Business owners in the Briergate business district have been working with local officials to renovate the infrastructure of their area and a dispute erupted among them at a public hearing over funding Sept. 23 at a meeting of the Highland Park City Council.
Some of the property owners are more than willing to pay additional property taxes to enhance the improvements while others believe they will be best off to handle the changes themselves.
“The property owners are assessing a levy on themselves,” Mayor Nancy Rotering said of the special service area which will be created. If half the property owners and registered voters in the area vote for the levy it becomes fact. There are no voters.
Briergate is primarily the area comprised of Old Skokie and Old Deerfield Roads beneath the Central Avenue overpass above Highway 41.
Including businesses like Craftwood Lumber and Williams Ski & Patio as well as Toys R Us and Jewel-Osco, the area produces the significant sales tax, according to Teresa Greco, one of the property owners who spoke.
The project, which is part of the City’s overall long range capital improvement plan, will involve repaving the roads, redoing the sewers and bringing gravel areas now used for parking within City requirements. It is not yet a certainty.
Should the project happen and the localized levy be imposed, those property owners will be paying for the newly created parking spaces on the east side of Old Skokie Road. They are currently gravel and not legal spaces, according to Craftwood owner David Brunjes.
“We’ve been meeting over a two-year period,” Councilwoman Alyssa Knobel said. “It (the self imposed taxes) was an initiative brought on by the owners.” Not all of them are in favor now.
Greco was one of four people who spoke against the proposal. No one spoke in favor at the meeting though it has support from Mark Williams of the company bearing his name and Brunjes.
“If the City can do this for me at the price they’re offering I’d take it in a minute,” Brunjes said. Based on calculations he has made, he thinks it will be more costly for property owners to make their own improvements at their own locations.
Some of Craftwood’s neighbors have a different idea. “It’s the second highest sales tax producing area for the City,” Greco said. “The City should help with growth and give us a break in this area.”
Former Mayor Ray Geraci, who spoke on behalf of property owner Frank Vena, believes the plan needs to be developed with more specificity. “We need some clarity about what the City would represent it would do,” Geraci said.
When Williams heard about the protests, he was surprised and displeased. “We’ve been meeting regularly for three years on the whole process,” he said. “They’re not in favor of it now that our collective efforts have come to a possible solution,” he added referring to those who spoke against the self assessed tax at the meeting.
After the votes are counted, the Council has tentatively set Dec. 2 as the date for final approval.