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City Council Cancels: Sugarhouse cries Uncle and re-asserts need for community support
September 21, 2007 - Today, City Council canceled its scheduled public hearing on bills relating to SugarHouse's commercial entertainment district zoning and other slots gambling bills. According to political insiders, SugarHouse requested the delay after they unsuccessfully tried to force Fishtown Neighbors Association to the negotiation table.
Fishtown Neighbors Association (FNA) refused to sit down at the first negotiation on Monday claiming SugarHouse did not do its part to establish a fair table. FNA has agreed to negotiations with resiting as the first priority, and with the stipulation that any agreement would require the support 75% of the community. Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, the civic association representing the neighborhood in which half of SugarHouse is located, has refused to enter into negotiations.
"Sugarhouse and the politicians they bought have tried to bully Fishtown to the table. But if you are forced to a negotiation table, you are already screwed. Instead, FNA is modeling some savvy leadership by using its negotiation position to get what its membership has asked for -- Sugarhouse to move," says organizer Jethro Heiko.
Casino-Free Philadelphia organizer Jethro Heiko says, "This victory goes to two groups: Fishtown Neighbors Association which stood firm against Sugarhouse's trying to bully them to a negotiation table, and Mothers Against SugarHouse that got Nutter to take action on behalf of his anti-casino position. SugarHouse absolutely and undeniably needs the veneer of community support -- as shown by this action. After millions spent trying to buy off our neighborhood, they still don't have it. They never will."
According to Casino-Free Philadelphia leaders, this move shows that SugarHouse clearly did not have the votes to support the CED zoning. Casino-Free does not believe they will get it soon. A trend is emerging as the Street administration's influence decreases, more analysis emerges about alternative sites, more questions are asked about the economic hardship imposed by placing casinos in residential neighborhoods, and the ever-so-likely reign of Michael Nutter approaches.
The Rules Committee requires at least 15-day public advance notice for any rescheduling. This delay does not fall under the 45 day "no action means approval" because the CED zoning designation has not been created for the site and the CPC never formally transmitted their approval.
BACKGROUND OF FNA'S POWER AND NUTTER'S POSITION
For over a year SugarHouse has tried to get Fishtown Neighbors Association (FNA) to agree to a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). However, community resistance in Fishtown has gotten more fierce, despite the creation of FACT, an astroturf organization created by and funded by SugarHouse for Fishtown. (On Monday FACT may try to sign an agreement with Sugarhouse, making it an agreement essentially between Sugarhouse and Sugarhouse.)
Mike O'Brien has previously said that SugarHouse will not receive any riparian rights unless it gets a deal from both FNA and Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association. SugarHouse needs riparian rights according to their testimony at the Gaming Control Board.
Residents opposed to SugarHouse have used this as a stick to force SugarHouse to re-site.
And just this past week, Michael Nutter removed Tad Decker, the ex-chairman of the PGCB, from a host committee to raise funds for him. Nutter explained that had he known of Decker's involvement, he would have asked for him to be removed earlier.
In a letter, Nutter responded by re-asserting his opposition to SugarHouse and Foxwoods casinos, stating that "There is highly controversial evidence about whether the benefits [of gambling] are sustainable over time and whether those benefits exceed the substantial costs of gambling, addiction, traffic, public safety and the impact on future economic development. "
If elected, Nutter pledged to use the city's zoning powers to force the casinos to re-site away from neighborhoods, and to lobby the General Assembly and Governor Rendell to "change the state's gaming law to allow for greater local control and an opportunity to rethink the decision awarding the casino licenses."