The quintet of protestors from East Falls arrived on Black Walnut Lane in Plymouth Meeting just outside of Philadelphia before noon on Tuesday and immediately started distributing flyers to mailboxes and doorsteps along the mansion-lined street.
Within 20 minutes, the first Whitemarsh Township Police vehicle arrived on scene. It was quickly followed by four more marked SUVs.
Years of stewing over an “abandoned, dangerous falling-down house at 3342 Conrad St.” had built to this moment when a police sergeant told the Fallsers that the absentee property owner they were here to protest was on his way home.
And — having watched from afar as home-security cameras captured the outsiders putting a “Shame on Brown Street Investments” sign in front of his house with manicured landscaping — he was none too happy.
Soon, the sides would meet face-to-face for the first time ever and clear a pathway toward community peace.
Decrepit property prompts action
The crumbling Conrad Street home at the heart of this issue is a nuisance and eyesore for countless passersby.
Located directly across the street from a collection of new-ish condos and not far from a strip of new homes that recently sold for a shade under $400,000 each, the yellow stand-alone structure features broken windows, boarded-up doors, falling bricks and vines on exterior walls that double as a playground for birds.
Members of the East Falls Town Watch, which organized Tuesday’s protest actions, say its front porch attracts the sort of riff raff that leaves drug bags behind.
The property, owned by Brown Street Investments LLC, was $13,000 behind on its taxes, but avoided a recent Sheriff’s Sale by ponying up a quarter of what was owed, they claim.
On flyers distributed throughout this nook of East Falls in recent days, Town Watch members maintained that the city has “failed to address this problem.”
They also noted that they doubt Mayor Michael Nutter or City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. “would tolerate having this dangerous, unsightly mess next door to them.”
Having done the requisite research, members of Town Watch and East Falls Neighborhood Council — Mary Jane Fullam, Marie Filipponi, Tom Sauerman, Bill Epstein and Meg Greenfield — tracked ownership down to two Plymouth Meeting properties.
With this knowledge, they drove on out to Whitemarsh Twp. to tell owner Harry Scott (and his entire neighborhood) that they wanted him to take action as soon as yesterday.
On the scene
Nobody at the roving protest could remember the home being occupied in at least two decades.
“Derelict, derelict, derelict” is how Fullam of the Town Watch referred to the property that had driven her to the point of pleading “when will the neighbors take action on this?”
She said she was there when Sauerman brought Councilman Jones to the site two or three years ago. It being removed from the sheriff’s-sale list two months ago was her “enough’s enough” moment.
“It’s demoralizing,” she said. “I’d like the city to actually seize the property and put it up for sale.”
June Roberts, who owns Cranky Joe’s Sports Bar right next door, was upset about the blight as well.
Having just opened an outdoor seating area, they built a higher fence because, as she put it while motioning to the home behind her, “Who wants to look at that?”
“I’m tired of this,” she continued. “This is just wrong.”
Agreeing with her sentiment was Sauerman, who leads the neighborhood community council.
“This is long overdue,” he said.
The sides meet face-to-face
Three cars from East Falls arrived in Plymouth Meeting around 11:30 a.m. with two addresses with ties to Brown Street Investments LLC.
Having quickly established that the man at one of those addresses had died, they focused their attention on Harry Scott’s place.
A neighbor on a mobile phone called Scott to read portions of the flyer that protestors were handing out. The remote-access view of surveillance cameras prompted Scott to call police, who arrived about 10 minutes before he would.
“We got a call that someone was on his property,” a police officer told the assembled Fallsers. “The owner is on his way home.”
After asking the visitors not to confront Scott upon his arrival, police watched as his pickup truck sped up the block at 12:09 p.m.
Two officers and Scott huddled near his driveway. Before long, one came over and cleared the path for the sides to engage in a discussion.
The end result
“I’m irritated you’re here,” said Scott, noting that a call or letter would’ve been a nice introduction as opposed to scaring his 84-year-old mother who was inside recovering from open-heart surgery.
Soon, Scott grew annoyed that a reporter was taking notes, so he walked onto his driveway with the EFFC’s Epstein and others to have a private conversation.
“I’ll fix this,” Scott could be heard saying from 15 feet away.
He told the protesters that personal issues made it impossible to sell the home at the moment, and that he sent workers over to check on the property occasionally.
“I didn’t know it was this bad,” he said.
Scott then indicated to all in attendance that he would initiate the process of demolishing the home and clearing the lot in the hopes of, one day, rebuilding on it.
Ninety minutes after arriving in Plymouth Meeting, the quintet reversed course and headed back to East Falls, where they left earlier not knowing who’d they meet.
Fullam was skeptical of Scott’s response, noting that she thought “we’ll still be looking at this for quite some time.”
For her part, Filipponi was a bit more optimistic.
On a 10-point scale, she thought the day’s events qualified as an eight.