A City Council committee on Wednesday approved a package of rezoning bills pushed by Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell in the final weeks of her 27-year career — despite the objections of her successor, Jamie Gauthier, who said her colleagues-to-be should wait to make changes in the West Philadelphia district until she takes office.
The Rules Committee unanimously approved seven of the eight zoning bills Blackwell introduced three weeks ago, at the last Council meeting where members could propose zoning changes before their current term ends and four new members take office in January. Blackwell on Wednesday withheld the eighth, a rezoning of an area in Cedar Park, after neighbors disagreed over the bill.
“When people are ready to move on issues like remapping and zoning and you can, you do it,” Blackwell said Wednesday. “There are myriad issues in West and Southwest [Philly] that she’ll have to deal with. She’ll see.”
Gauthier, who defeated Blackwell in the Democratic primary, said she plans to launch a comprehensive remapping of the 3rd Councilmanic District once she takes office.
“I see remapping as a way of both shaping future development and as a way of making sure people have a say,” Gauthier said. “This is not the way that I envision that happening. It’s rushed, and I don’t feel like thoughtful legislation is passed in that way.”
Blackwell’s career-twilight zoning blitz was first reported by WHYY’s PlanPhilly.
None of the zoning changes drew opposition at Wednesday’s committee hearing, and most of the bills are noncontroversial measures that limit development to the types of structures that already exist on the blocks involved.
Thanks to the practice of councilmanic prerogative — the unwritten rule for land use decisions in which all of Council defaults to the wish of the member who represents the area — the bills Blackwell chose to advance are all but guaranteed passage.
Zoning, land use, and development were central campaign issues in Gauthier’s upset of Blackwell in May. Gauthier, who has a master’s degree in city planning and was most recently executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, criticized Blackwell for handling development questions on a case-by-case basis, which opponents of the prerogative have long said can breed corruption.
Blackwell predicted that Gauthier will ultimately make similar decisions when it comes to land use because district Council members’ decisions are driven by constituents’ concerns.
“My guess is she’ll end up being where I was, because our job is to serve the public," Blackwell said, “and if you serve the public, you kind of generally end up in the same place.”
Gauthier opposes the current use of prerogative, saying that while district Council members should be the primary actors in decisions about their constituents’ properties, other members should step in to prevent inappropriate decisions.
She said Wednesday that she didn’t bother to ask other Council members to block Blackwell’s bills, in part because she knew they wouldn’t buck the tradition of prerogative and because they respect their departing colleague.
“I haven’t made an explicit request that it be put off, but honestly I didn’t get the sense that that would be a fruitful thing to do or that that would be honored,” Gauthier said.
Gauthier added that despite this episode, she won’t be holding a grudge against other Council members come January.
“I had great conversations with my future colleagues over the summer and over the fall,” she said. “I respect the relationship that they have with Councilwoman Blackwell.”