City asks court to rule on casino question

The city's last-gasp attempt to slow a controversial casino proposed for the Delaware riverfront in South Philly now rests on the ownership of two streets.

The city has asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider an April 2 ruling that forced Philadelphia to make zoning changes needed by the Foxwoods casino.

That ruling also ordered the city to turn over to Foxwoods control of gas and water utility rights-of-way for Reed Street, on the site's northern border, and for Dickinson Street, which once cut across the middle of the site.

City attorneys told the Supreme Court on April 16 that the order "overlooked" a conflict - the 2004 state law that legalized slot machines in Pennsylvania prohibits the taking of city-owned property for a casino.

"The decision to grant [Foxwoods] such sweeping relief required this court to exercise a power of judicial condemnation - a power the court does not possess," the attorneys wrote.

That's not a new argument. The city made the point while fighting Foxwoods' attempt to have the Supreme Court force the zoning issue. The court, in its ruling, mentioned the argument but took no other action on it. The court instead ruled that the city had improperly delayed action on the zoning change for Foxwoods.

City attorneys also claim that the site plan that Foxwoods submitted to the state Gaming Control Board, which approved the project, did not include the rights-of-way.

Foxwoods spokeswoman Maureen Garrity yesterday disputed that.

"Our site plans remain the same as the plans provided to, and approved by, the Gaming Control Board," she said.

While Philadelphia seeks another shot in court, City Council today will hold the fourth and final public hearing on the Foxwoods zoning change.

The Supreme Court's ruling overriding the city's zoning power came after the second hearing, but Council has pressed on at the urging of Mayor Nutter, who has called the court's ruling a "slap in the face."

Nutter said yesterday that raising the city-owned rights-of-way argument again was worth a shot.

"You never know what happens when you go into court," he said.

And Nutter said that continuing with the public hearings made sense because the city has learned more about the project. Nearby residents have fretted about the potential for increased traffic and crime, and Nutter balks at paying for additional police to protect the area.

"We actually still have to run this city," Nutter said of the hearing. "If something is built, we need to know the true impact that it will have on Philadelphians."

This is not the first time the city has asked the Supreme Court to rethink a casino ruling. The court forced the city in December to approve zoning for another proposed riverfront casino, SugarHouse, in Fishtown. The city asked for another chance, but the court said no after two weeks' consideration.

Garrity yesterday disagreed with the city's claim that the Supreme Court needs to act on the issue of city-owned property.

"It was raised and considered by the court," Garrity said. "This is the same argument City Council used in the SugarHouse decision, and the court denied their request for re-argument." *