NoLibs Neighborhood Association Treasurer Flouts City Zoning Laws
Northern Liberties is one section of the city where it’s nearly impossible to build new properties or change existing ones without the cooperation of the vigilant Northern Liberties Neighbors Association. And rightly so, given the overflowing NoLibs real estate portfolio of controversial developer Bart Blatstein. But it turns out that the treasurer of the NLNA—the very group that enforces the rules—doesn’t follow them himself.
Longtime Northern Liberties resident John Braxton is a former Philadelphia judge, appointed to Municipal Court in 1978 by then-District Attorney Ed Rendell and to Common Pleas Court in 1981 by then-Governor Richard “Dick” Thornburgh. In 1996, he lost a bid for Congress. Then in the 2000s, he decided he wanted to become the city’s “chief fiscal watchdog” (that’s City Controller), and was defeated twice in this attempt. Finally, he managed to get himself elected treasurer of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association a few years back.
Lately, Judge Braxton, as he likes to be called, has drawn the ire of some of his neighbors over two parking lots he operates—one on Leithgow Street, which is actually owned by his wife, and another on 4th Street, which they jointly own. Parking in Northern Liberties is notoriously bad, and for years, the judge has been renting out several parking spaces in his lots, with some residents paying much more than $100 per month for the privilege. The trouble is, the properties in question are zoned as vacant residential lots, and according to the Department of Licenses and Inspections, his business use of them as parking lots is illegal. L&I spokesperson Maura Kennedy says that the department inspected both properties yesterday and cited the judge for violations. She adds that if he doesn’t get the required permits and continues using the properties as parking lots, the city will take him to court.
NLNA President (and consistent straight-shooter) Matt Ruben says that when he became aware of Braxton’s illegal activity, he confronted the judge and told him that he needed to do the right thing. “We always intervene in these situations when we get complaints,” says Ruben. “But in this case, as treasurer of the NLNA, he should be held to an even higher standard. But I didn’t appoint him treasurer. And I didn’t elect him. His neighbors did. And his term is up this May.”
Braxton did not respond to a call and an email seeking comment.