By Isaac Steinberg
During the regularly scheduled Planning Commission meeting, which followed the Mayor’s speech, commission members heard about City Council Bill 080527, which would amend section 14-2007 of the Philadelphia Code by permitting the historic designation of the public interior portions of buildings such as the endangered Boyd Theatre.
“When is a space truly a public space?” asked at-large City Councilman Bill Green, one of the sponsors of the bill, in reference to concerns that the bill only be applied to areas the public could access. Green, Preservation Alliance Executive Director John Gallery and former city planning commission executive director Craig Schelter testified in regard to the bill Tuesday night.
The bill was passed out of the City Council Rules Committee last week and the planning commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to take 45 days in order to allow further study of the bill before passing along any recommendation to the full City Council.
Schelter on behalf of Development Workshop, said, “while we support the bill in concept, we are concerned with the detail.” Schelter noted that in New York, the ground floor of the New York Plaza Hotel garnered a public effort to certify the ground floor, along with hotel rooms as historic. That created a legal battle that was argued all the way up to the New York Supreme Court, and represented the type of situation Schelter feared could occur in Philadelphia if the bill as presently composed is passed.
Gallery told the commission that he wanted them to vote for the 45-day waiting period before giving their recommendation to City Council. “The language of the bill is not the right language,” Gallery said. Gallery feels the extra time will allow both the planning commission and the Philadelphia Historical Commission to adequately study the impact of the bill and further tweak the language.
Councilman Green, who has been working with the Historical Commission and Preservation Alliance to amend some parts of the bill, told the commission, “there is no reason for Philadelphia to be 35 years behind the curve” on interior historic preservation.
Andy Altman, Director of Commerce and Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, asked Jonathan Farnham, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, what his agency has done concerning Bill 080527.
“This came on rather quickly and we [PHC] did not have the time to debate the matter and the implications of the bill in our June meeting,” Farnham said. “While we [PHC] support the bill in principle, we need time to look at it.” Farnham also told the commission that the PHC would like to create a special sub-committee that would study the bill.
“Should the city of Philadelphia have this bill that protects interior portions of public buildings?” asked Green, “Say yes, let’s bring Philadelphia into the 20th century even though the rest of the county is in the 21st”.
The bill will have a first reading Thursday in the last City Council hearing before the summer recess.