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City controller’s report calls out developers near Main Campus

Lack of oversight, enforcement on construction cited by controller.

A clutter of trash from construction fills a vacant lot near Main Campus. Last week, a report was released outlining issues with Temple-area construction. ( CINDY STANSBURY | TTN )

A clutter of trash from construction fills a vacant lot near Main Campus. Last week, a report was released outlining issues with Temple-area construction. ( CINDY STANSBURY | TTN )

In the near-campus streets, construction has been constant in recent years. Dirt whips through the air carrying leftover debris from forgotten projects, as pieces of concrete form into mountains in the vacant lots. The sound of jackhammers demolishing gritty cinderblock  awakens the neighborhood and the frustration of those tucked away in their beds.

On Oct. 10, City Controller Alan Butkovitz sent out a report — the North Philadelphia Construction Review — detailing the issues with the Temple area construction and is now demanding change.

Butkovitz states in the report that in this area there is not enough oversight and enforcement on construction projects, which allows for extensive and frequent code violations.

These code violations include illegal dumping of construction debris, lack of dust screens and filters, missing air vacuum hoses, street lane closures without proper permits and stairs built beyond where codes allow them to be, according to the report. These violations are said to inconvenience those living in the area.

“As our city continues to grow and new construction projects take place, the city needs to take an aggressive approach to protecting the quality of life for citizens in the surrounding neighborhoods,” Butkovitz said in the report.

The report largely blames the issues on the lack of communication and enforcement from various departments in the city including Licenses and Inspections, Streets, Public Health, Water and Police.

Peter Crawford, a landlord in the area and member of the Temple Area Property Association disagreed with the city controller’s report.

“My big issue with the report in saying that the current system is broken is that it’s a disservice to the inspectors. I think they’re doing a great job,” Crawford said

Crawford went on to explain that he believes the report is a gross misstatement and that inspections and regulations are currently tough enough.

He also said he feared that this report would hinder the construction progress already being made in the area.

“There are bad apples. There are always going to be a few bad apples. But, let’s not use the bad apples as a way to hold back progress,” Crawford said.

Crawford’s view differed with that of Mark Zwick, the president of TAPA, who said: “I think it’s a problem and I’d like to work with the city to make it a better place for everyone.”

Zwick’s take was echoed by TAPA Vice President Nick Pizzola, who expressed personal inconvenience due to the way construction has been operating in the area.

“They’re not only hurting the communities, but they are hurting the other landlords,” Pizzola said.

Pizzola said the building system works by a landlord hiring a contractor and not monitoring whether the contractor is following codes until the project is already done, when the landlord receives a fine.

As a landlord, Pizzola said he has fallen victim to the issues plaguing the construction program.

The problems are not only limited to illegal dumping and building codes, but noise ordinances as well, Pizzola said.

“It’s 7 a.m., you got power tools, you don’t think students are angry about that?” Pizzola said.

Shanee Satchell, a senior secondary math education major, said she has faced the issues Pizzola discussed from a resident’s perspective.

“It’s woken me up. It blocks cars from going down the street,” Satchell said. “One time they were working on plumbing for a new building and the street was flooded with muddy water. The dirt stayed even though the water dried up and when it rained our street was always muddy.”

In order to rectify these issues, Butkovitz recommended the implementation of two main programs in the report.

The first is a mobile application that the department employees can use to upload media documenting violations, to a centralized location. This would permit each department to view it, document it and decide further action.

The second program involves the development of a “Memorandum of Understanding” among the five departments. Butkovitz said this memorandum will provide “guidance to and authority for any inspector observing building code violations to immediately address the conditions observed.”

While construction throughout the city should be supported, the projects should be done legally, Butkovitz noted in the report.

“We need to embrace the revitalization occurring throughout our city, but we also need to ensure that all projects are done in compliance with all codes and regulations,” Butkovitz said.

Cindy Stansbury can be reached at cindy.stansbury@temple.edu. 

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