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Here’s a social impact developer’s take on Councilman Johnson’s RCO bill

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. March 11, 2016 Category: PurposeShort
Chaos is rife as ever within Point Breeze communities as real estate development and subsequent gentrification continues to eat away at community relations.

Most of that chaos is taking place in neighborhood meetings hosted by registered community organizations (RCOs), which provide vital input in the zoning process by voting in favor or against development projects that need zoning variances after hearing from the developers themselves.

Last week, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson proposed a bill that would set “codes of conduct” within those meetings through the Planning Commission. The proposal comes after South Philadelphia HOMES meeting attendees allegedly voiced anti-Semitic comments at a presenting Jewish developer.

“I’ll be the first to say that gentrification is a controversial issue about which people often disagree,” Johnson told PlanPhilly. “I would like to clearly state for the record that hateful comments about one’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation will not and should never be tolerated.”

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Social impact realtor Ken Weinstein, founder of Philly Office Retail and Jumpstart Germantown, is in favor of the RCO voting process. Before recent zoning code changes, he said, knowing who to contact while applying for a zoning variance was murky. In his 27 years in development, he said he’s never been turned down for a zoning request.

“I almost always get tough questions and requests but all I ask for is a fair assessment of my project,” he said. “If it is good for the community and the developer is thinking about more than just their bottom line, the project should be approved.”

But, he said, there is “no room” in the process for hatred and intolerance. Zoning consideration should be considered on fact, not race, religion, class or sexual preference. But clarity in the process is key.

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“Overall, uncertainty is the biggest obstacle in the development process,” he said. “Providing clarity in the zoning process has made it easier to seek approvals and pursue socially impactful development projects.”

Increasing mutual understanding, perhaps, will reduce the vitriol felt between developers and some members of gentrified communities.

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