TOMORROW, City Council is expected to make history by voting to approve a new simplified zoning code. The code hasn't been updated for 50 years, so this is a momentus day that could put the city on track for more coherent and streamlined dealings over what gets built and where.
It's been a long and winding road, but Council has shown a commitment to do the right thing.
So why did it take two steps back by approving a spot-zoning change that is not only inadvisable, but, according to the City Solictor's Office, illegal?
The bill, sponsored by Frank DiCicco, would allow a building on 7th Street near Callowhill to be wrapped with a giant ad. Right before the vote, City Solicitor Shelley Smith wrote a six-page letter detailing legal issues with the bill, and said that allowing the ad could jeopardize Federal Highway Administration funding.
We suppose legal findings are always open to interpretation - that's what the Supreme Court is for, after all - and we presume that the 12 Council members who voted for the bill have their own interpretation. But there's an issue here aside from the legality.
"Wraps" like the ad in question have become popular to broadcast commercial messages larger than life, on buildings and buses. They're popular with advertisers because their imposing size makes them hard to ignore. But that's exactly why there should be more thoughtful and public debate about such messages, and whether simply owning a building gives someone the right to affect our daily landscape to that extent. Regulations and restrictions on the size of commercial messages to which we must be exposed is, ironically, part of what a new zoning code would help determine. That's why we hope Mayor Nutter's promised veto holds.
THE MAYOR will also put the kibosh on one other idea from Council - a $200 tax credit for condo and co-op owners who don't use the city's trash pickup.
Council passed the bill last week to correct what sponsor Jim Kenney calls an issue of "fairness": The city's trash collection isn't enough for many condos, so they pay for private trash pickup and decline the city's service. This bill would essentially give them their money back for a service they don't use. It would cost the city nearly $6 million a year.
Nutter opposes the refund and will perform what's known as a "pocket veto" by not signing it into law and letting it die as Council's session ends.
The mayor has this one right, too. The whole point of a broad-based tax is that we all pitch in for services that benefit the city.
If everyone got a refund for services they don't use, people without children would get a school refund. It would be different if trash pickup was not available to condo owners, or if the city had a pay-as-you-throw trash fee. But under the circumstances, this bill should be trashed.