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Friday, January 22, 2016

Councilor Taylor misses important Planning Board meeting

Councilor Gloria Taylor missed an opportunity to weigh in
on one of her pet projects Thursday evening.

City Council member Gloria Taylor unexplainedly missed her maiden meeting as the Council's representative on the Planning Board yesterday evening.

Taylor, who represents Ward 3, was instrumental in delaying the approval of the South Avenue Gateway project for several months in 2015, arguing in part that the Council had been kept in the dark about Planning Board decisions, though that turns out not to have been the case.

It is widely believed that that dispute was resolved when the Mapp administration agreed to move a proposal for apartments and an industrial building on South Second Street forward.

Councilors Taylor and Brown (whose church is across the street from the proposed South Second Street project) were key in advancing it.

Last night's Planning Board took up discussion of the project.

I noticed that the agenda item did not contain an application number, and it was brought out that the developer had not gone through the regular channels of making an application through the Planning Division (which assigns numbers to applications). Nor had the Council's resolution on the matter been forwarded to the Planning Division.

Instead, a complete draft proposal, prepared by the developer, was taken up and approved by the City Council in November, authorizing Mayor Mapp to sign the agreement, though he could modify it in consultation with the City's planners.

Planning Director Bill Nierstedt pointed out that the property in question was already part of the "infamous 197 [properties] plan" adopted during the late Mayor Al McWilliams' first term. That plan called for scattered-site redevelopment of 197 properties under the ownership or control of the City.

The property currently under discussion stretches eastward on South Second Street from Grant Avenue to Muhlenberg Place and is commonly referred to as "the Oliver Brown property" after a previous owner.

Nierstedt and Board chairperson Ron Scott Bey took pains to underscore that the Planning Board was in control of the planning process and was in discussions with the developer, though the parties are not in complete agreement about the project.

The outcome of the Planning Board discussion, as I understood it, was that the Board was standing by the earlier redevelopment plan for this particular property and forwarding its recommendation to the Council.

Approval of that plan by the Council would set the stage for the developer and the City to negotiate a final plan acceptable to all parties.

The resolution summing this all up was put forward by John Stewart Jr., who is Mayor Mapp's designee on the Planning Board.

Reached by phone, Council President Cory Storch confirmed that he had appointed Taylor the Council's representative on the Planning Board at her request.

It hardly seems like a good start for Taylor not to show up at her first Planning Board meeting, especially when a pet project of hers was on the table.

It will be interesting to hear her reaction when the board's resolution is brought before the Council. Will it be "I didn't get the email," or "Something crooked is going on here!"?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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