On Tuesday afternoon, Council President Darrell Clarke celebrated with a corps of community leaders who’d supported his version of a land-bank bill expected to pass on Thursday. It will include many of the carve-outs for Council members that Clarke had sought, including a requirement to get approval from Council members three times over.
Some of Clarke’s opponents have said his amendments will hopelessly undermine Philadelphia’s land bank. The bill was devised, in part, to depoliticize the sale of city-controlled land, which opponents say Council members dole out as favors.
But members of the Land Bank Alliance, which spent six years lobbying for reform and opposed Clarke’s amendments, are quick to point out that the current bill is still important.
“I can’t say anyone was elated, but this is better than the alternative,” said Kiki Bolender of the Design Advocacy Group, which supported a transparent land bank. “We now have the possibility of using the land bank to go after tax-delinquent properties” — not insignificant in a town where the Sheriff’s Office, which normally handles taking over such properties, is under investigation by the FBI.
But does that new power come at the expense of giving Council more control over valuable land? While stressing that the new system would offer more transparency and documentation of the city’s land dealings than at present, Bolender argued that, at worst, Council’s role would simply stay the same.
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