Hillsborough Street board mulls policy for tax district

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 7, 2014 

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— The board responsible for Hillsborough Street’s special tax district could formalize guidelines for which properties pax the tax, following controversy about whether to include a city councilman’s home.

Hillsborough Street Community Services Corp. board members had disagreed about including Councilman Russ Stephenson’s property on Oberlin Road. Stephenson’s historic home sits amid offices and other commercial property and carries an office and institutional zoning label.

In pushing for Stephenson’s property to be taxed, board chairman Kevin Jennings pointed to a “non-official policy of excluding residential property within the (Business Improvement District) – except when the properties are in line with other BID-included property.”

However, he later joined the board in voting unanimously to approve the proposed district boundaries – boundaries that exclude Stephenson’s home.

Properties to the north, south and west of Stephenson are slated for inclusion in the tax district. But the councilman notes that the property immediately across Oberlin Road isn’t part of the district, meaning his exclusion doesn’t leave a doughnut hole.

Another board member, Nina Szlosberg-Landis, said the confusion shows that the policy should be on paper.

“Particularly in a public process, you’ve got to have a written, agreed-upon policy,” she said. “Otherwise, it can be perceived as being applied unfairly.”

After facing criticism for opting out, Stephenson said he thinks a formal policy is a “good idea.”

Szlosberg-Landis thinks owner-occupied residential properties shouldn’t be in the district because they’d see little benefit. The tax pays for services geared toward businesses, including special events and festivals, street cleaning and security patrols.

“I don’t know that it really makes sense for the residential,” she said.

Plenty of residential properties are already in the tax district, but most are apartments, duplexes and other rentals. But at least one property currently in the district shares a characteristic with Stephenson’s: a duplex on Groveland Avenue that, according to public records, is owned by one of its residents. Stephenson and his family live on the Oberlin Road property, but they also have two rental units.

Jennings said those attributes factored into the debate. “The internal discussion was frankly, there’s not a good reason” to leave Stephenson out of the district, he added.

If the city council approves the district’s expansion toward Cameron Village, the Hillsborough Street agency’s Clean and Safe staffers will likely still provide litter pick-up and security patrols in front of Stephenson’s home.

“We really looked at who was going to benefit by our program,” board member Ted Van Dyk said, adding that the properties were mapped using zoning boundaries.

Not everyone on the board thinks a formal policy will solve the problem. “There are still going to be times and examples when properties are going to be dealt with on an individual basis,” Jennings said.

The Raleigh City Council will hold a public hearing on the new tax district boundaries at their June 3 meeting.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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