On Wednesday I went to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) hearing to follow the still-developing saga of OCF Realty’s development at Point Breeze Avenue and Titan Street, as well as their coffee shop at 20th and Federal.
(No news yet.) And, as I’ve written before
, the debate over these projects has to do with the growing pains of a neighborhood in transition where the zoning meetings are a mess.
The biggest news to come out of the ZBA hearing, by far, was word that South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S. Neighborhood Action Committee (NAC) (UPDATED:
Diversified Community Services, not SPHINC, has the NAC contract) established a brand new zoning committee to wrangle the neighborhood's ineffective zoning process into something productive.
SPHINC evidently recognized that the most recent Point Breeze zoning meeting (like many before) served no one
, and they want to change how the neighborhood does its zoning business.
Jonathan King, a Point Breeze resident and former zoning attorney, told me he was approached by SPHINC's the Neighborhood Action Committee Director Zelda Simpkins to be part of the new committee. I caught up with King to get a better sense of how this fledgling zoning committee will work. He said SPHINC’s intention is to “modernize” the process and “to gain the support of all members of the community.” The whole idea is to make Point Breeze’s neighborhood zoning process more transparent and focused. No small task, but an incredibly important one.
The committee will post its rules, news about proposed projects, meeting notices, and all letters sent to the ZBA online (location TBD) and at the NAC SPHINC. They also hope to have early-stage informational meetings with zoning applicants to get a handle on proposals, discuss zoning-related concerns, and then communicate with the community about projects coming down the pipeline.
The new committee will run the neighborhood’s zoning meetings from here out, and aim to keep the conversation focused on zoning concerns and to monitor voting. King said the committee would tally votes at the meeting, announce a preliminary vote, and post the official count the next day. All residents living between Broad and 25th streets, Washington and Moore will be allowed to vote, while committee members will abstain and community support will be determined by majority rule.
Because so many zoning meetings are sidetracked by the same concerns about local hiring and property-tax increases, King hopes the committee will address those issues through other avenues. The Neighborhood Action Committee intends to maintain a list of neighborhood-based contractors to facilitate local hiring. King added that SPHINC shares the concerns residents have about the impact new development could have their property taxes. "We don’t want to see any long-term Point Breeze residents unable to stay in their homes," King said. "We will lobby and organize the community to lobby city council to address the property tax issue specifically as it relates to Point Breeze.”
Joining King on the committee are: Torme Deveauxbray (contractor and coach), Antoninette Johnson (Point Breeze Pioneers), Jonathan King (a former zoning attorney), Pastor Lee Wright (Mt. Zion Pentecostal Church), Helen Carter, Marcellus Blair (contractor), and SPHINC NAC Director Zelda Simpkins. Here’s hoping that this crew, a mix of long-term residents and relative newcomers, can help build trust in their new-look version of the neighborhood zoning process.
As for the OCF Projects, they’re on a two-week hold awaiting input from 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. Steve Cobb, a representative from Johnson’s office, said that the Councilman received documentation of the neighborhood zoning meeting just prior to the ZBA hearing. Evidently South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S. wouldn’t release the vote results to anyone and Cobb commented that there is “uncertainty to the status of South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S.”
Jonathan King has maintained the blog pointbreezephilly.org since late 2010, which now has a petition up on the site to encourage Councilman Johnson to support of OCF’s proposed developments.
In case you’re super interested, here’s my audio from the hearing about the proposed OCF development at Point Breeze and Titan. Hearing starts at the line marked below.