Viaduct district plan wins Council OK

Posted: October 27, 2011

The abandoned Reading Co. railroad runs like a wall separating Chinatown North from the trendy loft district of Callowhill.

The proposed redevelopment of the viaduct into an elevated park similiar to New York's High-Line is driving a more symbolic wedge between the two neighborhoods.

City Council gave preliminary approval Thursday to create the Callowhill Reading Viaduct Neighborhood Improvement District, even though residents from the two neighborhoods are deeply divided on its intended purpose.

The improvement district, known as a NID, is a community-run entity that would be funded by a 7 percent tax on area property owners. It would be roughly bounded by Vine, Spring Garden, Eighth, and Broad Strets.

The money raised - about $250,000 a year - would be used for cleaning streets, adding lights, and other improvements.

Residents in Chinatown, with its concentration of elderly and poor residents, generally oppose the NID. They see the NID as being devoted solely to aiding the development - and potential maintenance - of the viaduct.

"We do not want this NID, which doesn't have an understanding of immigrant issues and our neighborhood issues," said John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. "Chinatown North should retain its own identity and vision."

Councilman Frank DiCicco, who sponsored the bill to create the NID, began Thursday's committee hearing by calling out Chin's organization for disseminating "misinformation."

"Much of that information suggests that this NID has been created either for the sole purpose or partial purpose of funding the viaduct," DiCicco said. "Nothing could be further than the truth."

Residents in Callowhill, who largely have advocated for the viaduct park, generally support and have been the driving force behind the NID.

"Frankly, I don't understand why PCDC could object to a grassroots-developed and -controlled entity . . . that will strengthen and beautify our neighborhood," said Janet Kroll, who said she had lived in Callowhill for nearly a decade.

Residents within the proposed NID now have 45 days to send letters to the chief clerk's office. The NID dies if the clerk recieves more letters in opposition, DiCicco said.

Otherwise, Council would vote to approve the NID, mostly likely at its last meeting of the session on Dec. 15.

DiCicco agreed last month to take the Hing Wah housing development out of the NID's boundaries, in an effort to assuage opponents.

But other Chinese American residents and businesses - along with other opponents to the NID and its tax increase - remain in the boundaries.

John Brandeis, an opponent of the plan, said "a tiny group of loft-dwelling elitists" were treating longtime residents and Asian businesses like "guests in their own neighborhood."

But after one opponent testified, Councilman James F. Kenney expressed wonderment at all the controversy.

"I can't understand why your goals and the goals of the NID are mutually exclusive," he said. "I'll never get it."

Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 215-854-2730,, or @troyjgraham on Twitter.

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