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Councilman says city might pay back scouts

Eviction over the group's policies is looking more certain, Darrell L. Clarke says. It spent large sums on its headquarters on city land.

With the Boy Scouts' eviction from their historic Logan Square property six months away, some on City Council are investigating whether the city should reimburse the scouts for major improvements to the 79-year-old landmark.

Councilman Darrell L. Clarke said yesterday that it was unlikely that a stalemate over the Boy Scouts' policy barring membership to openly homosexual or atheist individuals would be resolved, resulting in the ouster of the organization from its Beaux Arts headquarters at 22d and Winter Streets.

"The talks have not been fruitful," Clarke said, adding that he last met with scout representatives a week and a half ago. "My hope now, based on the significance of the capital improvements they've made in the building, is whether the city can compensate them to some degree."

That suggestion was well received by Mark Chilutti, vice chairman of the board of the Cradle of Liberty Council, which governs scouting in Philadelphia and parts of Montgomery and Delaware Counties.

"I certainly would not be opposed to that, absolutely," Chilutti said.

In 1928, City Council passed a resolution giving the scouts perpetual use of just under a half-acre near the Franklin Institute for $1 a year.

The scouts hired architect Charles Z. Lauder and built the structure for a reported $200,000.

Since then, the scouts have maintained the property and building, most recently spending $2.6 million for a 1994 renovation as well as $60,000 a year for maintenance.

"The bottom line is that we want to stay in Philadelphia, but we can't change the policy," Chilutti said. "That should be crystal clear to everybody by now. We are a franchisee of the national council and we can't change that."

One option not discussed is selling to the scouts the city-owned land on which the building sits.

Clarke confirmed that a sale had never been discussed, adding, "Given the property values in the area, I don't think they could afford it."

The city Board of Revision of Taxes says the property has a $736,600 market value, though that is likely lower than the site would bring on an open market. On the other hand, the historically certified 8,928-square-foot building could limit future uses.

A sale "should be considered," Chilutti said. "It may well be cheaper than reimbursing us for the improvements."

The scout oath affirms "an obligation to God," and the organization's employment application states the scouts "will not employ atheists, agnostics, [or] known or avowed homosexuals."

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that because the Boy Scouts is a private organization, it has a constitutional right to tailor its membership as it pleases.

It was a costly victory. Mainstream charities such as United Way dropped scout groups, and municipalities nationwide began reexamining decades-old pacts giving them preferential treatment.

Government officials also worried about liability for using taxpayer money to support or favor a private organization that discriminates.

In Philadelphia, that reexamination was fueled in part by the 2003 ouster by Cradle of Liberty Council of a Life Scout who publicly announced he was gay at a national convention here.

Last year, City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. wrote Cradle of Liberty officials that it was impossible to reconcile the scouts' policy with the city's antidiscrimination fair-practices law.

If the scouts do not renounce their policy, Diaz wrote, they must vacate the building on May 31 unless they agree to pay a "fair market rent" of $200,000 a year.

Cradle of Liberty Council officials have said they cannot afford the suggested rent, which would be the cost equivalent of 30 new Cub Scout packs or sending 800 needy children to summer camp.