Recently elected City Councilman Mark Squilla met with members of the Olde Richmond Civic Association on Feb. 28 to discuss his office’s ongoing efforts to clean and green the community.
The session, held at the Cione Recreation Center, attracted about 30 people who wanted to bring some issues to Squilla’s attention.
“We are here to work with you. I work for you,” Squilla (D-1st dist.) said, as he fielded comments from the residents.
In addition to discussing his clean-and-green mission, Squilla offered his views on the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.’s master plan for the central riverfront.
His own initiatives to address the needs of his district start with recognizing the importance of parks and playgrounds, he said. He regards them as necessary for children who want to play, seniors who want to relax and read books, or pet lovers who want to walk their dogs.
Squilla hopes to recruit a number of local groups to help maintain these integral city spaces.
He issued a challenge to the Olde Richmond organization and other community groups to apply for grants from his office that could be used for neighborhood cleanups and projects like planting trees or removing graffiti.
“The district needs the people in the communities to get involved,” Squilla said, dangling the $1,000 grants as a carrot.
One person expressed concern that this additional grant opportunity could cause groups to lose other funding they may receive, but Squilla said it was a needless concern.
He also noted that beautification and economic-development efforts are already underway throughout the first distinct, as the revitalization of the waterfront continues.
Squilla also said he has a favorable opinion of the master plan for the central Delaware riverfront. The anticipated $770 million development project would target areas between I-95 and the river — spanning the six-mile-long riverfront from Oregon Avenue to Allegheny Avenue — for improvements to allow Philadelphia residents greater access to the Delaware River.
But he also discussed hurdles faced by the city and the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. as they expand the project into the Northeast — such as balancing public use of land with the fact that private developers own much of the 1,100 acres targeted by the master plan.
“City (owned) parcels will be easy to convert to parks,” Squilla stated.
But he suggested that private landowners, who account for about 90 percent of the waterfront land, may need incentives to get on board with the vision of the master plan.
Those enticements likely will require brainstorming, Squilla added, but he remains optimistic and even suggested that the blueprint within the master plan could be completed in a shorter time than the 25-year period suggested by DRWC.
“I think it’s going to be a success, in closer to fifteen years,” he stated.
During the meeting, Olde Richmond members rejoiced about successful neighborhood cleanup projects but reminded the city councilman that the area’s high rate of vacant properties is a constant concern.
Squilla said he’s addressing this concern, and in particular supports the movement to aggressively combat blighted properties by relying on a land bank.
In early February, City Council members Maria Quiñones-Sánchez (D-7th dist.) and Bill Green (D-at large) introduced a bill that would create a city-operated land bank. The city would acquire and rehabilitate vacant properties and make them available to reliable buyers, thus putting those properties back on the tax rolls. Squilla said that land-banking offers a lot of advantages.
But he’d look to tweak the bill to include some restrictions and ensure that properties don’t fall back into the hands of unethical landowners and slumlords. ••