Northampton returns $23,000 to property owners in ex-Business Improvement District's final chapter



Last modified: Saturday, December 19, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — In what looks to be the final chapter of Northampton’s former Business Improvement District, the city is returning around $23,000 collected by the BID last fall from property owners who had originally opted out of the organization.

“It’s been a hard year, to try to get it wound up and get everyone in agreement about the dissolution, but it’s over,” former BID chairman Charles Bowles said.

The BID was abruptly dissolved in November 2014, when Hampshire Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini ruled that it was not legally established in 2009 and “is and always has been null and void” — concluding a civil lawsuit filed by downtown property owners Alan Scheinman and Eric Suher. The decision came as a shock to many, prompting city officials to scramble to figure out what to do about the holiday lights program and other former BID tasks.

But the saga didn’t end there.

A federal court case, filed in U.S. District Court in Springfield in March 2013, was put on hold following the Superior Court decision. And for the past year, lawyers have been working behind the scenes to tie up loose ends.

The conclusion came this month, with an agreement that all the commercial properties that initially opted out, not just the plaintiffs, be reimbursed — amending the November 2014 ruling. On Thursday, parties filed a document asking that the federal case be dismissed as well, ending that process.

When the BID was first established in 2009, downtown commercial properties could choose whether to participate, and about 60 percent opted out. A 2012 change in state law made participation mandatory for all properties within a district’s boundaries, and in July 2014 the Northampton BID took a renewal vote, thus initiating around 165 commercial properties that had formerly opted out. These new members received their first bills in October 2014. Of these new members, 57 property owners that collectively owned 87 downtown properties, chose to pay the BID membership fees, Scheinman said.

Scheinman said though neither he nor Suher had paid membership fees when billed last fall, their goal was to ensure that those who did were reimbursed. “We were not going to rest until we got everyone their money back, period,” he said.

An amendment articulating that all members who originally opted out be repaid was filed in Hampshire Superior Court on Dec. 2, and the city issued a check Monday to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Alexandra Glover. Along with a check for $23,492.78, the city also returned around $5,000 in uncashed checks, Scheinman said.

“Getting from point A — the BID never existed — to point Z, where we ended up — this is the simplest way to resolve these issues — it wasn’t obvious how to get there,” Glover said. “After all these years of back and forth, I think the parties worked together to resolve the remaining issues.”

While the plaintiffs’ goal was to ensure the money was refunded, she said the resolution doesn’t reflect the time, energy and legal fees that have been invested in the effort through the years.

Overall, Bowles said he is disappointed with the outcome, because he thought the BID had developed the “right formula” to maintain Northampton’s downtown.

In its wake, the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce is collaborating with the city to launch the Downtown Northampton Association, which will rely on voluntary participation and be open to property owners, businesses and citizens throughout the city.

A year after the BID was disbanded, it can finally settle its affairs.

“The parties worked long and hard to arrive at an agreement that complied with the court’s letter and allowed the BID to wind up,” said Harry Miles, an attorney for the BID, evoking the adage that a good settlement leaves everyone dissatisfied. “We resolved the outstanding disputes and hopefully we can all get on with our business.”

Stephanie McFeeters can be reached at scmfeeters@gazettenet.com.


 


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy