Condo owners balk at SSA plan

Staff Writer

Hyde Park residents who live within the recently proposed special service area boundaries in buildings without any retail component expressed their frustration at a lack of inclusion on Thursday night.

The SSA is largely focused on 53rd Street improvements but stretches beyond that retail corridor. An SSA would levy an additional property tax on the buildings within a defined space. The SSA advisory committee said that the proposed map they’ve drawn is 95 percent business and mixed-use properties and the remaining properties were only included to provide contiguous access to adjacent businesses.

SSA advisory committee chair Jim Poueymirou said an SSA could solve 53rd Street’s parking problems and help with business retention, snow removal, street beautification and other local needs.

Funds collected from the SSA, which has an estimated budget of just under $400,000 per year, would be collected along with each property’s regular tax bill but would only be spent within the area.

“At a time when federal, state and local monies are not available to provide services, that maybe in the past we were accustomed to, we have to look to ourselves to figure out what it is we need to do to go ahead and make the improvements that we want,” Pouymirou said.

The SSA Advisory Committee currently consists of Hyde Park area business owners but no home owners who do not own a business.

“I don’t see many people on this list [of advisory board members] that are only condo owners. Everybody that is on this list seem to be business owners. So how are the condo owners … represented?” asked Yvonne Brown-Watson, a retiree who owns a condo on the 5300 block of South Cornell Avenue.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said if the Chicago City Council approves the creation of the SSA, a board of commissioners would be created from a pool of applicants that could include condo or home owners that do not have a business interest in the area.

“There should be someone that represents condominium owners on the advisory council,” Hairston said. “I think the point is they want to be included at the beginning and then after it’s established we say ‘apply to be a commissioner.’ I think that’s what they’re hearing.”

Condo owners spoke, saying that they have no interest in being included in the SSA, which could raise their property taxes by $400 per year, when the benefits of an SSA don’t affect their buildings.

Advisory committee member George Rumsey said the reason condo owners were not included at the formation of the committee was because the boundaries were not drawn yet and no one knew that residential buildings would be included at all.

Hairston also addressed concerns that 53rd Street is too violent and not policed well enough to merit an additional property tax, which could bump the tax rate up in some cases from 5.455 percent to 6.105 percent in the first year, or as high as 6.405 percent at its maximum.

“This is where an SSA is perfect,” Hairston said. “Because the SSA can use those dollars for private security on 53rd Street and 55th Street and they can have their cars patrolling up and down. They can have foot patrol. They can have bike patrol, just like I do on 71st Street. The community issues, that’s where an SSA really is an advantage.”