Why more Philly neighborhood orgs are requiring ID to participate in votes

Francisville and Brewerytown-Sharswood both added ID checks this month.

The Francisville Neighborhood Development Coalition will re-instate ID checks for voting on Monday.

The Francisville Neighborhood Development Coalition will re-instate ID checks for voting on Monday.

Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

At Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting, the Francisville Neighborhood Development Coalition will reinstate an old rule:

If you want to vote on any resolutions put forth, you’ll be required to show ID that proves you live in the neighborhood.

The coalition — which serves as a Registered Community Organization (RCO) for the quickly-developing area just north of Fairmount and west of Broad — is implementing ID checks for everything from zoning measures to electing leadership. To vote, you’ll have to show a state ID or a piece of official mail with your name and address (you can also have an already-verified neighbor vouch for you).

“This is needed,” said FDNC Executive Director Penelope Giles. “The neighborhood is growing. Every day there’s people moving in and wanting to be involved.”

Francisville isn’t the only neighborhood association that requires identification to vote. The Brewerytown-Sharswood Community Civic Association started checking IDs for the first time this month, and Fishtown Neighbors Association has been doing it for years.

Since 2011, RCOs like these have been a required first stop for development projects seeking variances from the Zoning Board of Adjustment. And several orgs have found that requiring IDs to participate in the vetting process can be useful in preventing new developers from dominating the votes.

The sketchy practice of seeding the audience with pro-development outsiders has reportedly occurred in Brewerytown.

“Someone reported developers were having the audience stacked with people they knew, that may not have lived in the neighborhood,” said Darnetta Arce, Brewerytown-Sharswood’s executive director. “The neighbors may not want that.”

In Fishtown, ID checks have been around as long as FNA Vice President Joe Kain can remember. He thinks they’re especially important for zoning matters, because after FNA conducts a vote on a zoning project, it presents the vote to City Council.

“We are ensuring to them that this is a vote of the people who live in the neighborhood,” Kain said.

Arce echoed that sentiment. “The people who are most affected by a zoning variance, their opinions should be upheld a little bit more,” she said. “Their opinion should be a little more heavily taken into consideration than people who live 15 to 20 blocks away.”

Still, Francisville doesn’t want to exclude developers completely, FDNC’s Giles insists. Construction and development are an important part of improving the neighborhood, she said — she just doesn’t want outside voices to overpower those of residents.

FDNC did previously have an ID-checking system in place, nearly four years ago. Per Giles, the coalition kept a database of residents who regularly came to meetings, and new residents had to enter their names and addresses the first time they attended. The system fell apart because of lack of resources required to maintain it, Giles said.

Along with ID checks, Giles hopes to reinstate that database of regular meeting attendees.

“This is also to monitor services,” Giles said. “We want to make sure people have gotten our mailers if they really live in the area.”

Arce, of Brewerytown-Sharswood, said residents deserve an amplified voice in neighborhood votes.

“We just want to have a fair process,” Arce said. “I think most understand why it’s being done: to make sure people live in the neighborhood and have a vested interest in this neighborhood.”



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