The role and inclusiveness of the Charles Village Community Benefits District came under debate last night in a town meeting on whether the four-year initiative should be renewed.
The session at the Homewood Friends Meeting on North Charles Street - with neighborhood resident and former National Public Radio personality Lisa Simeone as host - was prompted by a bill before the City Council to keep the benefits district in operation for another four years.
Covering 100 blocks and about 14,000 people, the district collects an extra property tax from businesses and homeowners, according to Dan Klocke, executive director.
Though Charles Villagers voted in favor of creating the district in 1994 when the neighborhood's fortunes were plummeting, several residents have said there is not enough direct representation on the board, which is mostly appointed instead of elected.
"We have the opportunity tonight to take stock of where we are," said Frank Jannuzi, president of the quasi-public authority. "This is a unique experiment in urban revitalization. There's nothing like it anywhere."
A chorus of criticism came from several residents opposed to the district's reauthorization. They complained that renters and those who reside south of 25th Street are ignored by the district's sanitation and safety crews.
"Come on down, we have no safety or sanitation," Annie Chambers said during the debate.
Jannuzi responded, "I apologize to you. We'll try to serve you better." To that, the crowd of at least 125 erupted in applause.
Others wondered whether the benefits district has far exceeded its original purpose by expanding into community development projects.
In addition to its original mission to concentrate on crime and grime, it has been active in courting public and private funds for community development projects, such as house and streetscape beautification.
It also commissioned a master plan for the community. In the fall, it led a campaign in favor of creating an urban-renewal district on the south side of Charles Village.
As proof that the village's fortunes are on the rise, Klocke and others pointed to the long-vacant "Census" building at 26th and Howard streets, a vintage industrial building that was recently acquired by a developer and will be turned into 90 loft apartments.
"What that will mean for the west side of Charles Village, it will be amazing," Klocke said.