"They locked everything down the week after St. Patrick's Day," said R. Dennis Roddy, a local resident and community activist.
"At first, everything was fine because the electric and water was still on. Now, Peco has shut the electric off and the Philadelphia Water Department shut the water off. All of the product from the restaurant - milk, eggs, bacon - is still in there, and it's rotting away."
Roddy said just walking by the restaurant can produce waves of nausea, and the establishment is on Torresdale Avenue, a major thoroughfare. There are several other businesses on the block, including two other restaurants and a gym.
There is also a park, a church, and a playground used by neighborhood children. Residents are growing increasingly frustrated because no one seems to know how to get inside.
"If we were able to gain legal access to the place, I'm sure that everyone would pitch in to help clean the place up," Roddy said. "But no one in the city can tell us who can grant access to the store."
Roddy told Help Desk that he'd contacted the Police Department, Licenses & Inspections and several local elected officials. He found a lot of sympathy, but no one could actually tell him how to deal with the problem.
WHAT WE DID: First, we called L&I. We spoke to Martin Raudenbush, an L&I investigator who had visited the property on June 7. He told us that his department hadn't put the padlock on the door and that he couldn't get access to the property. He suggested that we call the Police Department since the property was shut down as part of a law-enforcement operation.
Next, we spoke with Officer Tonya Little, who is a public affairs officer for the police. She told us that while the department may have made an arrest connected to the property, police aren't in charge of padlocking establishments that are being used for drug-dealing or other criminal activity. Little said that was done by the District Attorney's Office as part of its Nuisance Business Task Force.
A few calls later, we reached Beth Grossman, the assistant D.A. in charge of the task force. She confirmed that her office had raided the property and padlocked the door. She said that the policy of shutting down properties involved in drug-dealing is vital to improving neighborhoods across the city.
Grossman said that after it's been established that a property is connected to illegal activity, the D.A.'s office begins forfeiture proceedings. If the process succeeds, the property is auctioned off, and the proceeds go to the D.A.'s budget. Grossman estimated that 400 to 500 properties are targeted every year by her staff of seven prosecutors, with about 100 making it to the auction block. Grossman said that sealing the properties in the meantime is critical to public safety.
"We seal the properties to prevent continued drug-dealing," Grossman said. "If there is a history of violence that's been connected to the property, it's critical that we close it down."
So what about the smelly issue on Torresdale Avenue? Does this kind of problem happen a lot? "This is a pretty rare situation," Grossman said, adding that her office doesn't usually have this type of health issue after they start legal action against a property.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT:
After we alerted Grossman to the problem, the D.A.'s office took action almost immediately, sending a detective to the property yesterday. Grossman said that her staffer couldn't detect any smells from the outside, but that her office would enter the property either today or tomorrow.
"We're not disputing anyone's account" of the smells, she said. But the staffer "didn't want to open the door at this point to make the situation worse, since she didn't have the proper supplies to clean anything up. We're going to go inside sometime this week and see if anything needs to be cleaned. It's our responsibility, and we'll deal with whatever is happening inside."
It is hoped that the issue on Torresdale Avenue will be resolved shortly. If you have an issue with a nuisance property - or a former nuisance property that has been padlocked, and become a new sort of nuisance - you can call the Nuisance Business Task Force at 215-686- 5858, and perhaps be spared the long chain of phone calls that Roddy had to make.
Ben Waxman reports for It's Our Money
Have a problem getting services from a city department, or an idea for a more effective way to get things done? Let us know about it at www.thecityhowl.com
c/o the Daily News
400 N. Broad St.
Philadelphia, Pa. 19130