Anna Verna, in an effort to appease a small minority group in Point Breeze, has put forward a bill to restrict the building of three-story homes and roof decks in that neighborhood for one year. Apparently this is legal.
According to the City of Philadelphia, Verna, the current City Council president, has “made the renovation of housing stock in neighborhoods and affordable housing a top priority.” Really? Is that why on March 3 she proposed Bill No. 110134 “prohibiting the issuance of any permit for the construction of buildings, additions or roof decks, exceeding a certain height” on properties in Point Breeze for one year?
In the city of Philadelphia, it’s legal to build up to 35 feet (three stories), and apparently also legal for a small group of individuals to persuade City Council to pass a bill of this nature (a bill that goes against the law). So who wants to stop the development of a neighborhood prime for growth? Looks like it’s two anti-gentrification groups specifically: the Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze and South Philly Homes, the former of which actually went around Point Breeze passing out flyers with a picture of predominately white patrons outside Graduate Hospital’s Sidecar Bar and the text “Don’t Sell Out” as part of its Save Point Breeze campaign. Syliva Wilkins is no stranger to these groups’ fervor for keeping Point Breeze just the way it is, in all it’s dilapidated glory. In late 2009, she sued Ori C. Feibush of OCF Realty (an active member of the Point Breeze neighborhood and advocate for development) because he was trying to build a three-story home. She also fought the American Sardine Bar coming to 18th and Federal.
Instead of harboring a fear of development, neighborhoods should work together to create uniformity (two-story homes do look silly next to three-story homes), but this isn’t the right forum for what these groups are trying to accomplish; this bill is a recipe for disaster. Bill 110134 will give certain people the tools to fight any and all changes, instead of the genuine community participation and discussion (more neighbors should be attending zoning meetings to put in their say before it reaches this point) that would resolve these issues without having to pass a moratorium on development as a whole. The fear mongering that is taking place over increased prices is what we are arguing about; those fears are being materialized in an actual moratorium on development instead of better community participation and communication. Antoinette Johnson of Point Breeze Pioneers stated that “the only way to combat irresponsible leadership is to show our numbers against this bill.” Johnson is urging community members to “stand together to make change possible in Point Breeze.”
The market is too weak right now to limit developers and owners to two-story constructions, especially when it’s stunting the growth of an area that needs development. While lots of neighborhoods in Philadelphia would be thrilled to have the kind of development that Point Breeze has, people who support the passing of this bill seem less concerned with moving forward and more with a sort of reverse blockbusting (or should we say a stubbornness only rivaled by Kanye West).
This is a difficult issue and one that is getting very heated among pro-development Philadelphians and anti-gentrification groups. What we are seeing now in Philadelphia are the effects of change and gentrification that cause the destructive tension we have become famous for and the visible discontinuity of our neighboring streets—the growing pains that even New York City went through with Irish immigration during the Civil War. Frederick Douglass once said that “without a struggle, there can be no progress;” judging by how far Philly has yet to go, we all better hold on for the ride.
Terri Paone, community relations director for Anna Verna, was not in the office today to comment. E-mail here to get in touch with the Save Point Breeze Campaign.
UPDATE March 11: The Planning Commission is outraged and fully committed to voting against this on March 15. Apparently they were not included in the discussion of this bill; only a handful of people met behind Verna’s closed doors to propose this (this reads Sylvia Wilkins all over it). While many members of South Philly Homes were very much in favor of this bill, we should point out that it’s not the entire group who are backing this.
UPDATE March 23: Although the public hearing at City Hall will be continued at a later date, both Claudia Sherrod of South Philly Homes and Anna Verna spoke against the bill today.