Its members provide hundreds of jobs and tens of thousands of dollars in taxes and fees, yet a representative of the Ward Hill Business Park Association says the group is under-served and under-appreciated by city officials.
The association's discontent became widely known earlier this summer, when city officials admitted that a fire alarm system meant to protect businesses there had not been working properly.
Sandi York, a spokeswoman for the association, said the discovery that Ward Hill businesses had been paying for a safety system that wasn't always operational is just one example of systematic abuse of the industrial park's business association by the city.
The city has allocated $60,000 to fix the alarm lines throughout Ward Hill in the coming year and will offer a refund policy if the system suffers blackouts in the future.
But York and other association members say their businesses are threatened even more by zoning changes recently approved for the city's business parks.
Passed unanimously by the City Council on Aug. 10, the ordinances allow nonretail businesses larger than 5,000 square feet permission to operate in any of the city's industrial parks without special permission.
But recreational facilities and large-scale medical businesses would be required to get special permits from the city in order to operate within the park at a cost of up to $5,000.
York said that the Ward Hill Business Park association had pressured Mayor James Fiorentini for years to re-examine the city's zoning rules to make it easier for such businesses to locate in the industrial parks, but had ultimately ignored their requests when approving the new ordinance.
"No matter what we have to say, it doesn't matter," York said. "The mayor did what he wanted to do in the end."
York said the more restrictive the ordinances, the more difficult it is to find tenants for the park.
"I'm not sure if the departments in the city feel like we have money trees," she said.
But councilors said the rewritten ordinances strike the proper balance.
The rules represent a fair set of regulations to encourage business all throughout the city, and not just Ward Hill, they said. "It's accomplishing good things and some progress is better than none," said Councilor Sven Amirian. "To strike this down would be a setback."
Robert Scatamacchia, who supported the ordinance, said the special permits requirement will prevent smaller business and retail stores, which he believes should be downtown, from using space in the business parks. That space should be used for larger manufacturing firms, he said.
"We don't want a small company over there," Scatamacchia said. "These little mom and pop businesses Ward Hill is talking about are the ones we want downtown."
The city's wait and see approach for bringing manufacturing businesses back to the park wastes valuable time that could be spent bringing new businesses to the city, York said.
"We can't wait 10 to 20 years," she said. "We're trying to create revenue."
York said the city has snubbed the Ward Hill association in other ways, including its exclusion from the city wide single stream recycling program and increased fees by the city for keeping sprinklers in park buildings.
York said that the lack of a recycling program and the new trash disposal regulations that followed in the wake of the program's establishment as quickly becoming a source of concern among park members.
She hoped the city could provide recycling to the park as it does for businesses within the mercantile area, possibly on a biweekly basis with pickup at a central location.
"I don't think this would be a huge cost to the city," York said. "As long as the businesses have a place to put their recycling the city can have the money it generates."
But Fiorentini said recycling for the park would cost the city between $90,000 and $100,000.
"Frankly, business have to fund this on their own," he said. "It is not something that can or should go into the city budget."
The mayor said he would be more than willing to set up a meeting between the park, the city, and Capitol Waste, the company that hauls the city's trash.
City councilors, however, seemed shocked by York's complaint about the city's sprinkler system.
York said park businesses pay anywhere between $600 and $720 annually for keeping sprinklers, which many rarely use, on their property. Park businesses are also required to pay $300 to $500 for tests of the systems.
"I'm asking where the money is going," said York.
According to Robert Ward, the deputy Public Works director, the fee generates $200,000 a year that goes back into the water department.
Ward said the fees have increased gradually since 1982 and the city currently charges a fee based upon an individual building's pipe sizes. The money raised from the fee provides services ranging from hydrant maintenance to record keeping, he said.
Ward said the department is considering billing quarterly rather than annually in the future.
After hearing York's comments, a number of councilors decried the regulations and taxes businesses within Ward Hill have been operating under.
"It's a culture of fees and fines," said Councilor Bill Ryan. "You name the entity and we're trying to get money out of it."
Councilor David Hall said the tax revenue the Ward Hill park produces for the city should give its tenants a "matter of right" to preferential city treatment.
"This is the biggest asset I've seen to the city," Hall said. "Every dime you pay goes into the general fund."
York said she'll be waiting to see what the city does.
"I hate to say it but I'm glad I don't live here," said York.
Fiorentini said he still has an "open door" policy with the park, but argued city can't be beholden to the Ward Hill Association's needs.
"We don't work for special interest groups," Fiorentini said. "I can't give them everything they want."