The otherwise-divided audience at the first public hearing on Easton's proposed Neighborhood Improvement District could agree on one thing: Larry Holmes.
The former heavyweight champ got wild applause from the standing-room-only crowd at the Crayola Factory when his lawyer mentioned his accomplishments.
Attorney Joe Corpora was speaking Wednesday night on Holmes' behalf against the NID, which would assess downtown property owners a fee to help pay for the Easton Main Street and Ambassadors program.
Corpora said Holmes would pay thousands of dollars a year for his property on the street that bears his name, but see none of the benefits from the NID.
"Let’s not drive Larry Holmes off of Larry Holmes Drive," he told city council, which held the meeting at the Crayola Factory to accommodate the crowd.
A number of NID opponents held the same sentiment, asking why they should pay for something that they wouldn't benefit from.
"The people who are benefitting the most should be the ones who are footing the majority of the bill," said Randi Kaplan Dellavechia, whose family's business has been downtown for 88 years.
The Greater Easton Development Partnership -- which would oversee the NID with the help of an advisory council of residents in the district -- has been exploring the idea since 2009.
The NID would have an annual budget of $308,000, with two thirds of its money going to the Ambassadors, and the other third for the Main Street Initiative.
'Concerns and questions'
No decisions were made Wednesday night; city council said it will take months for the issue to be decided.
"I have a lot of my own concerns and questions," Mayor Sal Panto told the audience. He and council will host a meeting at 6 p.m. next Tuesday to discuss ideas and concerns about the NID.
The NID won't be approved by acclamation. Rather, if 40 percent file an objection to it, then it won't go forward.
That aspect of the plan -- among others -- was troubling to writer and publisher Laini Abraham, who suggested it instead go on the ballot. She also objected to the idea that only property owners -- she rents her residence and office space downtown -- would get to decide.
"Only property owners get to vote. I don’t know what that is. That sounds like the 18th century to me," Abraham said.
Her comments were interrupted by the mayor, who objected to her characterization of the GDEP as a second branch of government in Easton.
Kris Ungvarsky, who owns two properties downtown, told council the city needs to put residents before businesses. At this, Mike Krill, who is running for mayor on a "neighborhoods first" platform -- and who opposes the NID -- pumped his fist.
Not everyone objected to the NID. Mark Mulligan, the developer behind the Silk Mill and Pomeroy's projects and the new owner of the National Building, characterized it as a necessary evil. No one wants to pay extra he says, but a lot of people seemed to want the programs the NID would pay for.
"We need to continue this level of service," said Mulligan, who has served on a committee looking at the establishment of a Business Improvement District in Flemington, NJ.
He said the commitment to a "clean and safe" downtown was what helped turn New York City around.
"Does anybody remember Manhattan in the 70s? Do you know how they cleaned it up?" Mulligan asked.
"They shipped all the bums here," responded an audience member.
Jonathan Davis, who owns Pearly Baker's as well as other downtown properties, also said he supported the NID. Like Mulligan, he said it was a necessary evil.
"I really, really wish, we did not need a NID. I wish people didn’t urinate on the streets. I wish there weren’t drug dealers on the corners," Davis said.
Having the Ambassadors around curbs those problems. Davis said such programs are part of living in a community: you may not always use what you pay for.
I pay tens of thousands of dollars in taxes, and I don’t have kids in the schools, and I don’t use the pools," he said. "I’ve never even seen the pools!"
'I Have About 26 Questions'
Reaction among members of city council was just as mixed.
"I have about 26 questions," Councilman Mike Fleck said.
He blasted the GEDP for waiting until the last minute and said he won't be pressured. "This is something that should have been worked on a long time ago. Not at the last minute," Fleck said. "I'm not happy with the stakeholders that have put us in that position."
And Councilman Ken Brown said he's been walking the city and talking to residents, and has come away with serious concerns, especially with the way they were notified.
"I do not see this city without a Main Street or Ambassadors," said Councilwoman Sandra Vulcano. "We have to find a way t keep this going. Maybe we do have to extend this to the entire city. I don't know."
If you have questions or comments about the NID, but didn't get a chance to air them Wednesday, you can always attend next week's workshop, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.