Mind the gap! Civic association-less pocket makes a move toward organizing

A few weeks back we wrote about a renovation at 7th and McKean and questioned how many apartments were going to be crammed into the building. Permits for 1939 S. 7th St. say they plan to install six full bathrooms into the building’s 4,200 square feet.

1939 S. 7th St.
1939 S. 7th St.

We also called the area a civic “no-man’s land” since there was no registered community organization that would speak on behalf of the area’s residents (which some people took offense to on our Facebook page) when former single-family homes are split up into apartments.

Well, it turns out, the 7th Street corridor won’t be civic-less for long.

More than 75 people gathered last week at the Houston Community Center at 8th & Snyder for a meeting organized by the United Communities of Southeast Philadelphia (UCSEP) to “discuss extending the boundaries of several local Registered Community Organizations (RCOs).”

Community members were joined by Councilman Mark Squilla and his aides, reps from the City Planning Commission, and UCSEP staff. The term “RCO” is one recently coined by the City Planning Commission and with it comes the (few) privileges and (many) responsibilities of being involved in the zoning process.

RCOs must register with the City Planning Commission and jump through various hoops to maintain this status.

The topic of civic expansion was on the table for discussion Tuesday night ostensibly because of Squilla’s desire to address the recent boom in development – mostly along the lines of converting single-family dwellings into multi-family dwellings – in what is currently an area not represented by any RCO.

The civic gap in question falls between 6th to 8th Streets, between Oregon and Tasker; and also 4th to 6th Street, Mifflin to Snyder. The nearby local RCOs (EPX, LoMo, Pennsport, Dickinson Square West, and Whitman Council) sent representatives to last Tuesday’s meeting to discuss the possibility of extending their boundaries in order to allow residents of that unrepresented area the opportunity to participate in the zoning process under their already existent civic umbrellas. Sounds like a good thing, right?


What became clear from the start of the meeting was that community members in attendance not only had beef with UCSEP for various things including their failure to bring this civic gap issue to light sooner, but that the majority had no interest in joining with any already existing RCO civic groups.

Even though there was no organized civic group in the gap to speak of, there were plenty of civic leaders in the crowd. Members of the 7th Street Reunion Committee spoke of their 30 years of work to fortify the community and several block captains also testified to their galvanizing efforts years ago to defeat a controversial development plan. And if this meeting proved anything, it’s that civic leaders don’t like to play second fiddle to other civic leaders.

So, what we have now is a group of people who are in the process of getting organized. They have invited anyone who is interested in joining forces with them to meet at the Houston Center on the first Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m., including June 4th.

The nearby RCO civics have offered their support as the fledgling group navigates the RCO process, but what remains unclear is what exactly the new group’s boundaries will be and whether or not a gap of some sort might still exist. Guess we’ll have to continue to minding the gap for the time being.

Carol Masters

5 thoughts on “Mind the gap! Civic association-less pocket makes a move toward organizing

  • May 15, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    How do people even hear about these types of meetings?… I live and own in this pocket and would love if the current RCO’s expanded.

  • May 15, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    It seems silly to concentrate so much power in the hands of a few largely unelected members of an RCO. RCOs have a lot of influence over zoning, and much of it is undeserved. I’d say count your blessings and skip the RCO – it’ll just end up being a hostile takeover where a few get to make decisions and pose as representative of their community, when in fact they are not. RCOs act as gatekeepers for information, and they draw their power largely by selectively disseminating this information: i.e. limiting who knows about and shows up at their zoning meetings, for example.

    • May 16, 2013 at 9:25 am

      Yes, Frank, limiting their meetings just to people who get their easy-to-subscribe to emails, look at their website, check their Facebook pages, or see the public notices posted or distributed in the area. A deviously selected group.

      • May 16, 2013 at 11:03 am

        Oh, would that be like vis-a-vis SOSNA and 1607 Catharine St, where the December zoning meeting was rescheduled at the last minute in lieu of two private meetings (in Dec and January) which were not posted on the SOSNA webpage, nor were emails sent out from SOSNA regarding the location and times of these private meetings, except to a subset of neighbors who just happened to side with the developer’s desire to not build on his empty lot, and instead build to 74′ on top of the existing building? And did SOSNA subsequently violate it’s own written policy regarding near neighbors requesting a delay in a vote when they object strongly and haven’t seen any renderings etc.? Is this same property approved by SOSNA tax delinquent to the tune of $56,000? Did the law firm of the attorney who represented the developer subsequently gift SOSNA with $2500 toward a park near 22nd st?

        • May 16, 2013 at 1:57 pm

          Well, I know nothing about that, so I can’t speak to it. But I do know what we do at EPX. And none of those things would happen. Ever. Well, possibly the tax delinquent thing since that’s something the ZBA handles before a case can be heard, although if we knew about it, we’d probably take it into consideration.

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