PlanPhilly

O'Brien bill seeks riparian rights for Trump

    • Proposed waterfront development
      Proposed waterfront development
May 18

By Kellie Patrick
For PlanPhilly
State Rep. Michael O’Brien this week submitted legislation challenging the governor’s moratorium on the granting of development rights along Philadelphia’s rivers.

He’s also initiated a June meeting between the House’s State Government Committee and the Secretary of the Department of General Services to discuss the legitimacy of the moratorium and demand that state representatives and senators have a say in the ongoing review of how riverfront development rights are granted.

“Rep. O’Brien is concerned that legislators’ input is not being considered,” said Rodney Oliver, executive director of the House State Government Committee, of which O’Brien is a member. “He wants to be at the table when decisions are made.”

The meeting will happen sometime in June, said Department of General Services spokesman Sean Pressmann – but an exact date has not been determined. “I think it is simply our desire to discuss policy options with the committee,” Pressmann said.
Pressmann, who was filling in Friday for the Department’s chief spokesman, said he did not have enough knowledge to comment on the level of legislative involvement in the review.

If passed, O’Brien’s bill http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billinfo/billinfo.cfm?syear=2007&sind=0&body=H&type=B&BN=1332  would give Donald Trump’s development company the riparian rights to build on Pier 35 ½  at 707-717 Penn Street in Northern Liberties.  Trump wants to build a 45-story tower of luxury condominiums. http://trumptowerpa.com

Governor Rendell called for a riparian rights moratorium last April specifically so the state could review how it grants the rights to this valuable land - located along and sometimes beneath the rivers -- and how the state could get more money for these deals. Historically, the state has granted long-term, inexpensive leases – often $1 for 99 years. See related stories.

But from O’Brien’s point of view, Rendell cannot really call a moratorium because the executive branch has no say over who gets riparian rights. The granting of these rights has always taken a legislative act – essentially the passage of a new law. And by tradition, only a legislator representing the district in which a project was proposed would start the process.

Last month, after O’Brien said he planned to submit legislation on Trump’s behalf, Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo would only say that Rendell “looks forward to working with the legislature in crafting legislation that addresses the issue.”

O’Brien’s bill could be assigned to committee as soon as Monday, when the legislature goes back in session. It will likely go to the Government Committee, Oliver said.

Before any bill goes before the full committee, the chairman and staff decide whether there should be a hearing prior to a vote, Oliver said.
“Considering the controversy with this issue, more likely than not there would be some sort of (public) hearing before taking any action,” he said.

About the author

Kellie Patrick Gates, Waterfront, casinos, planning reporter

Kellie Patrick Gates writes about planning, neighborhood development and the Central Delaware Waterfront. A journalist for more than two decades, she  worked for daily newspapers in Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and South Florida before coming to Philadelphia in 2003 to write for the Inquirer. Her work has appeared on PlanPhilly since 2007, and she also writes Love, the Inquirer's weekly wedding column. A native of Elk County, Pa., Kellie lives with her husband, Gary, and their dog and two cats.

Follow her on Twitter @KelliePGates



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