As you may be aware, Hudson River Park receives no city or state funding for operating and maintaining the park and its budget has been running a deficit. As a result, an organization called Friends of Hudson River Park has proposed that a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) be created to collect up to $10 million annually to fill the budget gap. This NID, which is the equivalent of a Business Improvement District (BID), would impose a legally enforceable annual assessment (a tax by any other name) on property owners living within several blocks of the park between Murray Street and 59th Street. The Friends group has sought support for its proposal from the three Community Boards that would be affected by this NID and is planning to submit a formal legislative proposal to the City Planning Commission and City Council as early as late April.
Our full Q& A on the HRP NID is here.
Our full Q& A on the HRP NID is here.
We oppose the creation of the NID for the following reasons:
1. It is unfair to ask 8,000 tax-lot owners to bear responsibility for up to a third of the park’s annual operating budget. A recent Friends survey found that 55 percent of those who use the park are not from the surrounding area and 48 percent do not even come from Manhattan. An entrance fee for park users would be more equitable but would rightly be considered abhorrent, so why is a tax on a select group of residents who may never use the park but happen to live in an arbitrarily determined “neighborhood” deemed more acceptable?
2. The proposed tax will be levied on people who cannot vote against its creation, violating a core principle of this nation that there shall not be taxation without representation. Specifically, individual homeowners and condo owners each get one vote, but owners of co-op apartments only get one vote for their entire building. Similarly, landlords can pass this assessment onto renters of commercial space and market-rate residential apartments the next time a lease is written, but tenants’ votes are not counted in determining whether there is broad support for this proposal. In addition, the onus is on opponents to stop it: for the City Council to reject the plan, at least 51 percent of property owners must object by filing a notarized copy of their deed with the City Clerk; otherwise, support is assumed.
4. According to the Friends literature, as much as 40 percent of the money that would be raised by this assessment will not go to supporting the park. Up to $500,000 a year, for instance, will be earmarked for unspecified community groups that now have a financial incentive to support this proposal.
5. The Friends marketing never mentions debt, but NID revenues can be borrowed against. The District Plan makes clear that your NID tax can be used to support borrowing and that could mean that no money goes to Hudson River Park upkeep. The plan envisions building one or more expensive new pedestrian bridges over the highway, which will have to be financed with NID debt. If that debt is variable rate and rates go up, debt service takes priority over all other expenses in the NID budget, including the money earmarked for HRP.
6. The timing of the proposed NID assessment is terrible. The NID will take $8 million to $10 million a year out of the pockets of property owners and commerical tenants near the Hudson River, many of whom have suffered serious financial hardship as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
7. The community is not well informed about this proposal. Although the Friends group likes to point out that it has held seven public meetings, they were poorly advertised and attendance was very limited. Moreover, many co-op owners in Community Board #1 said they never received any mailings from Friends prior to the two public meetings that were held in their district.
8. The NID (or BID) structure has never before been imposed on a NYC district where the residential property owners outnumber business property owners by six to one. If this NID is approved, it will instantly become the second-largest improvement district in the city, and it will be saddled with unique governance challenges. The governing board will have to reflect the reality that the proposed district is not, in fact, a neighborhood, but includes parts of three Community Boards, three City Council districts, two State Senate districts and three State Assembly districts. Until more details are developed about how the governance structure can adequately represent all the different real estate classes and disparate neighborhoods, this unwieldy proposal should not go forward.
9. The Friends of Hudson River Park say they have spent seven years developing this proposal. Yet they did not hire formal fundraising staff until last year. They insist the NID is the only way to move forward, but before they impose a new tax in perpetuity on our neighbors, other avenues, including a more robust voluntary membership program, should be more fully explored.