The future of Mt. Airy’s Business Improvement District now up to City Council

Mt. Airy’s Business Improvement District (BID) took another step forward in its charter renewal process. Philadelphia’s City Council’s Committee on Rules heard testimony on the matter at a public hearing inside Council Chambers in City Hall on Tuesday.

Eighth District City Councilwoman, Cindy Bass began the brief proceedings on a positive note. Bass stated that BID’s request for a five-year charter renewal has “my support for the very important work that the Mt. Airy BID does.”

Kevin Dow, Deputy Director of Commerce for the City’s Commerce Department led the testimony in support of BID’s renewal. Dow stated that despite a modest budget, BID has been able to maximize its impact by working closely together with Mt. Airy USA, mobilizing volunteers and securing grant funds. “This is a worthwhile effort that deserves the support of the city,” he declared.

BID’s Executive Director Hollie Malamud-Price and Chair Ken Weinstein spoke to BID’s accomplishments in cleaning, beautifying and creating a safer environment along Mt. Airy’s commercial corridor. Weinstein, owner of 12 properties in Mt. Airy said he pays nearly $7,000 a year in BID assessments and sees the benefit. “Five years ago, we used to be dark and less safe,” he recalled.

Malamud-Price said that in addition to its street cleaning and beautification projects, BID complements city services by reducing calls to 311 and has helped to curb illicit activity. She stated that BID’s renewal is necessary because challenges remain in the neighborhood.

Council members also heard positive testimony on the association’s behalf from BID board members Clifton Jones and Yvonne Haskins.

“Mt. Airy really is a success story that can and should be duplicated in other parts of the city,” Weinstein asserted. He said BID’s charter renewal will help continue the revitalization of the neighborhood.

Rules Committee Chair, Councilman William Greenlee agreed. “I’m familiar with that portion of Germantown Avenue and the improvement has been extremely noticeable over the years,” he commented.

Are BID assessments fair to all concerned?

Rules Committee members also heard testimony in protest of the levy BID charges commercial property owners on or near Germantown Avenue. The ordinance being put forth by BID defines its jurisdiction as “an area that generally includes both sides of Germantown Avenue from 6300 to 7631 and certain blocks of streets that intersect that portion of Germantown Avenue.”

It is vague as to which commercial property owners on side streets that might affect now – or in the future.

Commercial property owners on unit blocks of East and West Mt. Airy Avenue and West Allens Lane are currently being levied the same 18 precent assessment as those on Germantown Avenue.

Abraham Fuchs, who has owns a 25 unit apartment complex on 31 West Allens Lane, testified that he appreciates the services BID provides. However, Fuchs feels that being charged the same tax rate as those who own property on Germantown Avenue is not fair and should be adjusted. Fuchs stated that he owns one of the highest assessed properties, yet his side street did not receive the 100 percent benefit that has been seen on Germantown Avenue. “That should be considered,” Fuchs said.

Ken Glantz, owner of Maclens Auto Body on 20 West Allens Lane expressed the same concern regarding lack of improvements on the side streets which are being taxed for BID’s services. “We do not see better streets, better sidewalks, better lighting, nice flower arrangements, nice signage,” he exclaimed. Glanz noted that his family owns properties on Germantown Avenue, currently occupied by Brewer’s Outlet and Valley Green Bank. He said he came not in protest of BID or its assessment on those properties, only the percentage levied on his auto repair shop. The shop sits behind the Wawa convenience store, located at 7236 Germantown Avenue and also owned by Maclens Auto Body.

Glantz and Fuchs were questioned by Greenlee as to whether their properties benefit from near proximity to an improved business corridor. Both men maintained that they do not have walk-in businesses and have clientele regardless of the conditions on Mt. Airy’s main drag.

“I have to respectfully agree to disagree on that,” stated Councilwoman Bass, who said the block is one of the best locations in Mt. Airy and benefits from its access to a cleaner, safer Germantown Avenue. Bass remarked that she understood Fuchs’ and Glantz’ concern about fairness, but requested a separate discussion with both on the issue “to see if there’s any other remedy.”

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown responded to Fuchs’ and Glanz’s concern by asking whether with collective investment comes collective benefit. “How would you define citizenship?” she queried.

“Is that the question here? I’m saying that I’ve done that. And now I’m saying that there should be a fairness,” Glantz retorted.

Next Steps

Affected property owners will be receiving another mailing informing them of BID’s proposal for charter renewal, by August. A second public hearing before the Rules Committee will take place in September.

BID will hold its next monthly meeting at Upsala on July 10.

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