Philadelphia Council's next president sets early agenda

Council member Darrell L. Clarke , who becomes president in 2012, tries to get the attention of the current president, Anna C. Verna, chatting with member Curtis Jones Jr. At left is Councilman Jack Kelley. He and Verna are among six members stepping down.
Council member Darrell L. Clarke , who becomes president in 2012, tries to get the attention of the current president, Anna C. Verna, chatting with member Curtis Jones Jr. At left is Councilman Jack Kelley. He and Verna are among six members stepping down. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 16, 2011

On a day when City Council wrapped up years of work on several major bills and bid adieu to six colleagues with more than a century of combined experience, Councilman Darrell L. Clarke was looking to the future.

Clarke, who is slated to become Council president Jan. 2, introduced two bills Thursday at the final meeting of the term, perhaps offering a preview of his leadership.

Both bills seek ways to generate money for the city without raising taxes - something the Nutter administration has been forced to do three years in a row.

"I think it's time for us to come up with another strategy," Clarke said. "I think we can all agree with that."

Clarke acknowledged the unorthodox nature of introducing bills at the final meeting, as all remaining legislation is wiped from the calendar at the end of the year.

But he said he wanted to get his ideas "out there in a formal way" to give people time to analyze them. He said he planned to introduce the bills again in January, after a new Council is seated.

One of his proposals - to allow advertising on city property - no doubt will spark intense opposition. The advocacy group SCRUB has fought many pitched battles in Council over billboard and outdoor advertising projects.

Clarke said he would be open to advertising at City Hall - the city's most iconic building, but also one of its busiest.

He said the advertising would have to be "tastefully done" and be subject to regulations administered by the Planning Commission. In other words, he said, no banners would hang from the William Penn statue.

"To stand here and say we should wrap Billy Penn, I think would be contrary to what we're attempting to do," Clarke said.

Clarke estimated that advertising could raise at least $10 million a year.

His second bill would create six districts where the city would offer developers incentives to take over and rehabilitate city-owned vacant properties.

Mayor Nutter has been working on a land-bank strategy to deal with vacant properties for about a year. Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the administration "has briefed City Council members several times" on the effort, as recently as Wednesday.

"We look forward to working with the councilman and City Council in the new session," he added.

McDonald would not comment on the advertising bill.

But the mayor on Thursday did veto a bill that would have allowed controversial "wall-wrap" advertisements to be hung from buildings in a stretch of the Callowhill neighborhood north of Center City.

The bill's sponsor, Councilman Frank DiCicco, did not ask for a vote to override the veto.

DiCicco, one of the members leaving Council at the end of the year, was at the center of several other bills Thursday, most notably the package of legislation that created a new zoning code for the city.

More than four years ago, DiCicco sparked the drive to create the commission that eventually rewrote the city's antiquated code, often blamed for hindering development.

The new zoning code passed unanimously, 17-0.

"I do want to be one of the first to commend you for the unanimous vote to dramatically change this great city," Nutter said Thursday when he addressed Council.

Council on Thursday also passed:

A bill sponsored by Blondell Reynolds Brown to require owners of older rental properties to inspect and certify them as free of lead hazards. That legislation had been in the works for three years and passed by a 16-1 vote, with Jannie L. Blackwell the lone dissenter.

A package of bills to allow a contentious development in Chestnut Hill to go forward. The project includes a grocery store, townhouses, and retail in a vacant car dealership in the 8200 block of Germantown Avenue. Neighbors concerned about the scale of the project gathered 1,000 signatures in opposition.

A bill that would create a Neighborhood Improvement District for the Callowhill neighborhood around the abandoned Reading Co. viaduct.

The creation of the NID is contingent on property owners from the affected area who have submitted signatures to the clerk's office. Slightly more than 51 percent have opposed the NID, which would levy a 7 percent tax on each property owner to raise money for neighborhood improvements.

If the signatures are valid and the opposition remains in the majority, the bill and the NID die. But DiCicco, the bill's sponsor, said he wasn't sure the signatures would withstand scrutiny.

"I've been doing politics for 44 years," he said. "I've never seen a petition that did not have some irregularities."

The city and many Callowhill neighbors hope to turn the aging viaduct into an elevated park similar to New York's High Line. Money generated for the NID could not be used to develop the viaduct, but the park's upkeep could be added to the NID's plan.


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

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