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"Which prison?" says Craig Melidosian, when asked what he thinks of a proposed development on Cobbs Creek Parkway. "Isn't it crazy that I have to ask which prison?"
Melidosian, a Republican ward leader in Southwest Philly, is referring to the fact that two anticipated "penal" projects in the area went before the Zoning Board of Adjustments in the past two months. Neighbors rallied against both. The first time around, they were unsuccessful: Following days of protests, the Zoning Board recently gave the go-ahead for what developers and supporters have dubbed a "day reporting center" — an alternative to jail that would provide services (and sometimes beds) to nonviolent offenders, but which opposing neighbors call a "prison" — at 52nd Street and Grays Avenue [News, "Go Directly to Jail," Holly Otterbein, Feb. 17].
Supporters argue that a day reporting center would save the city money and reduce its recidivism rates. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell championed the project, to the chagrin of some neighbors, who say that she never bothered to mention it to them.
Then, on March 9, the same neighbors lined up at a Zoning Board hearing to oppose a proposed "private and public penal institute" on Cobbs Creek Parkway. Neighbors say the developers, Liberty Management Services, referred to the project as a halfway house that would aid ex-cons from the neighborhood. They see it differently.
"Why would you put a private prison on a commercial corridor that you're struggling to rebuild?" asks Melidosian.
Blackwell, they say, never informed them of this project either. She counters, "We didn't know.... They didn't tell anybody."
This time, neighbors had better luck: At the March 9 hearing, Blackwell, who is running unopposed for the Third District City Council seat in the Democratic primary, spoke out against the Cobbs Creek Parkway proposal. Then last week, Liberty Management withdrew its Zoning Board application.
The neighbors claimed victory, but they see the two incidents as an indication of Blackwell's "poor public relations" skills, as Melidosian puts it. Had neighbors been kept in the loop, they might have reacted differently to the two proposals — which were not, he admits, without merit — "If you don't inform us, " says Melidosian, "we're going to assume something suspicious is going on."
There's No A'Counting
City Paper doesn't want to report on crime at SugarHouse twice in one month. We pinky swear. But we've found — yet again — that statistics provided by the city and media don't add up.
It all began last November, when the Inquirer reported that there had been three crimes at the casino since its opening two months earlier. But CP found 22 reports of crime filed with Philadelphia Police. Then, after Planning Commission chairman Alan Greenberger told a House committee in February, "There have been no serious [crime] issues at all [at] the SugarHouse Casino," we found 20 more reports of crime since opening day — and that police had been called there a total of 147 times.
And that's not the end of it. CP recently plowed through statistics compiled by state police, who patrol the casino's interior, and found an additional 128 reports of crime, from drug possession to forgery, bringing the grand total to 170.
"Most of that is ... not violent crime," counters 26th District Captain Michael Cram. "Remember, that business is open 24 hours a day."