In the midst of a development boom in North Central Philadelphia, where demand for Temple University student housing is high and parcel prices are low, contractors are flouting construction regulations and steamrolling over residents, according to a special review released today by City Controller Alan Butkovitz.
“When you drive around during construction the way we did, people were using power saws, releasing dust into the air and debris into the water runoff, right into schoolyards and play areas,” Butkovitz said. “It’s as if there’s a lack of understanding there’s people living there already, as if they’re developing in virgin territory where there are no residents. And that’s just not true.”
Two of the most egregious problems, according to Buktovitz, are illegal short dumping in vacant lots near building sites and a lack of city oversight when it comes to enforcing code and permit compliance, creating an incentive for contractors to disregard the rules – “they can get done faster and cheaper than people who do,” he said.
He placed the blame mainly on the Department of Licenses and Inspections and the Streets Department. “There’s confusion between them, because it’s a planned development, whether [enforcement] falls to the Streets Department, or if it’s a day-to-day enforcement action,” which would be under the purview of L&I, he said. “The conversation with the departments was each thought other the other department had responsibility for this.”
He said his office has been inundated with neighbor complaints, which led to the review. “If these projects were taking place in Center City, there would be a strict adherence to codes,” he said. “Just look at the projects across the street at City Hall – some of codes noted [in the report] are scrupulously enforced there. North Philadelphia shouldn’t be dumped on just because it’s a poor, low-income area.”
Butkotvitz recommends that the city develop a memorandum of understanding among the Streets Department and L&I, as well as the Water, Public Health and Police departments to more efficiently delegate responsibility. He also thinks the city should develop a mobile app allowing department employees to send pictures, videos, GPS location and other information into a central location accessible to all departments so each can review it and decide on an appropriate action.