman Erskine Oglesby reintroduced a proposal for a business improvement district on Tuesday at a strategic planning meeting, creating friction between council members over the process for legislation.

Oglesby, along with Councilmen Anthony Byrd and Jerry Mitchell, swiftly moved to reintroduce the privately formed community improvement initiative after it failed on second reading last Tuesday. The original ordinance, formed by a petition of affected property owners, failed due to the lack of a second after it was amended seven times throughout the course of a fiery, two-hour public hearing and council discussion.

By Friday, Oglesby, Byrd and Mitchell already had plans underway to reintroduce the district as a council resolution, rather than a petition-driven ordinance.

"Last week we went through a very, very fervent discussion on the formulation of a [business improvement district] at our public meeting and at the end of it it ended up being an item we could not rule on," Oglesby said. "I for one think we need to have some action on it at some point in time following the rules and procedures set forth by the state, and see what happens from there."

According to city attorney Phil Noblett, the council will vote on a resolution to hear an ordinance establishing the district, without having to go through the citizen petition process again. The ordinance is said to include the council's proposed amendments from last week's meeting, but specifics were not discussed at the meeting.

Though council rules allow the chairperson to put an item on the agenda without going to committee as long as there are two council members in support, Councilwomen Carol Berz and Demetrus Coonrod sparred with Oglesby, insisting the pending resolution go through the committee process.

"I'm not saying it won't go forward, but I think for all kinds of reasons, we should follow our own process," Berz said, calling for the resolution to be assigned to a committee.

Later in the meeting, Coonrod brought up her pending legislation to amend the city's short-term vacation rental zone, asking to have it put on the agenda without committee, citing the same rule that Oglesby had referenced.

"What's included [in this ordinance] is everything that's been recommended without getting too in-depth with it," Oglesby said. "So it's not like this is something that's new and just popped up; it's not like this is something that just fell out of the sky."

"Yes it did," Coonrod said. "The second round did."

Ultimately Coonrod and Oglesby's proposals were set to go before committee and placed on the agenda for two weeks out.

At the council's regular voting meeting late Tuesday, members of the public sounded off against the business improvement district during public comments.

Greg Dixon, a District 7 resident, came to the meeting last week and was unable to speak during the business improvement district hearing since he was not an affected property owner, but he said the meeting "disturbed him greatly."

"I'm not a property owner in the downtown area, but I would like to be a business owner in the downtown area. I think any small business owner in Chattanooga dreams of having a location in downtown, the most heavily foot-trafficked area in the city," Dixon said. "It's a way for the private sector to pick up the slack, which they feel the city has not been doing in revitalizing the downtown area, and it all sounds well and good on first take. I think that our city council does a pretty good job with base things, especially in the downtown area, and I don't see any need to privatize these municipal services."

One other citizen spoke against the business improvement district during public comment, and multiple audience members applauded the speakers taking stances against the district. In the public hearing on the proposed 2020 budget at the beginning of the meeting, Helen Burns Sharp, representing Accountability for Taxpayer Money, spoke in favor of an amended business improvement district.

"[Accountability for Taxpayer Money] supports the creation of a business improvement district, provided amendments are added to a revived ordinance to make sure that all government-owned properties are excluded from the assessment, that all PILOT [payment in lieu of taxes] and TIF [tax increment financing] properties do not get special treatment and that sunshine law provisions are added," Sharp said.

The new business improvement district resolution and short-term vacation rental amendment will go before the council's Economic and Community Development Committee on Tuesday.

Under Oglesby and Noblett's proposed timeline, if the resolution is passed, the ordinance will be given a first reading on July 16 and its second reading and public hearing, per state law, will follow on July 23.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.