Still, neither Pizzola nor Carter could provide any evidence that point to students’ negative effect on the immediate neighborhood.
To Maria Yuen, who helped create the North of Vine Association, which became the first group in Philadelphia to defeat an NID from her Chinatown neighborhood in December 2011, the entire process is nothing short of a “mini-dictatorship.”
“They [City Council] already have their minds made up,” she says. “The hearing is a joke. It’s just for show. It’s man versus an unelected beast.”
The proposed Chinatown NID, called the Callowhill Improvement District, targeted all property owners, not just landlords and businesses. Still, Yuen says that defeating Clarke’s NCNID won’t be any easier. She says that even after she convinced enough property owners to vote against the NID, Council went ahead and voted in favor of it anyway (voting records show that it’s good politics to vote for councilmembers’ NIDs since it’s assumed that they know their district’s needs best). Mayor Nutter eventually vetoed it.
“It’s another way for the city to collect a tax without it saying it can collect a tax,” she says.
Others see Clarke’s NCNID proposal as more than just a response to unruly students. “Clarke was seen as a councilman who wasn’t that friendly with development, but has become much more open to it,” says Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy. “It may or may not deal with his efforts to control developers.”
Stalberg adds that Clarke could bring needed change to the creation process of NIDs, especially considering that “often in the past, these hearings have been a little inscrutable. This is a good opportunity for Clarke to make these hearings simpler and much easier to evaluate.”
That isn’t likely to happen, considering his lack of transparency over the last two years.
“Improvement Districts can certainly be abused,” says Richardson Dilworth, political science director for the Center of Public Policy at Drexel University. “But it’s not hard to see if a NID isn’t working.”
VanStory, who questions why the city would create a dozen NIDs that use basically the same legislation and objectives instead of a citywide entity that could do the same with less overhead, is ready for the fight.
The steering committee is a self appointed group of developers seeking power from the city to tax and to place liens on property owners who fail to pay the tax to them. This is not a voluntary association; it is empowered by the city to collect taxes on every property owner as defined by the steering committee whether they agree or not with the NID.
The law in question is the 2004 “Yorktown Special District Controls” ordinance, written specifically for the North Central section of the city. The law holds, after years of tensions between students and neighbors, that Temple kids simply aren’t allowed to live in certain areas of North Central.