Inquirer Editorial: City's lords of land use

John Street , the former mayor who loved his supporters back. File
John Street , the former mayor who loved his supporters back. File
Posted: July 01, 2014

Council prerogative is an anachronism that leaves the impression that developers can curry favor with politicians to get their projects approved.

Unfortunately, this unwritten rule that allows district Council members to lord over land use seems more entrenched than ever. Council President Darrell Clarke even held up legislation to create a land bank, needed to untangle the city's confusing property transfer system, until a provision to immortalize Council prerogative was added.

Council members claim that authority helps them to get developers to add low-cost housing and other community benefits. But too often the only benefit seems to be donations to the politicians' campaign funds.

A recent Daily News article noted that developers donated 42 percent of Clarke's 2011 campaign fund. But maybe it's a coincidence that much of the city-owned land sold to developers in his district went to donors.

Council members may bristle at any suggestion that campaign contributions can grease the skids. But that's the impression when it's so easy to connect projects with political donations. This issue is at the heart of a lawsuit that accuses Councilman Kenyatta Johnson of using his prerogative rights to block a political rival's land deal.

Former Mayor John Street once said it was naive to think he wouldn't treat the people who supported him better. "Anybody who doesn't acknowledge that's the way it works is either a liar or thinks you're really stupid," he said.

It isn't stupid to want land-use decisions to be based on a plan's merit, and not who the developer supported.

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