‘Neighborhood improvement’ plan divides Philadelphia neighbors

A proposed “neighborhood improvement district” is dividing residents of Philadelphia’s Callowhill and Chinatown North neighborhoods. More than half the property owners in the area just north of the Vine Expressway signed a petition opposing the idea. But City Council this week passed the bill anyway.

Councilman Frank DiCicco, in his waning days of representing the area, said he’s not convinced all the petition signatures are valid. He wants them verified.

“I’ve never seen some petition where there was not some error. Either someone signed for their husband or wife, someone forged a name–and I’m not accusing anyone–but I’m not totally convinced that they have the 51 percent yet,” he said.

In a neighborhood improvement district, property owners pay a tax surcharge to support enhanced services, such as blight removal, lighting and streetscaping.

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The executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation said his organization supports clean, green neighborhoods, but not necessarily the neighborhood improvement district.

“The community from the very beginning did not want the 7 percent tax increase that would have resulted from the creation of a NID. It doesn’t take much for people to sign on to oppose a tax increase,” said John Chin, who said his group hopes Mayor Michael Nutter will veto the bill.

Chin said he is more focused on housing and jobs than ambitious projects such as the Reading viaduct plan. The aim there is to turn an unused stretch of railroad that runs through the area into a public green space. Backers of the viaduct project pushed for the improvement district.

One of those supporters, Sarah McEneaney, said the improvement district would boost the viaduct plan, but is not essential to it.

“I mean the viaduct is the defining architectural element in the neighborhood and, in the state it is in now, it is blight,” she said.

McEneaney said once the petitions and possible veto get sorted out, the community will meet with incoming Councilman Mark Squilla to talk about what to do next.

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