Saturday, December 20, 2014

Land bank bill in limbo

The ping-pong ball that has become the land bank bill must be settled by Thursday morning if the bill is to be approved before council breaks for year next week.

Land bank bill in limbo

The ping-pong ball that has become the land bank bill must be settled by Thursday morning if the bill is to be approved before council breaks for year next week.

Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, who disagree on key elements of the land bank plan, have each circulated their proposed amendments for the land bank bill in the last few weeks.

Clarke wants more council oversight. Quinones-Sanchez, the bill's main sponsor, wants less (or the option of having less). 

The bill introduced in Council in October would establish a land bank, a uniform system for acquiring and disposing of Philadelphia's 40,000 vacant and abandoned properties, a quarter of which are city-owned, and putting them to productive use - whether as community gardens or upscale townhouses or affordable housing. Philadelphia would become the largest U.S. city with a land bank.

But a dispute between Clarke and Quiñones-Sánchez over the Vacant Property Review Committee, a Council advisory board that Clarke inserted into the bill, and council’s role in other steps of the land bank process is threatening Philadelphia’s mark in history.

Quinones-Sanchez said Tuesday that she would be willing to concede on the inclusion of the Vacant Property Review Committee in the bill but under certain conditions that would make the committee more transparent and if Clarke drops the idea of having council approval for the land acquisition part.

Thursday will be the last meeting in which amendments may be introduced for the bill to be approved this year. Dec. 12 is the last council meeting of the year. Land bank advocates worry that if the bill doesn't pass this month, it will get lost in the spring shuffle of budget hearings and continued school district crisis.

The pressure is on for both Clarke and Quinones-Sanchez.

“We are too close and agree on too much for us not to get it done,” Quinones-Sanchez said Tuesday, adding that she plans to meet with Clarke before Thursday’s council meeting.

Would Clarke be willing to compromise?

“Council President Clarke has far too much respect for his colleagues and for the legislative process to negotiate policy differences through the press,” Clarke’s spokeswoman Jane Roh said Tuesday.

For full read on both proposed amendments: click HERE for Clarke amendments and HEREfor Quinones-Sanchez amendments. Then HERE for the list of Clarke's concerns and Quinones-Sanchez rebuttal.

Click herefor Philly.com's politics page.

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The Philadelphia Inquirer's Chris Hepp, Tricia Nadolny, Julia Terruso, and Claudia Vargas take you inside Philadelphia's City Hall.

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