Quinones-Sanchez ripped on zoning

Posted: April 18, 2012

MEMBERS OF the Norris Square Civic Association accused City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez on Tuesday of trying to use her power to block a proposed housing development she opposes from being built across the street from her house.

Tensions between the civic group and Quinones-Sanchez - who adamantly denied that a zoning bill she proposed was personally motivated - surfaced at a City Planning Commission meeting. The commission was debating whether to support her proposed legislation, which would allow only single-family housing to be built in one section of the North Philadelphia neighborhood.

Protesters carried signs that read "No to Spot Zoning" and "Norris Square Residents Want a Voice and a Vote." They said the new zoning would encourage gentrification of the area, which is not far from Northern Liberties and Fishtown, and leave low-income people with no place to go.

"We are already getting developers knocking on our doors offering to pay cash for houses," said Diana Quinones, who is not related to the councilwoman.

"There is absolutely no need for an 'emergency' rezoning ordinance at this time," Henri Marcial, a board member of the civic association, said in a statement.

The civic association said that Quinones-Sanchez wants the zoning changed before new zoning rules take effect in August. They said the area wasn't due for "remapping" as part of a citywide zoning overhaul until next year.

"The councilwoman's actions are clearly for personal reasons and have no base in or benefit to the community," Marcial said.

The development would be a 15-unit "mixed-income" housing cooperative that the civic association said it is planning to develop this summer at the site of the old St. Boniface Church, which was torn down, at Diamond and Hancock streets.

Quinones-Sanchez said she proposed the zoning change for the area bounded by York, Front, 2nd and Berks streets because too many properties are being converted from single-family homes to multifamily dwellings. She also spoke out against the St. Boniface project.

"The fact of the matter is that we have a civic and a NAC [Neighborhood Advisory Council] who's also the developer who engaged in a community process that many people felt was not open and that was manipulated to getting their project to where it is today," Quinones-Sanchez said.

She told the commission members that she "could have brought 100 people here" who also would speak out against the St. Boniface project. "But they are working," she said.

Diana Quinones quietly complained from her seat: "I work too. I took a day off work to come here."

Some civic-group members said the bill would threaten about $10 million in funding they have secured to develop the St. Boniface site, but Quinones-Sanchez said it would not affect the project because the group already has zoning permits.

In an interview, she said: "I was against the project five years ago when I helped [the civic association] get money for the campus."

The campus she referred to encompasses the other former St. Boniface church buildings that now house a charter school and a day-care center and will house an employment-training center.

After debating on postponing a vote until more information is provided, as the protesters wanted, the commission voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the zoning change.

Contact Valerie Russ at 215-854-5987 or russv@phillynews.com.

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