Swamped by Litigation, OCCA Disbands

After four decades in operation, the Old City Civic Association (OCCA) has disbanded. The dissolution of the OCCA, a group known for its uncompromising efforts to preserve the historic character of its neighborhood, could mean big changes for both Old City and civic groups throughout Philadelphia.


While Old City has certainly seen its share of redevelopment and new construction, the OCCA made significant impacts on the area’s life, look and economy through their spirited opposition to expanded liquor licenses and a number of major building projects. Indeed, it was that single-minded focus on their vision of community development which ultimately lead to the Association’s demise – by objecting to many new construction projects, the OCCA was sued dozens of times by developers. In early May of this year the group came to the decision that it could simply no longer afford to operate with such sustained legal costs.


This news has been met with decidedly mixed reactions. For his part, former OCCA President Ryan Berley told Philly.com “On the one hand, there will be folks who see (the OCCA’s dissolution) as a benefit for unbridled development and expansion of business…but there’s a tremendous void now in Old City for residents and business owners, in terms of having a voice in the public civic process related to zoning, developments and liquor-licensing issues.”


Berley is probably correct – without the OCCA this prominent (and some might argue underdeveloped) community is likely to quickly draw the attention of builders looking to bring more of the city’s residential construction boom to the area.


But beyond the borders of Old City, the news of the demise of the OCCA sets a troubling precedent: while the City has strong laws preserving the character of individual buildings, it lacks the mechanisms to truly extend that preservation to the character of neighborhoods. That’s where organizations like the OCCA come in. It’s also what makes the conclusion of this story, chiefly that enough lawsuits can bring down even the most firmly established civic groups, so deeply problematic.

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