Council, mayor agree on rules to make Philly developer-friendly

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Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who introduced the legislation in September, said the new Department of Planning and Development would create efficiencies. At Friday's hearing, he called the long revision process well worth it.

A City Council committee on Friday moved forward a bill that would make Philadelphia more developer-friendly, and another to force earlier disclosure of money spent by super PACs during elections.

The development bill progressed after months of wrangling. If approved by Council and later by voters, it would create a cabinet-level department to take over functions now handled by a host of bodies that include the Planning Commission, Historical Commission, Housing Authority, Art Commission, and Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who introduced the legislation in September, said the new Department of Planning and Development would create efficiencies. During Friday's hearing, he called the long revision process well worth it.

"It gave us an opportunity to not only come up with what I believe is personally a pretty good conclusion, but it gave us the ability to understand that this is going to be a working document," he said.

The new department would have three divisions. One would handle zoning and planning. A second would oversee housing and community development. The third, the Division of Development Services, would help real estate developers navigate the approvals needed for their projects.

While an earlier version also sought to include the duties handled by the Department of Licenses and Inspections, Mayor Nutter's administration and the development and construction communities opposed that move.

Clarke had additionally wanted Council to have say a over the mayor's appointment to lead the department and the transition plan. But those provisions were removed after negotiations with the Nutter administration.

Despite previous concerns, the bill received general support at Friday's hearing, including from the administration and developers.

Luke Butler, chief of staff for Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger, said the city wants a "coordinated, predictable process" for real estate development.

"We believe that this proposal contributes to these goals," Butler said.

Some who had wanted L&I removed from the bill expressed concerns Friday about that department's future.

"L&I really needs help. L&I really needs reform, and L&I really needs more funding to do their job well. And that's not in this at all," said Kiki Bolender, an architect who has followed the bill's progress. "I'm kind of scratching my head about why they prioritized this . . . over that."

The committee on Friday also approved - with little discussion and no opposition - a bill to require independent groups that make big ad buys during an election season to disclose the identities of their financial backers more often.

Super PACs became an important part of this year's mayoral Democratic primary due in large part to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that campaign spending by independent groups is a form of free speech and cannot be regulated. A PAC, the court ruled, can spend as much as it wants to on a campaign as long as there is no coordination between it and the candidate it supports.

The ruling allowed individuals, unions, and other groups that were otherwise restricted by Philadelphia's strict limits on campaign contributions to back super PACs. The three super PACs most active in the campaign, one supporting State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, the others former City Councilman Jim Kenney, raised $9.1 million with two weeks left until the primary. In those final two weeks, the super PAC supporting Williams, American Cities, spent $2 million, more than any individual candidate raised in the entire Democratic primary.

Super PACs are currently required to disclose their donors infrequently. In the mayoral primary, they filed in February, three months before the primary, then not again until 11 days before the election. Under the bill approved Friday, the super PACs would have to disclose the names of their donors six weeks before an election and every two weeks until election day.

Both bills will likely go before full Council for a vote next month, and then to Nutter's desk.

The development bill, which requires a change to the city's Home Rule Charter, would have to be approved by voters in November.


tnadolny@phillynews.com

215-854-2730@TriciaNadolny