In wake of fatal building collapse, Philly panel advises splitting Licenses & Inspections

Listen

Ever since the 2013 fatal building collapse in Center City, people have been talking about overhauling the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Ever since the 2013 fatal building collapse in Center City, people have been talking about overhauling the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections.

On Thursday, a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the mayor released more than three dozen recommendations advising specific actions.

The panel’s report, “Safety First and Foremost,” calls for splitting the department in two, creating the Department of Buildings and the Department of Business Compliance.

Mayor Michael Nutter has already started implementing the changes.

“The Department of Licenses and Inspections, of course, is an agency whose central task is public safety. Public safety is part of their portfolio, it’s what they do each and every day,” Nutter said. “So, with that in mind, we will be shifting the oversight and responsibility for the department of Licenses and Inspections to the deputy mayor for public safety.”

The city agency needs to break from the past, said Glenn Corbett, chairman of the Special Independent Advistory Commission.

“As it stands,  L and I is shackled with an ever increasing set of responsibilities that have nothing to do with public safety,” Corbett said. “We believe a bold new start is called for, taking the form of a brand-new Department of Buildings led by a professional engineer or registered architect whose sole focus is public safety.

“It’s also time to place the building safety function where it belongs, alongside the police and fire departments,” he said.

Other recommendations include having the fire department conduct fire safety inspections and providing funding for more inspectors.

Before the report was made public, Council President Darrell Clarke introduced a proposed City Charter change that would establish an office of planning. Licenses and Inspection, the zoning board, the City Planning Commission and the Historical Commission all would be consolidated in the planning office.

“It actually creates an environment at the end of the day where there is someone responsible for all of those departments. Currently there are about nine departments … this pretty much puts it all in one department,” Clarke said.

Mayor Michael Nutter said he won’t comment on Clarke’s plan until he has a chance to read it.

Clarke said he would be willing to discuss a compromise plan with the mayor.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.