Arrests, Boycott Over Northampton Business Promotion Plan

Northampton’s Business Improvement District, created last month by the city council, has endured significant opposition, including about half the potential property owners choosing not to join, a lawsuit alleging it was created in violation of state law, and a protest march through downtown which resulted in two arrests.

(A correction to an error in this article is in the "comments" section at the bottom of this page.)

Northampton’s District is one of several around the state in which property owners in a contiguous area elect to pay a fee to fund services for that area, including maintenance, physical improvements and tourism promotion. In Northampton, the District includes the downtown area and Smith College.
Supporters say the city needs these services now because a “bold approach is needed to ensure Northampton’s prominence as a destination and continued growth” due to a recent erosion of “the strong underpinnings of downtown”, according to the District’s website.

Kate Glynn, who owns Impish in Thorne’s Marketplace and A Child’s Garden on Main St, said she was “very pro-BID”. “I don’t think the Chamber of Commerce has the strength or the funds to drive enough business downtown as I would like, and hopefully the BID can help with that” Glynn said.

Opponents say the district is wasteful when Northampton faces a $6 million deficit, as the city is legally obligated to pay the district $35,000 a year, pay the Academy of Music $50,000 a year, purchase a street sweeper to share with the district and pay for its maintenance, fuel and housing costs.
There was also opposition to the additional burden district membership fees, which are one half of one percent of property valuation, or $500 for every $100,000, will place on businesses in the current recession. Only property owners can opt out of the district, meaning businesses that rent their retail space could be subjected to unwanted rent increases if their landlord joined the District.

Such concerns resulted in 267 out of 499 properties opting out of the district, according to documents available at City Hall. The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported 65 percent of commercial properties opted out.

One of these properties was State Street Food Store. Owner Richard Cooper opted out of the district because “a lot of the budget is going to marketing out of the area, and being a grocery store I wouldn’t really benefit from that. I would also have $13,000 a year in membership fees, which doesn’t really make sense for me.”

Some contend that the district is not only bad policy, but was created in violation of state law. Mass General Law.c.40O stipulates 60 percent of property owners in the proposed district area must sign a petition before public discussion of the district can begin. In calculating this 60 percent, Northampton counted a signature for each parcel (the city’s term for identifying properties) in the district area, rather than one signature per property owner. Those who filed the suit- downtown property owners Alan Scheinman, David Pesuit, and Eric Suher- said the city’s use of the “one signature, one parcel” system was improper.

Scheinman noted the law doesn’t say 60 percent of the parcels, it says 60 percent of the property owners. “If the BID proponents had interpreted the statue how it is clearly stated they would never have had enough signatures to go forward” he said. “They don’t have 60 percent of the owners, but they do have more than 60 percent of the parcels.”

Elizabeth Hahn of the Department of Housing and Community Development, a state agency, said the state recommends communities use the “one signature, one parcel” system because “BIDs are made up of the parcels in that district so every parcel has to be represented.”

The suit also alleges the city accepted illegible signatures, failed to verify independently of district supporters that the petition met legal requirements and that assenting signatures were collected before the district petition was drafted.
Teri Anderson, Northampton’s Economic Development Coordinator said the law doesn’t require the city to verify the person signing the petition is a property owner, only “that the [district] petitioners obtain a signature and for us to verify that a signature has been obtained.”

This interpretation of the law allowed Northampton to accept assents to the district petition for three parcels that gave only “Center Street” as the address, according to documents available at city hall.

Although the law does not explicitly mandate how communities should verify signatures, Scheinman said the verification methods used by Northampton were improper. If the lawsuit succeeds, he said the district would cease to exist, and clearer standards would be set for future district petitions in the state. A ruling on the suit could take anywhere from several months to over a year, according to Scheinman.
Opposition over the district has also come from the homeless advocacy group Poverty Is Not a Crime. According to the group, the district will gentrify downtown by removing low income renters and owners of businesses patronized by low-income people to make way for upscale luxury businesses and those who are whiter and more affluent, according to nobid.tk, an anti-District website maintained by PINAC.

A protest by the group on March 13 resulted in the arrests of two participants. David Beyer was charged with disorderly conduct while Arturo Castillon was charged with assault and battery on a police officer. Both individuals are minors, according to the Northampton police department.

According to Beatriz Bianco, another protester who witnessed both arrests, the police used “excessive” force. Bianco said before Jones was arrested, he was walking along the right side of Main St. with other protestors, who were flanked on their left by three police officers. Bianco said Jones was arrested after he “took one step over the left and sort of closer to where I was and three cops tackled him to the ground… he didn’t touch any of them”, according to Bianco.

According to the arrest report, Castillon refused repeated requests to get on the sidewalk and was arrested after he “pushed me [Officer Tim Satkowski] away from him with his left arm.”

Beyer was arrested while pushing Bianco’s wheelchair in the tunnel underneath the railroad tracks that run across Bridge St. According to Bianco, officers arrested Beyer after he repeatedly ignored requests to go onto the sidewalk, which is about two feet above the ground. Bianco said, “Out of solidarity to me he wasn’t going to climb up the wall to save his own ass.”

According to Bianco, the manner in which officers arrested Beyer could have caused her great harm. “We were going up a hill and they grabbed him off the back of my chair while he was pushing me and ripped his hands of the handlebars. And I felt myself just rolling backward.”

According to the arrest report, Beyer repeatedly refused to get on the sidewalk, and was arrested after “traffic was backed up as far as could be seen and people were coming out of the restaurants to see what was occurring.”

The Northampton Police Department refused to comment further on either arrest.

Comments

Thank you very much for

Thank you very much for pointing that mistake out. they should say Castillon, not jones. the only two people that were arrested were Castillon and Beyer.

I will get an answer to your

I will get an answer to your question ASAP. Thanks.

what?

Who is Jones? Why was the name Jones used to refer to Castillon?

mistake

thank you for pointing out that mistake. there is no jones, only Castillon. the name "jones" was left over from earlier editions of the story when i hadnt learned the names of those who were arrested. i used "jones" until i learned his name is "Castillon", but apparently forgot to edit some passages.

thank you again for helping me out.

chris

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