Supporters of a bill to create a district management authority for the promotion of downtown businesses, which was withdrawn by the Bel Air town commissioners, say the measure must be reconsidered.
A condition that the state Department of Housing and Community Developmentimposed for a $15,000 grant was that the town's commissioners must vote on creation of the commercial district.
"As we understand it, that is one of the conditions," said Elizabeth Carven, the town's community development administrator.
She said the other possibility is asking HCD for an exception, which is thecourse of action Aberdeen is pursuing. Like Bel Air, Aberdeen received a state grant, but the proposed commercial district authority was never voted on by the Aberdeen town commissioners.
The grant to Bel Air has been used to pay for a consultant's study, presentations tothe business community and other expenses. At present, the town has received $12,000 and is owed $3,000.
If the money is not received,the town will have to come up with $1,500 and the Bel Air Business Association will have to match that, according to town officials.
This week the business association, which has supported the measure, will meet with town officials to decide whether it should continue to pursue the special commercial district.
Opponents of the measure were vocal at the town commission meeting last Monday, but supporters of the commercial district said that most of the town's businesses haven't indicated their preferences.
Carven said about 70 percent ofthe town's 450 businesses failed to respond to a survey, and 10 percent of those who did said they didn't have an opinion. Of the 30 percent that responded, about 60 percent -- or about 90 of the businesses-- opposed the measure.
"What we have are a few vocal people who are chronic complainers overwhelming the discussion," said Lester Feinberg, president of the business association and ardent supporter of the commercial district. "Most business people seem to have a misunderstanding of what we are proposing."
Carol Deibel, Bel Air's planning director, said there are two major misconceptions that came up atMonday's meeting: That the commercial district will create another layer of government, and that the levy will go up each year.
She said that the town's only role will be to collect the annual assessment-- which ranges from $100 to a maximum of $250 -- and then pass it on to the town's business association, which will decide how to spend the money. The amount of the levy will be determined by businesses and not the government, Deibel said.
"What we are really talking about is a grass-roots democracy," said Feinberg. "The businesses will determine what the authority does and what level of assessment it should have.
"All we are asking is that it be given a try. If the businesses don't like it, we can terminate it after two years. In fact, there is a five-year sunset provision, which means that the town commissioners must affirmatively vote on it in five years if the authorityis to continue."