Do demolition regulations proposed in Philly go too far?

Philadelphia City Council members are grinding away at a package of bills overhauling demolition regulations in the city in the wake of the June building collapse that killed six people. Members hope to work out a consensus among themselves and the administration of Mayor Michael Nutter in the next few days.

But some proposals are drawing opposition from contractors who say they face high taxes and other burdens in the city, and that regulations aimed at irresponsible firms could inhibit development in the city.

Among other steps, the bills require more training for demolition contractors, empower the Philadelphia Fire Department to shut down sites that may be unsafe, and require individual workers on sites to carry city-issued identification

One provision that was debated at a Thursday hearing requires a full-time, independent safety monitor to be on site for the demolition of any building at least three stories high that’s adjacent to an occupied property. 

It was such a demolition at 22nd and Market streets that led to the collapse that crushed the Salvation Army store, killing six and injuring 14 people.

At the hearing, General Building Contractors Association Director Steve Lakin said projects with a professionally designed plan, approved by the city with trained safety personnel on site, could be halted by “an independent safety monitor who thinks they know better than everyone else. Such delays and redundancies cost significant money and will drive good contractors away from working in Philadelphia.”

“That’s one opinion,” said City Councilman Curtis Jones, who chaired the special council committee that investigated the collapse. “Another opinion is that it offers a non-biased approach to the issue of public safety. If I work for a company, yes, I want to be responsible. But at the end of the day, I work for the company. An independent inspector works for the public.”

Council members will consider that and other proposed demolition regulations at another hearing Thursday, and possibly one the following Monday. Jones hopes to to reach a consensus soon, and is determined to get the legislation enacted by the end of the year.

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