City Council members in Philadelphia already hold veto power over land development in their districts, due to the love-it-or-hate-it tradition known as "councilmanic prerogative."
For a few days, it looked as if Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell wanted to extend that power to potted plants.
A bill that Blackwell introduced Thursday would have prevented anyone from placing or maintaining a "bench, planter, fixture or other street furniture" on the sidewalk without a permit from the Department of Licenses and Inspections.
And to get that permit, L&I would have to "obtain a letter of support from the district Council person representing the area of the city where the bench, planter, fixture or street furniture will be located," according to Blackwell's bill.
This legislation did not go over well.
"It's their craziest idea yet," the urbanist political-action committee 5th Square wrote in a petition circulated Monday, urging residents to fight the "Planter Power Grab."
"You'd have to get her to sign off. You want a planter? Well, talk to Jannie Blackwell first," said Jake Liefer, a South Philadelphia resident and cofounder of 5th Square. "How would a Council member's office handle all that? I'm not sure. It seems to be lacking in details."
Liefer said the petition was emailed at 11 a.m. Monday and had gained more than 1,000 signatures by midafternoon.
"This is our most successful petition to date," he said. "It's really gaining a lot of traction."
Blackwell said Monday that she was putting the brakes on the bill due to the unexpected response.
"I've been getting calls," he said. "We are holding it up. We were trying to do something with regard to businesses, not even residents. It's created a lot of havoc, so we're going to hold everything up and slow it down."
Blackwell said the bill was aimed at street vendors who said they had been forced to move due to bike racks and other obstructions.
"We were trying to say they should let us know before people are moved, and then we can go to the community and make sure everyone is satisfied," she said.
Philadelphia already bans certain sidewalk encroachments without a permit from L&I. City spokesman Mike Dunn said the Streets Department also requires engineered drawings and a letter of support from the district Council member. Blackwell's proposal apparently would have tightened that process and given Council members more control.
Regardless, Blackwell said the backlash was enough to give her pause. She said she didn't want to field complaints from a "little old lady who calls and says, 'I have a planter and I don't want to be bothered.' "