Council approves amendment to UPenn Master Plan, RDA contract for Carpenter Square

City Council sprinted through a relatively brief agenda at its third meeting of the year Thursday morning, passing a handful of redevelopment and planning items, and introducing a few more. There were no committee reports, and the meeting was over in under an hour.

It concluded with a speech from 4th-District Councilman Curtis Jones, in which he called the depth and selection of cuts in Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s budget, which was announced on Tuesday, “mean-spirited.”

A resolution introduced earlier in the year by Councilman Jim Kenney authorizes the committees on Labor and Civil Service and Licenses and Inspection to hold hearings investigating construction industry practices in order to improve the City’s inspection and enforcement procedures.

The resolution seeks to ensure that construction site regulations are followed, contract bidding processes are appropriate, subcontractors are qualified to perform the work they’re given, and an adequate number of field inspectors are deployed. It frames the issue as one of public safety. The resolution passed without opposition Thursday morning.

Council also unanimously passed a resolution introduced by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell approving an amendment to the University of Pennsylvania’s Institutional Development District Master Plan. The amendment allows for a four-story addition—totaling 10,140 square feet of extra floor space—to Steinberg-Dietrich Hall on Penn’s campus. The addition will fill in a portion of an existing courtyard, and contain offices and classrooms.

Council approved a redevelopment contract for a portion of the South Central Urban Renewal Area, from 1001-1035 South 17th Street. The parcel is a vacant block at the corner of 17th and Carpenter streets in the Graduate Hospital section of South Philadelphia. The resolution names Carpenter Square LP as the contractor. The group has proposed turning the empty plot into a mixed-use development, consisting of condominiums, town homes, and commercial space. A representative of the Goldenberg Group, a Blue Bell, Pa.-based  shopping center developer of which Carpenter Square LP is an affiliate, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. The resolution was introduced by 2nd-district Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.

Mayor Michael Nutter also sent a resolution to City Council which would deliver to the Redevelopment Authority the boarded-up YWCA Annex from 2017-2023 Chestnut Street in Center City. Last month, Aquinas Realty, the RDA’s chosen contractor, presented its plans for the property to  the City Planning Commission. Aquinas plans to develop the property into a 12-story apartment building.

For the first time this year, At-Large Councilman Bill Green introduced no legislation. In Council’s first two meetings, Green introduced or co-sponsored a number of bills aimed at creating local jobs, generating municipal revenue, and encouraging land development in the city.

In an interview with PlanPhilly Wednesday, Green explained that these initiatives are part of a legislative strategy which includes maximizing land use and monetizing city assets.

On the first day of Council, Green introduced five bills, one of which would send a Charter amendment to the electorate, asking whether Council should be granted the power to impose requirements related to employment of Philadelphia residents on projects funded by City contracts. Green has indicated that he supports projects being funded by the City to be staffed 100 percent by city residents. He said that there has so far been no opposition to the initiative from other Council members, nor from the development community. Hearings on that bill have not yet been scheduled.

The same day, Green introduced another Charter amendment related to the creation of a mandatory Asset Sales Fund, which would be used to direct funds generated by the sales of city properties—PGW, for example, has been discussed as an asset which could potentially be sold.

Related to that bill is legislation proposed by Council President Darrell Clarke at the end of last year which would allow non-accessory advertising to be posted on municipal property. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a bill last week which would do the same for City school buses. Green said he backs both bills.

“I’m in support of a plan to make City property and school property available” to advertising, Green said.

Green’s office also co-sponsored a bill introduced by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez which would create a central Land Bank for the disposition of vacant property in the city. The Land Bank would be the “first stop” for the redevelopment of out-of-use land. It would be charged with creating policy for disposing vacant properties.

Green said that  the Land Bank legislation is “completely consistent” with an earlier bill introduced by Council President Darrell Clarke which would create Development Districts where vacant, tax-delinquent, and City-owned properties could be sold to private developers at deep discounts from their assessed value.

Green said he expects the Land Bank bill to move forward, but not without some debate over specifics in Council.

“The big hurdle is going to be the governing structure,” Green said.

The Land Bank would be controlled by a board consisting of representatives from various city agencies and members of the public. Since the board will have wide-reaching policy-making power, Green said, he expects City Council members will want to have a say in how it is populated.

Green said the end goal of the Land Bank legislation is to encourage mixed-use development in neighborhoods with high land vacancy.

“Successful neighborhoods have got a mix of people,” he said, “and we need to recreate that in many areas of the city.”

Last week, Green also introduced a bill overhauling the City’s procedures for collecting debt from tax-delinquent property owners. More than 110,000 properties in Philadelphia, around 20 percent of all properties, are tax-delinquent, as reported in a PlanPhilly/Inquirer story last summer.

Green plans to introduce five bills next Council meeting advancing an open government agenda he articulated in a policy paper released last spring.

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