A new life for the Callowhill Neighborhood Improvement District?
Less than a year after it was defeated by residents, the controversial Callowhill Neighborhood Improvement District appears to be rearing its head again — and this time with a new sales team.
It was last April that then-1st District Councilman Frank DiCicco introduced a bill in City Council that would have created a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) in the area between Vine and Callowhill, Broad and 10th streets, imposing a tax on residents to be used for neighborhood improvements.
While some residents favored the bill, others saw in it the empowerment of one group of residents (represented most closely by the Callowhill Neighborhood Association) over the rest of the neighborhood. Opponents rallied and managed, despite efforts by DiCicco to stop them, to defeat the NID — no small feat, considering the law places the burden on those opposed, requiring signatures of either a majority of residents or the owners of a majority of the property value to petition against it.
But controversial legislation has a way of coming back from the dead — and NID opponents are worried the bill is already stirring in its coffin.
A week ago, the Callowhill Neighborhood Association announced a “60-day pilot cleaning program” in areas “where there was strong support” for the NID. The cleaning is being administered by the Center City District, whose executive director, Paul Levy, first proposed the NID. Levy confirms that the city’s Commerce Department — which recently released a brochure on how to start Business and Neighborhood Improvement Districts in Philly — is paying his agency $80,000 for a “demonstration” cleaning and potential street improvements, as part of a contract that also includes work on the SEPTA-owned portion of the Reading Viaduct.
Word of the pilot program went out 10 days ago to members of the Callowhill Neighbors Association listserv, among them vocal NID opponents Philip Browndeis and Lee Quillen. Quillen says that DiCicco’s successor, Councilman Mark Squilla, whom she contacted, was initially unaware of the pilot. But later, Quillen says, Squilla told her that he was, in fact, considering introducing new NID legislation. “I was stunned,” says Quillen. “I told him, ‘Mark, if I have to defeat this again, I’ll defeat this again.’”
Squilla, who is on vacation this week, couldn’t be reached for comment.