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Township Council Takes Control Of Hamilton Street Business District’s Future

The Township Council is now the body in charge of the Hamilton Street business district Special Improvement Zone.

Thanks to a last-minute amendment to the ordinance making that so, the council’s status as the SID’s “district management corporation” is limited to two years.

Business and property owners included in the Hamilton Street SID are eligible to be named to a special advisory board that will consult with the council on SID matters, according to the ordinance approved at the council’s Feb. 11 meeting.

The so-called “sunset clause” was opposed by Councilman Carl R. A. Wright, (D-Ward 4) who was concerned that if nothing substantive happens in two years, the area will be left to rot.

Wright has been critical in the past of the former Hamilton Street Business and Community Corporation which, he said, did nothing in its 10 years of existence.

The HSBCC was disbanded late last year after Township Manager Bob Vornlocker discovered that, contrary to its bylaws, the group’s Board of Trustees never held an election for board members. Because of that, the only legitimate members of the board were those named by the Township Council.

As a result, the trustees board was disbanded, and the corporation’s executive director, former Mayor and U.S. Representative Mike Pappas, was let go.

An ad hoc committee was formed to look into the issue. The new management structure is the product of that committee.

Under the new structure, the council’s powers include the ability to hire employees, accept donations of money or land, fund the improvement of building exteriors and building rehabilitations, and “accept, purchase, rehabilitate, sell, lease or manage property in the district,” according to the ordinance.

The ordinance also creates a Hamilton Street Advisory Board, which would advise the council – as district management corporation – on matters related to the special improvement district and the DMC’s powers. The advisory board would also create its yearly budget and business plan, which would have to be approved by the council.

The advisory board voting members will be comprised of four property owners within the district, four owners or operators of business within the district, two residential property owners from the district and one other member.

The board’s non-voting members will be Ward 4 and 5 council members, another council member, the mayor, the township manager, and the township police chief, engineer, planning director and special projects manager.

Vince Dominach, the township’s principal planner, will lead the new organization.

Several Hamilton Street business owners showed up to the Feb. 11 meeting to voice their displeasure with the ordinance.

Geneva Hall, who said she owns a business on the street, said the new structure will take all control out of the hands of business owners.

“You’re going to decide what you deem is economically feasible for our street,” she said. “I feel that we’re losing control as to what we’d like to see in our community.”

Hall said she was also not please with the way advisory board members will be picked.

“You’ll pick and choose who you want on the board whteher or not they have our whole interest or not,” she said. “There have been people on this board for years and devoted a lot of their time to it, and it’s just, you’re off.”

Vornlocker said that staff will go door-to-door within the SID to tell people about the advisory board and how they can apply to be on it.

John Park, whose family owns a strip shopping center on Hamilton Street, said he was “puzzled” as to why the council was taking the action.

“I thought that what the boards were trying to do and what Mike Pappas was trying to do with the business owners and property owners, I thought we were moving in the right direction,” he said.

Mayor Brian Levine said the focus of the district management corporation will be the same, “to bring business to Hamilton Street.”

Councilman James Vassanella (D-Ward 5) suggested a sunset date of the end of 2015. The amendment survived a vote – voting against were Levine, Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 1) and Wright – but not before Wright had his say.

“This thing has been sitting there for a long time without any guidance,” he said of the SID. “Let me remind you that for 10 years this thing has sat out there, and the council did boo.”

If nothing happens now, he said, “I will shout from the rooftops, I will shout everywhere I can that this council has once again thrown away the fourth ward to have it just fade away, when we could do something we didn’t do something, so my residents are left to their own devices.

“Hamilton Street doesn’t have a lot of businesses,” he said. “The businesses that are on Hamilton start have been there forever and some of them make money and some of them don’t. As this thing goes down the road and we start picking up steam, and some of us want to throw it out with the bathwater and everything else, Carl Wright sitting down at the end, I’m going to have a whole lot of mouth then.”

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