Tower Investments Inc. took a step closer this morning to converting the State Office Building at Broad and Spring Garden streets into an apartment building with first-floor retail shops. City Council's Committee on Rules gave the OK for a zoning change that is expected to also get the nod next week from the City Planning Commission.
Developer Bart Blatstein told the committee the area, with the Philadelphia School District just to the south and the Community College of Philadelphia just to the west, is hurting for shopping areas. "They is very, very little retail," he said. "North Philadelphia needs a huge amount of retail to service the community."
One thing the area isn't lacking is parking. The building already has 127 underground spaces, a parking lot across the street and is served by a very busy Broad Street subway station. Blatstein said car-sharing programs are also creating less need for parking.
City Councilman Darrell Clarke introduced legislation this morning that would change the city's 10-year property tax abatement on new residential, commercial and industrial housing and offer a rebate on the city's real estate transfer tax for people who buy existing homes. Clarke proposes to keep the property tax abatement at 10 years but reduce the amount from 100 percent of the tax to 80 percent. He also wants buyers of existing homes to get a rebate -- a set dollar amount still to be determined -- on the city's share of the real estate transfer tax. That rebate would only be available during a 12-month period. Home buyers would receive the money across five years.
Clarke said his proposals are designed to bring more money into the city as it experiences serious budget trouble. He considered other ideas for changing the property tax abatement, including reducing the number of years available or having it decrease several times over the 10-year period. He decided to use the 80 percent figure to give home-buyers a consistent number to count on. "I think at this point it could probably withstand some level of tweaking," Clarke said. "While we want to alter it, we don't want to see it go away."
Clarke said he had brief discussions with Nutter's staff about the real estate property tax rebate but not about the proposed change to the 10-year tax abatement. "I anticipate I will be getting a phone call," he joked to reporters.
Catherine LuceyChris Brennan reports that a non-binding resolution just passed in City Council, calling on Nutter to delay the closing of library branches until the budget issue can be studied for potential alternatives.
Like all budget issues lately, this provoked lively debate. Councilman Jim Kenney suggested the resolution would mislead city residents to think Council was changing the library closures. Councilman Bill Greenlee agreed, saying it "gives the wrong impression"
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell disagreed, saying Council should hold hearings on the issue. "That's not mean-spirited," she said. "That's not the wrong signal."
The American Commerce Center, a 1,510-foot skyscraper proposed for 18th and Arch streets, received approval for a necessary zoning change this morning from a City Council committee after a three-hour hearing where the developers and opponents asked and answered a lot of questions about the project. The big unanswered question: What companies are flirting with the developers about moving into the $1.1 billion tower if it gets built?
From discussions with Councilman Darrell Clarke, sponsor of the legislation to change the zoning, and Peter Kelsen, attorney for the developers, it seems pretty clear that three potential lead tenants are in discussions. At least one would be relocating from somewhere else in the city while two might be lured from Montgomery County and/or New Jersey.
"They're household names," Kelsen said, declining to name the companies because the project still needs the approval of the full Council, which could come Dec. 11, for the zoning change. After that, the developers will need approval from the City Planning Commission for their building plan. The City Planning Commission gave the nod two weeks ago for the zoning change. With all approvals in hand, Kelsen said, the developer could break ground by late 2009.
Mayor Nutter's administration testified this morning at City Council's Committee on Public Safety about legislation that would make some changes to his ability to declare an emergency in Philadelphia. That legislation has not been updated since it was created in 1967.
MaryAnn Tierney, the city's deputy managing director for emergency management, described the legislation as a "set of tools" that allow the mayor to react to unplanned emergencies. "Remember Batman had tools on his tool belt," Tierney said. "And he doesn't use every tool in every emergency. He takes the tools that he needs off his belt and he uses them as they're needed."
Not to get all technical, but Batman wore a "utility belt." The Committee tabled the legislation for further review after Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell raised concerns about how it impacts the Constitutional rights of city residents.
Catherine LuceyCity Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown went before a board of city officials this morning to explain why she sometimes uses her city vehicle to transport family members – after questions were raised about her car usage by a local television reporter.
Fox 29 reporter Jeff Cole, who made headlines recently with his investigation into Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr.’s chief of staff, has been looking into Brown’s use of her city car to drive her daughter to school. Cole’s report has not yet aired.
City elected officials and employees are prohibited from using city owned cars to transport family members and non-city workers. But Brown appeared before the city Administrative Board today to say that she was given a formal exemption to the rule in 2004 by the Managing Director, due to her family circumstances.
To commemorate seven Philadelphia Police officers killed in the line of duty, City Council met four weeks ago to approve memorial signs on the the streets where they lived and died. Less then a month later, Council had to approve more memorial signs this morning for Sgt. Timothy Simpson, who died Monday night after his cruiser was broadsided by a driver allegedly under the influence.
The memorial signs will be posted at the accident scene, Allegheny and Aramingo avenues, and on the street where Simpson lived in Holme Circle. Simpson, 46, joined the department on Nov. 14, 1988. He celebrated his 20th anniversary as a police officer three days before he died.
Council members stood in silence to cast their unanimous votes for the resolution, which read in part: "Sgt. Simpson was a decorated and revered officer, having received a heroism reward in April 1994 and four merit awards, in July 1990, November 1990, March 1994 and March 1996, and just hours before his death was honored as supervisor of the month for the 24th Police District."
City Council, still wrestling with proposed budget cuts, battled it out again in this morning's caucus session, with harsh words fired across the big round table where they all sit. At issue were two resolutions, circulated but then not submitted, that called for a study of proposed equipment elimination in the Fire Department and a delay in closing library branches.
Councilman Frank Rizzo got a little heated, complaining that Mayor Nutter's staff had not provided him with requested information about the budget cuts. He took issue with comments made by Councilmen Jim Kenney and Frank DiCicco, who were sitting next to him. "It doesn't matter what we do," Kenney said, It doesn't matter how many resolutions we pass. It doesn't matter how many letters we write. For what? So you can stand on a grandstand and say: Look at me?"
"Grandstanding?" Rizzo asked, countering that that DiCicco's resolution to study Fire Department cuts, paid for with Council budget money, was grandstanding.