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Land bank nears fruition in City Council

From today's Daily News:

SHE SAID IT was a day to "make history," and after months of talks, Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez likely will get her land bank before the year's end - but not without a few concessions.

City Council yesterday made big strides toward establishing a land bank when it approved amendments to Sanchez's bill that brings the legislation a step closer to passage.

With more than 40,000 vacant and blighted properties in the city, the land bank would repurpose blighted and tax-delinquent properties that otherwise sit idle.

For months, Sanchez grappled with Council President Darrell Clarke over what kind of oversight Council members would have over development in their districts. But it was tough to get any Council member to call the deal a victory for Clarke, who steadfastly pushed for more Councilmanic involvement and ultimately got his way.

"We're not in the micromanagement business," he said yesterday. "We're into a transparent legislative process as it relates to the operation of the land bank."

Sanchez caved to several of Clarke's demands, such as keeping the Vacant Property Review Committee, essentially a Council supervisory board that must approve land transfers.

Currently, acquisitions and dispositions of land often get ensnarled in red tape from city agencies, such as the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp., the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development. Under the new system, all transactions would be housed under the land bank with a nine-month deadline.

"I believe that once we establish the policies and timelines, I think there are simultaneous decisions that can be made to ensure that our goal at keeping this at a minimum of nine months can be met," Sanchez said. "We spend too much time talking about what we don't want, and we have to look at this as an opportunity to plan about what we want to do in every single neighborhood."

The passage of the amendments represents the Clarke-Sanchez compromise. The bill is expected to pass at next week's Council meeting, the last of 2013.

Also in Council yesterday, Clarke introduced a Nutter administration bill to sell the parking garage beneath LOVE Park to the Chicago company InterPark for $29.6 million.

Clarke had held up the mayor's legislation, and this week he revealed his vision for a revamping of the 26,000-square-foot park to include seven restaurants and a new performance stage.

The administration also wants the park to be renovated, and has budgeted $16.5 million for it. But Clarke wants to lease the rights to redo the park to InterPark or another private firm.

"Here's an opportunity to create revenue from that particular venue to pay for the restoration of the actual park," Clarke said.

The park, at 15th Street and JFK Boulevard, is in Clarke's district. He said he hoped the new design of the park would generate more than $2 million annually.