Sep 132010

As part of their effort to revitalize their neighborhood, the Freret Business and Property Owners Association is contemplating creating a fee-based security district similar to others in the city.

“Your quality of life is so greatly enhanced by having a vehicle patrolling the neighborhood,” said association marketing director Kellie Grengs as she presented the idea at a Monday night meeting. “You all of a sudden have another pair of eyes on the neighborhood.”

State Rep. Walt Leger

The first step of creating a security district would be defining its boundaries, said state Rep. Walt Leger, whom the association invited to the DuMois Gallery on Monday to explain the concept. The state legislature would then have to call an election to ask residents inside those boundaries if they wanted to such a district with the ability to levy a per-parcel property tax. If the ballot question passed, a board of locals would be seated, and they would determine the fee for each property and hire a private company to patrol it.

Neighborhoods around the city have been using such districts to augment their security for years — the Twinbrook Security District is one example, while the Upper Hurstville Security District is voting on whether to renew its district next month. Leger said that in some cases, the business community becomes the only opposition. “Taxation without representation,” he summarized their complaints in earlier instances. “Businesses were saying, ‘I don’t live in this neighborhood, I wasn’t able to vote.'”

That, Grengs said, is why she wanted to begin the discussion within the business association. Because so much property in the Freret area is city owned, schools, cemetaries, or otherwise doesn’t pay taxes, Grengs said she doubted that around-the-clock security would be a feasible starting point. Instead, she proposed extra patrols for eight hours a day, perhaps, not only for the residents but also to make Freret Street shoppers feel more comfortable.

Leger encouraged the association to broaden the discussion beyond the meetings’ borders, going door-to-door with what he termed basic democracy. If a sense of community support for the idea emerges, he said, he’ll shepherd the bill through the legislature.

“I just want to help you guys accomplish it if that’s what you want to do,” Leger said. “But if people don’t want it, that’s fine.”

Leger also drew the property owners’ attention to another ballot question, an amendment to the state constitution that voters will decide Nov. 2 concerning the sale of blighted properties. If a property is a threat to public safety and the owner refuses to address it, the city can go through an arduous process to take that property away from its owner and clean it up. After this happens, however, the city is required to offer that property for sale back to its original owner — essentially, Leger said, allowing the original owners to begin neglecting it again.

“You never get the property into the hand of people like you folks who actually want to do something positive with it,” Leger said. His constitutional amendment would allow the city to skip that final step of offering it to the original owner, and instead put it on the open market. “Some people think it’s a way for the government to get people’s property. But it’s not changing the way government expropriates property; we’re just changing the way to put it back into commerce.”

Even without legislative help, the business association is working on both the blight and security issues. Leger encouraged the business owners to compile a list of the most neglected properties along Freret Street so that he can begin pressuring the city to act on them, and Grengs said that a part of a $25,000 grant that the association was just awarded will be used to hire a security officer to begin a few hours’ patrol on Saturdays.

That grant money will be stretched over two years and coupled with $120-per-year dues that the association voted to institute Monday night to pay for a range of marketing activities, many of which have yet to be determined, Grengs said.

“Branding and promoting our corridor will not happen with one ad in print media, unfortunately,” Grengs said. Much of the marketing will direct customers to the association website,, where member businesses will be listed. “The more we can market the umbrella, the more we can drive business to the businesses.”

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