Ordinance would deliver earlier public notice for demolitions

Is the problem with Philadelphia demolitions that the approval process is too slow?

That is one of the underlying assumptions behind changes to the city’s demolition practices being considered in City Council.

Last week Council President Darrell Clarke sponsored an ordinance drafted primarily by the Department of Licenses & Inspections (L&I) that aims to accelerate the timeline for demolitions by shifting the public notification period to an earlier phase in the permit approval process.

Today properties are posted with demolition notices after a permit is issued. Under the proposed revisions, demolition contractors would be required to post demolition notices within 10 days of applying for a demolition permit, as opposed to the issuance of the building permit. The same would apply to demolition contracts awarded by L&I. The property would still be posted for 21 calendar days before a demolition could take place.

“The intent was to reduce red tape and delay, which is a very typical complaint about L&I,” said Karen Guss, L&I’s communications director.

“This legislation both makes the demolition/development process more efficient and gives the public earlier lead time on demolitions,” Clarke’s spokeswoman Jane Roh said via email. Roh stressed that public notification before permit application review is complete offers a potentially more opportune window for the public to weigh in with the developer or property owner.

“As a practical matter, there will almost always be considerably more than 21 days because a demolition permit is now a very painstaking process,” Guss said, adding that L&I tells people a demolition permit application review takes around 20 business days.

Due to the fatal demolition-related collapse at 22nd and Market in 2013, stricter requirements for demolition permitting and oversight were introduced, which has lengthened the permitting process. Those reforms are ongoing and the aim here, Guss said, was to find efficiencies in the demolition approval process while ensuring the 21-day public notification period was not reduced.

Should the demolition permit approval process become even more efficient, the time between application submission and when a demolition contractor can work onsite could become shorter overall.

If adopted, the ordinance would amend the Philadelphia Building Construction and Occupancy Code, and must also be approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

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