By Kellie Patrick Gates
City Council unanimously approved zoning legislation that would allow Foxwoods Casino to operate at the former Strawbridge & Clothier building.
When the legislation passed out of committee, its sponsor, 1st District Councilman Frank DiCicco said he would not bring the matter to full council for a final vote unless and until the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, which owns the portion of the building where Foxwoods hopes to operate, reached a lease agreement with the casino and ironed out a real estate issue with Gramercy Capital Corporation, another Strawbridge building owner. If there were not done-deals, DiCicco said, there would at least have to be legally binding documentation that the agreements were forthcoming. He did not bring the legislation up for a vote at last week's council meeting for these reasons.
But after Thursday's council vote, DiCicco said he has since determined that his pledge to withhold the final vote was “a mistake.”
DiCicco said during pre-vote remarks that he understands the problems associated with gaming – traffic, addiction, and safety concerns – but that he also knows a casino would create jobs and tax revenue, and help revitalize Market Street East. He said he was confident the city administration could alleviate any problems. And with the city's budget in the shape it’s in, he said, Philadelphia needs the money the casinos would bring.
No other council members commented on the CED legislation prior to the vote. Previous coverage
Waterfront Overlay District
Council also took action – but not the expected action – on legislation aimed at creating a multi-use riverfront trail, a dense retail/commercial corridor, and connections between neighborhoods and the Delaware River via a zoning overlay. The district, which would stretch between Oregon and Allegheny Avenues, came one step closer to becoming law when City Council approved technical amendments to the bill Thursday morning.
These amendments, introduced by DiCicco, were unanimously passed. City Council will vote on whether or not to approve the bill, which would create the Central Delaware Riverfront Overlay District, when it convenes next week.
The original overlay legislation has been described as a place holder designed to protect the area from development that would prevent the city from realizing its waterfront development goals until a master plan and related zoning changes are in place. The master plan is expected to be completed in 12 to 18 months. Many civic groups support the overlay. But some waterfront landowners and a development organization oppose it.
A group that has lobbied hard for the overlay, the Central Delaware Advisory Group, comprised of representatives from many riverfront neighborhood organizations, held its regular meeting Thursday morning. It expect the legislation will pass, and members said that while it's not perfect – they would really rather have a 100-foot or 20 percent setback – they are pleased with the bill. They plan to send DiCicco a thank you letter. If the overlay passes, the Planning Commission would be charged with establishing specific guidelines on how it will be applied. CDAG's next step: Lobbying the Commission.