Stop us if you’ve heard this one:
Last Monday, South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S Inc. organized a community zoning meeting, originally scheduled (but subsequently cancelled) for the week prior. On the agenda were seven projects for neighborhood residents to learn about, consider, and vote for or against. As many media outlets reported last week, the meeting rapidly went off the rails and the only project discussed was OCF Holdings’ proposal for a mixed use building on Point Breeze Ave. and Titan St., a currently vacant lot.
Digressions ranged from protests of the ethnicities of construction crews, a (totally unrealistic) development counterproposal complete with a rendering, and exaggerations of the real estate portfolio of the developer. The meeting was heavy on emotion and anger, and had but a dash of discussion relating to zoning matters.
This despite SPHINC executive director Claudia Sherrod expressing at the beginning of the meeting that [neighbors are] “welcome to comment on the zoning issues only… you cannot come here and talk about your personal agendas. If you do, you will be asked to leave.”
Whelp, nobody was asked to leave.
And here we sit, ten days later, and SPHINC tells us that they are still counting the votes. So how it could take so long to count votes from a meeting, even one that counted over 200 people in attendance? According to several eye witnesses, several voting sheets were passed out to attendees that never made it back to SPHINC. Because they ended up in the purse of one of the project’s vocal opponents.
So assuming that’s true, can SPHINC possibly determine the correct vote of the community? We say, no way.
What can they do?
They can do one thing and one thing only: Write a letter to the ZBA and admit that they can’t get a true tally of the votes. Acknowledge that there were many people at the meeting who supported the project and many who opposed it. But state that the people who spoke in opposition had few actual zoning issues in mind.
Simply put, don’t oppose the project.
Take a chance to grow from the experience. Recognize that there are hundreds of people in Point Breeze who feel like they have a real stake in their neighborhood and try to foster a dialogue between groups that don’t see eye to eye.
Bring some new blood into your group. Hold open elections. Publish bylaws. Don’t allow anyone to refuse or reject someone because they’re new to the neighborhood.
As Councilman Kenney said in yesterday’s Daily News: “We’ll never have the resources necessary to provide city services, affordable housing, economic-development opportunities or anything else that we all aspire to attain, without new residents and families moving into our city. We can choose to fold our arms across our chests and dismiss all things new and different, but we will not grow and reach the potential this city deserves.”
Please, SPHINC, don’t run and hide on this one. Don’t kill the possibility of a pharmacy in your neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to stand up to the fringe and do the right thing for your community.
Full disclosure: OCF Realty is the parent company of OCF Holdings and Naked Philly.