Anne Fadullon, the city’s new Director of Planning and Development, was sworn in as a member of the City Planning Commission on Tuesday. Immediately after being sworn in, Fadullon was nominated to be chairwoman of the Commission and approved by a unanimous vote.
Fadullon takes over the top seat on the Commission from Alan Greenberger, who was deputy mayor for planning and economic development under former mayor Michael Nutter. Joe Syrnick, director of the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, will remain vice-chair of the Planning Commission.
After the swearing in, the Commission quickly moved to recommend zoning variances for two large projects that went through Civic Design Review earlier this month, one on North American Street in South Kensington and the other near 37th and Market streets.
But it stalled over a proposed change to the zoning maps in Francisville contained in a bill introduced on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke. The proposal affects a roughly four-block area bounded 16th Street, Ridge Avenue, Brown Street, Carlisle Street, and Poplar Street. It would adjust a number of parcels from commercial and industrial-residential mixed use down to single-family residential use. It would, among other things, advance Council President Clarke’s plan to establish “workforce housing” in various parts of his district, pursuant to a Request for Proposals issued late last year.
Clarke’s workforce housing proposal would transfer city-owned land at a discounted rate to developers who agree to build housing that will sell at rates that are affordable to people making 80 percent to 120 percent of Area Median Income. (Qualifying individuals could earn between $45,000 and $68,000 a year, roughly.)
Penelope Giles, of the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation (FNDC), said that she supports the goal of building more middle-market housing in Francisville—and that supporting economic diversity is in fact her mission—but that the community hadn’t had a chance to vet either the project or the larger remapping yet. She asked the Commission to table the proposal so FNDC could host a community meeting with Clarke’s office and the developer. That developer, BMK Properties LLC, was selected at a Redevelopment Authority board meeting in September. Half a dozen other Francisville residents echoed Giles’ request.
Although Jeffery Young, a representative of Clarke’s office, supported the Planning Commission staff’s recommendation to approve the proposal, the Commission ultimately voted to request 45 additional days to review the bill. Commissioners said they hoped that FNDC could meet with Clarke and the developer before the Commission’s meeting in mid-March. City Council’s Committee on Rules can hold a hearing on the proposal, but the full Council can’t vote on the bill until the Planning Commission weighs in with its recommendation.
It was an interesting first test for the Commission under Fadullon, a former developer and president of the Building Industry Association who has worked closely with Council President Clarke in the past.
“Look, when everybody from the community comes and says, ‘Please just give us more time, and we just want to have a conversation,’ I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request,” Fadullon said after the meeting. “At the same time, we know that the Councilman is interested in moving this forward in his community and we want to work with him to do that in his district. But if there’s another discussion that can take place, an additional one that may in the long term smooth the process all the way going forward, I think we’d rather take that time upfront and try to do it then as opposed to figuring out halfway through construction, oh, we’ve got a problem.”
Tuesday’s Commission meeting showed some other new faces as well. According to the Home Rule Charter, the Commission consists of six mayoral appointees as well as a representative from the Managing Director’s Office, the Director of Commerce and the Finance Director. Christopher Rupe, a former legislative director for the influential Electricians Union Local 98, will serve on the Commission as a representative of the Managing Director’s Office. Peilin Chen, a former Redevelopment Authority employee, will serve as a representative of Finance Director Rob Dubow. Commerce Director Duane Bumb attended the meeting as his own representative.
Former Commissioner Bernard Lee resigned from the Commission earlier this month, according to Gary Jastrzab, the Commission’s director. His replacement has not yet been named. In addition to Syrnick, Nancy Rogo-Trainer and Pat Eiding remain on the Commission for the time being. Fadullon said that there would be more appointees named soon, but that they haven’t been confirmed yet.