Lack of Philly oversight faulted as construction projects endanger lower-income areas

Poorly regulated construction projects are endangering the health, safety and quality of life of Philadelphians living in the North Central neighborhoods, according to a report released Wednesday by City Controller Alan Butkovitz. 

Butkovitz examined the area near Temple University: west of Broad Street and north of Girard Avenue, and said he found that the city’s done an inadequate job of monitoring contractors and developers and enforcing the law.

“We have five issue areas that we note,” he said, before reciting a lengthy list of infractions:

“Illegal short dumping of construction debris in surrounding vacant lots;, a lack of screens and filters around construction sites, which can allow for project runoff polluting the streets and waterways; missing dust screens and air vacuum hoses creating air pollution and reducing air quality for the neighbors; street lane closures without proper permits; and construction sites without required posted permits.”

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Butkovitz said North Philadelphia shouldn’t be used as a dumping ground just because it’s home to many lower-income residents.  

“One of the most significant findings was the inefficient project monitoring and inadequate code enforcement among the five city departments who share responsibility for oversight,” he said. “This is licenses and inspections, the streets department, the water department, the public health department and the police department.”

Butkovitz pointed out that the water department does not monitor smaller construction sites, such as those near Temple University, for compliance with debris runoff regulations. He said he found no evidence that L&I communicates with the health department to enforce noise restrictions and air-quality issues. 

There was little enforcement by the city to control illegal short dumping, he said.

“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. “We need to embrace revitalization, but we also need to assure that current residents are not abused and trampled on in the process.”

Butkovitz suggested the city develop a mobile application so department employees can send videos, pictures and other information — such as GPS location — to a central place. 

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