Ryan Briggs Ryan Briggs is a staff writer and connoisseur of City Hall intrigue, business dealings, neighborhood gossip and local lore. Ryan has studied, worked and resided in Philadelphia since 2004, covering politics and development issues for Hidden City, Next City and Metropolis, amongst other fine publications.
Some blighted properties near 51st and Baltimore. Neighbors say meddling by the city and shifting development plans have scared off private investors.
Our good friends at the West Philly Local have been doing a bang-up job of covering the Cedar Park neighborhood's struggles with an inexplicably blighted area around 51st Street and Baltimore Avenue that has been the focus of considerable government monkey business - a topic we've spilled a considerable amount of ink over ourselves. West Philly Local pointed out today that a spokesperson from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, a government agency that has facilitated said monkey business in the past, was apparently not happy about the attention its conspicuous absence from a recent community meeting about the land had generated. The PRA decided to clear the air in a fairly confusing and unconventional way.
Paul Chrystie, the PRA's director of communications, took to the comments section of a popular West Philly Local blog post about the recent community meeting, chastising journalists and a local business association for not better articulating the PRA's dealings in the area.
"The [PRA] has no plans to condemn any properties in either the 5000 or 5100 blocks of Baltimore Avenue," Chrystie begins in the comment. "PRA regrets that no reporter who has written about this issue to date has contacted PRA to determine what is or is not happening in this area."
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, unless you're me, a reporter who wrote about this exact issue after speaking to a room full of PRA representatives who confirmed the agency had met with a developer about plans for the area. Chrystie goes on to acknowledge that, yes, that meeting had occurred, but that the plans were so formative they're weren't even worth worrying about, and new eminent domain laws had made it harder for the government to seize private land.
But instead of reiterating this point to the room full of anxious neighbors who assembled last week to find out just what, exactly, is happening to this land, Chrystie went on to say the PRA deliberately turned down invitations by community groups to send a message.
"[The PRA] declined the invitation to attend last Thursday's community meeting because it felt that its presence would suggest that it is actively engaged in some development plan(s), which it is not," writes Chrystie.
Because what better way to allay a community's fears than by avoiding neighbors and writing a followup later in the comments section of a blog, right? Chrystie said the PRA asked the head of the Baltimore Avenue Business Association (BABA), to instead read a prepared statement, but that they didn't respond.
"We went out of our way to invite them. I worked hard trying to get anyone from PRA to come," said Vince Whitaker, BABA's president. "So we didn't want to just read a letter, we told them that if they wanted to make a statement, someone from their department should come to come to the meeting."
But the capper is that Chrystie later seems to contradict all of this, intimating that the PRA might actually try to acquire some of that land in the future (and, incidentally, that they had, in fact, spoken to City Paper about this issue).
"That said, PRA may seek to acquire individual properties," he wrote, explaining to another commentorcommenter why the city is keeping a "blight certification" in place around the intersection. "For example, the vacant land at the southwest corner of 51st and Baltimore is mostly publicly owned, but a few privately owned vacant parcels remain."
So, to summarize: "Don't worry because we don't have any plans for this area, except for this one plan that's not very serious, but we're not interested in acquiring private land for it anyway, unless we feel like in the future. Which we might."
That clear things up?
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