Realtors group rallies against Lawrenceville BID tax

Business owners would pay fee toward street improvements

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The Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh has launched a campaign to defeat a proposed Business Improvement District in Lawrenceville.

The group, which goes by the acronym RAMP, held a rally with nearly 50 people earlier this week at Poillucci Plumbing Inc., where several business owners said an additional assessment would hurt them.

Ruthanne Belus, RAMP's president, said the association has "for the past 102 years been a voice for private property rights."

For the BID to fail, 40 percent of the 350 affected property owners must send a letter of opposition to the city clerk's office by Thursday.

Residential property owners are not included in a Business Improvement District.

Ryan Barton, RAMP's government affairs director, said he has enough signatures to defeat it.

A BID is a designated area in which commercial property owners pay an assessed tax for services beyond what the city can and does provide. These include streetscape improvements and maintenance to holiday lights and flower baskets.

If it would go through, the BID would stretch from 34th to 57th streets on Butler Street and from 33rd to 34th and 40th to 45th streets on Penn Avenue.

Matthew Galluzzo, executive director of the Lawrenceville Corp., said the blocks follow the historic Main Street and the intervals are largely residential.

All business property owners within the proposed district were supposed to have received notice of the proposal late last year from the city clerk, but Jean D'Alessandro, who owns D'Alessandro Funeral Home on Butler Street, said some people had not.

"We knocked on doors and asked people what they thought about the proposed BID and some people didn't know what we were talking about," she said. "They didn't get a letter."

The Lawrenceville Corp. initiated the process and would administer the BID. An advisory board of affected property owners would control use of the tax.

But the BID depended on Pittsburgh City Council to advance. Council approved it after months of neighborhood meetings and mailings, Mr. Galluzzo said.

He said a majority of the people who spoke at a council hearing supported the BID.

He said that RAMP "seems to be in mission creep, interfering to derail an initiative that would be great for the neighborhood."

Mr. Galluzzo said the BID tax -- $10 per year per linear feet of property -- would raise $174,400 in the first year.

"It is not a tax in the sense that it goes into the general fund," he said. "Every dollar comes back to the neighborhood for services.

"This is an economic development tool to increase property values, retain quality tenants and meet customer expectations. Those things create value for your buildings."

TJ Trucking & Auto is barely inside the edge of the proposed BID, in the 5600 block of Butler. Terry Johnson, the owner, estimated his BID assessment will be $2,600 in the first year.

"The size of the business doesn't indicate success," he said.

"There are attorneys [in 20-foot storefronts] making $200 an hour and I charge $70 to work on big trucks."

He has six employees.

"The Lawrenceville Corp. has done so many things to make Lawrenceville what it is, and we would back them on so many things but this is going to kill me. My property taxes have more than doubled. Now I would have another $2,600."

He said the benefits of a BID would not be as relevant to his business as to some.

"My customers are truck drivers. They don't care if there's a flower basket."

neigh_city - businessnews

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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