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Friday, April 4, 2014

Burgess asks to withdraw his district from land bank bill (UPDATED)

Posted By on Fri, Apr 4, 2014 at 11:21 AM

In an email sent shortly after 8 this morning, City Councilor Ricky Burgess requested that an amendment be drafted that would exclude his council district from a controversial land-bank bill.

It was addressed to Kelly Mistick, an assistant solicitor who is the liaison to council, and cc'd to other City Council members.

Here's the unedited email:

Dear Kelly:

Can you please draft an an amendment to the land bank legislation for me.

I want to exclude the landbank from receiving, buying, or selling any land or real property in the 9th Council district.

Since Council defers to the Council member of the affected district I am sure this amendment will have unanimous Council support. I do not want to prevent other neighborhoods from using this tool.

But the land bank conversation has caused too many divisions of race, class and religion. After several public discussions and meetings with residents of my Council District, it is clear they are not supportive of a landbank.

So in the spirit of cooperation, I simply, prayerfully and humbly request my district be removed from the legislation.

Thanks

Rev. Ricky V. Burgess

The email comes after a meeting this past Monday in Mayor Bill Peduto's conference room, during which community groups and some city councilors discussed proposed amendments to the bill. According to several attendees, Peduto encouraged community groups to work together to pass the bill. Burgess was not in attendance, though councilor Daniel Lavelle, who teamed up with Burgess to offer their own amendments and has been critical of the bill, did attend. The subject of that meeting did not explicitly appear on Peduto's public schedule, which read "Council Meeting" followed by "Meeting with staff" during the time-frame of the discussion. (The mayor has previously acknowledged that not all of his meetings will be announced publicly.) A similar meeting with community groups has been scheduled for this coming Monday morning.

Peduto supported land-bank legislation as part of his campaign and has continued to say he supports the bill, though he hasn't done much stumping for it publicly.

City Councilor Deb Gross introduced the land bank bill Jan. 14 — and it quickly drew criticism from community groups who felt like they weren't sufficiently involved in drafting the bill and that the legislation doesn't do enough to include communities in decisions about what will happen to blighted, vacant or tax delinquent land in their neighborhoods.

Burgess, whose district includes a disproportionate share of dilapidated properties, has been critical of the bill from the start, and has argued city council (as opposed to an independent board) should have final say over the disposition of land. This isn't the first time he's proposed amendments that would do just that. He reiterated those arguments in a roundtable discussion hosted by City Paper March 21.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office could not immediately reached for comment about the email. Nor could Burgess or Gross.

ADDED: City Councilor Corey O'Connor responded to a request for comment with the following statement of his own:

I find these comments to be a disappointing development. Councilwoman Gross and I have had over 30 meetings with community groups and we have worked diligently to incorporate their suggestions into our amendments. Last Monday, we convened a meeting with a diverse group of community activists and leaders from throughout the City and are working very hard to create consensus and respond to the concerns of citizens.

While I am disappointed in Mr. Burgess’ request, I am not convinced it is legally possible, so I cannot comment directly on this until I’m advised by the Law Department.

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