City Council back to work with a full plate

PHOTOS: AKIRA SUWA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Councilman Bobby Henon took issue with Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's zoning process amendment and passed a new bill.
PHOTOS: AKIRA SUWA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Councilman Bobby Henon took issue with Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's zoning process amendment and passed a new bill.
Posted: January 24, 2014

CITY COUNCIL reconvened yesterday with a bevy of bills for members to consider, as 2014 is already a busy year.

Perhaps what grabbed the most attention - at least from members of the public who testified - was an ordinance that creates a new set of rules for registered community organizations and developers seeking to build in their neighborhoods.

RCOs get to weigh in on zoning and planning developments in their neighborhoods, but Councilman Bobby Henon said that Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's amendment last year to the zoning code was a "muddy process."

Henon's bill passed 14-3 despite Blackwell's efforts to kill it. His measure requires RCOs to hold regularly scheduled public meetings but also puts the burden for neighbor notification on a developer who is seeking a zoning variance, rather than on the RCO.

The original bill had "a lot of gray areas," Henon said. "There was a ton of overlapping and uncertainties with both the applicants as well as the registered community organizations. It was unclear on what types of notifications were going out to the communities and the residents. So now we have a clear-cut process."

In other developments yesterday:

* Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a bill asking for mandatory annual inspections for all child-care facilities. She said her research shows that following an initial fire inspection, fixing things is largely a reactive process, with inspections made only after a complaint.

"When parents select a child-care center that has been given a license by the city of Philadelphia, there is the assumption that the center is in compliance in all areas of operation," said Brown. "We need to ensure to the best of our ability that the license means something."

* After a CSX train derailed on a bridge in South Philadelphia this week, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said he wants the freight company to appear before Council to explain what happened.

Six train cars carrying crude oil got twisted on the rails Monday, although no one was injured and nothing was spilled. Johnson said the problem is CSX's "ailing infrastructure" and "lack of commitment" to maintaining bridges and railways.

"The derailment of two freight cars could have resulted in a catastrophe - a chemical spill - anything could have happened," Johnson said. "So we're calling for hearings . . . to . . . come up with a plan and hold CSX accountable as to how they maintain their bridges and their railways in the city of Philadelphia."

* Councilman Bill Green introduced a bill to amend the city's indoor-smoking ban to include electronic cigarettes.

Green pointed to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showing that usage of e-cigs has doubled in recent years. He said an important outcome of the legislation would be the affirmation of a tobacco-free lifestyle among youth.

* Councilman David Oh asked for a recall to his "resign-to-run" bill, which passed out of Council before the new year. The bill was returned to him yesterday before it hit the mayor's desk.

"The purpose for the recall is because we realized that an additional section of the charter pertains to the mayor only, and this was not addressed in the original draft," Oh said.

Now, the resign-to-run charter change would apply to all elected officials.

* A resolution by Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. passed calling for hearings on the structural safety of the city's aging buildings. It follows the fire-escape crash that took the life of a 22-year-old man almost two weeks ago.


On Twitter: @RuffTuffDH

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