Downtown Mall Community Improvement District boundaries

A special tax district for the city’s urban centerpiece will not be created this year now that the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville has withdrawn its request.

The association had asked that the City Council levy a 13-cent tax on property owners in the Downtown Mall area. State law allows for community improvement districts to pay for additional services and infrastructure in addition to those provided by the city government.

However, a committee has decided to not pursue the idea at this time.

“The community improvement district committee believes we should postpone any forward movement on the [district] until after [opponents have] had a chance to secure universally desired safety enhancements,” wrote Mark Brown, owner of the Charlottesville Parking Center.

Brown’s comments came in the form of a prepared presentation, obtained by Charlottesville Tomorrow, that was scheduled to be delivered to City Council on Monday. That presentation had not occurred by press time.

“It is essential prior to going forward with any proposed [improvement district] that the city of Charlottesville clearly and definitively define what level of spending the proposed district can expect now and in the future from the City,” Brown said.

If enacted, the district’s expenditures would be governed by a new non-profit organization made up of property owners.

The Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville circulated a draft budget of $428,000 for the first fiscal year and proposed the majority of it be spent on management, promotion and marketing. A quarter of the money would go towards additional lighting, security officers and extra cleaning.

Such districts have been used across Virginia to revitalize urban areas.

The Rosslyn Business Improvement District in Arlington County covers a 17-block area along the Potomac River immediately opposite Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

“Our work is to define, enhance and continually improve Rosslyn,” said Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn association. “We do that for a wide variety of stakeholders. People who work here, people who live here, those that visit and those that do business here.”

Burick said when the Rosslyn district was first created in 2003, the initial goal was to make the urban area feel “clean and safe” and additional funds were needed to ensure that would happen.

Rosslyn is just one of several communities in Arlington, but it cannot raise its own revenue by becoming a town because the county is too large to be subdivided under Virginia law.

“In the urban core, we really needed some more beautification efforts and that was the focus when we first started,” Burick said. Since then the district has evolved to provide urban design services to developers, to put on and advertise community events and to assist homeless people in the area.

Burick said people who want to start a business improvement district should make sure they have the needs of those who would be taxed in mind, as well as the political support from those who will be assessed.

“It’s really important to get everyone on the same page and understand what’s going to make the area successful now and in the future,” Burick said.

In 2014, the Rosslyn district took in over $4 million on an assessment of $0.078 per $100 of assessed value.

A 27-member board of directors decides how the money is to be spent, but their meetings are not subject to Virginia’s open meetings laws because it is a public-private partnership.

The effort to create a community improvement district in Charlottesville dates back to 2013 after a series of work sessions about improving safety in the downtown area. The council agreed last September to loan money to the Downtown Business Association to study the issue.

They hired Jeff Sadler of the firm LeadActLocal to prepare an ordinance and to gain support from property owners.

However, a committee met with property owners last Thursday and Brown opted to wait until more support could be obtained.

“It is essential prior to going forward with any proposed community improvement district that the City of Charlottesville clearly and definitively define what strategies if any it intends to pursue,” Brown wrote.