Council President Darrell Clarke on Thursday postponed moving his bill to create a Neighborhood Improvement District in North Philadelphia that many longtime residents had criticized for not including them in the planning process.
Asked why he was withholding the bill that he had worked so hard to gain support for, Clarke responded:
"It's not ready."
Clarke said he will continue to meet with residents and organizations as well as developers to try to come up with a solution to the problems that residents said are plaguing the community.
Even though Clarke announced that he was withholding the bill, the crowd stayed at the Rules Committee hearing for nearly three hours. They repeated complaints about contractors who dump construction debris on vacant lots, mix cement in the street and fail to hire African-Americans from the neighborhood.
Council is expected to end its current session on June 21 and Clarke indicated that the bill may not be back on the table before then.
After the hearing, Clarke also told reporters that he had placed a moratorium on selling city-owned land for development within the NID's proposed boundaries around Temple University's campus, until such time as he can work out a way to assure nonprofit developers that they could also have an opportunity to create more affordable housing for the community.
The NID bill would levy an extra 7 to 10 percent tax assessment to landlords and business-property owners, which was expected to generate $450,000 for services, like sidewalk cleaning and safety patrols.
Residents at Thursday's hearing said that they are all for clean streets, but said that the current bill is not the answer.
Longtime activist Vivian VanStory said the problem is that the bill was a product of meetings between Clarke and outside real-estate developers that did not provide an opportunity for community residents to take part in the planning process.
"Our new overseers promise clean streets and private security patrols," VanStory said. "Progress to them means double lattes available on every street corner. It means my neighborhood will be an amusement district for college students. But it won't be my neighborhood any more. It will belong to outsiders who reside in Gladwynne, Lafayette Hills and Brooklyn, N.Y., anywhere but North Philadelphia."
State Sen. Shirley M. Kitchen also testified that she is upset with the bill.
"I'm sick and tired of plans being made about this area and not letting me know about it as the state senator," Kitchen said.
"I live in North Philadelphia, not used to live there or I grew up there, I still live there now."
Jessica Cifaldi, who owns several rental properties, said the bill does not comply with state tax laws because it would apply the additional assessment to only nonowner-occupied properties.
"On a block with 42 property owners, only three owners will be taxed under the NID, while everyone will enjoy the benefits of cleaner streets," Cifaldi said.
Clarke said he proposed the NID because the Department of Licenses and Inspections doesn't have the staff to keep an eye on contractors who break city laws.
Herb Reid, a spokesman for the Temple Area Property Association, which had supported the NID district, did not return calls for comment last night.
Nick Pizzola, a landlord in North Philadelphia and one of the leaders of the Temple Area Property Association, said the NID is "the best hope for a solution."
"The landlords present at [Thursday's] hearing believe that with every hearing and community meeting that occurs, people are gaining a better understanding of the NID and opposition is diminishing," he said. "People want problems to be solved and the NID is the best hope for a solution. The moratorium on selling city land has been in place for over a year and that is understandable while the issues of student behavior, and neighborhood cleanup are being addressed."
Contact Valerie Russ at 215-854-5987 or email@example.com.