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June 24-30, 2004

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Preservation Taken to Task



Third District City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell may not have won her battle to strip the Philadelphia Historical Commission of its power. Undeterred, she established a new task force instead.

In February, Blackwell wrote two bills that, had they passed, would have given the Council sole power to designate neighborhoods as historic. (Currently, the Historical Commission — along with historians, architects and designers — decide which buildings get saved and which will succumb to local developers.) City Council also would have been charged with reviewing applications for preservation and would have denied historic status to areas involved in the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI).

Blackwell established a task force to study issues of historic preservation and possible impacts on residents. The first of three public meetings will be held tonight.

"Historic preservation is an idea whose time has come," Blackwell says. "There are funds available [and] there are people who want to preserve the nature of their communities."

Blackwell says she believes some of the initial resistance to creating historic districts was due to the fact that not everybody who would be affected was included in the conversation, so she expanded the scope of her task force to include Gary Hack, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Fine Arts. Hack now chairs the group, which will field questions from residents and relevant organization representatives at each of the public meetings.

"Historic districts are a valuable preservation tool," says task-force member John Gallery, executive director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.

At the first meeting, attendees will address the process of creating historic districts. The second will focus on how to reconcile historic preservation and improvements to a site, particularly communication and coordination between agencies. The third meeting will deal with the implications of historic district status on low-income property owners and residents. The task force expects to complete its work by October.

According to Gallery, the task force will be guided by both public input and research on preservation in other cities conducted through the University of Pennsylvania.

"We're focused on trying to keep the community informed," says Blackwell. "I think that at the least we are moving forward together."

The task force will meet from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Winnet Building, Community College of Philadelphia, second floor, 1700 Spring Garden St.

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