NewsWorks inquiry prompts Council, L&I action on blighted Germantown property

When Tim Smigelski moved to Germantown in 1995, he never thought that he would rebuild a neighborhood. Over the next decade, though, the industrial designer slowly purchased three properties along the 100 block of W. Price St., a small street behind his Greene Street home.

Programs like the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, a vacant property program implemented by former Mayor John Street in 2001 sparked his interest, and now, years later, the investment paid off.

“When I first moved here, the neighborhood was rough,” he said.

Over time, he got to know his neighbors and strived to fix up houses that were falling behind.

“Being a designer, there’s a certain view I see of the world,” he said about the stucco houses with colorful metal stars along the front facade. 

The thorn in his side

For all the rejuvenation, a three-story building at 140 W. Price St. looms over most of the homes on the block.

The adjoining lot is filled with debris and demolition materials including plastic barrels of an unknown substance.

The past decade has been a wild ride as that property is concerned, Smigelski stated. For example, the woman who lived there in the early 2000s brought a pet horse home one day.

“When there was a fire, [the horse] Coco was so scared that we took her up to our garden, so that was kind of comical,” he laughed, describing the chestnut mare.

The downside

Fun stories aside, Smigelski said he’s most worried about the decrepit building.

The current owner, according to the Office of Property Assessment, is Robert L. Minor, a registered minority contractor with the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection.

Since 2009, neighbors say Minor has shown up and claimed the property as his own, but not in a good way.

“We fought him for putting construction equipment on the property,” said Smigelski. “He had a giant backhoe here, and a dump truck filling with water that every year would give us problems with mosquitoes, but every time we caught him trying to move the equipment we would take pictures of him and he would race away.”

After a slew of L&I violations this Spring concluded the building was structurally unsound, a orange sticker affixed to the building called for its demolition.

“We saw him peeling it off,” Smigelski said of Minor.

Minor, who owes more than $12,000 in back taxes since 2002 according to city records, could not be reached for comment for this story.

“The goal would be have the building demolished, clean it up and at least make it a green area,” said Smigelski who says that he’s suspicious of the current owner because he offered to sell him the property for nearly $60,000, roughly six times its land value.

Last week, neighbors said they hope their calls to Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass’ office will spur the demolition and revitalization.

L&I contacts owner with ultimatum

After NewsWorks called Bass’ office to inquire about her response to the neighbors’ concerns, spokesman Joe Corrigan said a call was placed to L&I “to check on the status of this property and find out where it was in the pipeline for demolition.”

“The property is owned by an L&I subcontractor. As a result of our call [Wednesday] night, L&I called this subcontractor [Thursday] morning and stated that if he did not either demolish or restore the property immediately, he would no longer be awarded any L&I contracts.”

Several attempts to reach Minor were unsuccessful. Bass drew a parallel to her previous comments about crumbling properties in the district and city as a whole.

“As I have stated many times before, blight is unacceptable in Philadelphia,” she said Thursday. “In order for us to be the world-class city that we can be, we cannot allow homes to slip into disrepair. And, those who do not abide anti-blight laws will be held responsible, no matter who they are.”

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