City Howl Help Desk: A big heap of trouble, solved

Posted: December 22, 2010

THE PROBLEM: If Lauren Hall had the ability to clean up all the trash next to 6401 Glenmore Ave. on her own, she would have done so already. After all, the Southwest Philadelphia resident spent a recent December day collecting needles, used condoms and glass that littered the ground beside the abandoned house. But that's only a fraction of the debris that begins on the private lot and spills out into the adjacent street.

On Friday, the trash pile that's been growing for months included the following: two mattresses, two broken recliners, 10 tires, lots of wood with nails sticking out, a rug, the frame of a computer monitor and numerous trash bags filled to the brim.

Oh yeah, and a yellow lei.

"People come and dump here. Sickening, isn't it?" said passing neighbor Wayne Crawford.

He said no one person was responsible for the heap. "It's everyone," he said.

For Hall, the trash pile is more than an eyesore. It's a major safety hazard, especially for the children who play in front of it.

"Why hasn't the city done anything about it?" asked Hall.

Well, what has the city done about it? The city has known about the trash heap for several months, through Hall's calls to the 3-1-1 system starting in the summer.

We checked the records on two of Hall's more recent 3-1-1 calls, made in October and November. Because her complaint involved sanitation issues, the Streets Department responded twice.

In October, Streets visited the area around 6401 Glenmore Ave. and issued a ticket to the owner of the property, David Dugan. Dugan could not be reached for comment.

When Streets visited again in November, the work crew "did not see the item or issue" as reported to 3-1-1.

Hall said the trash pile did not disappear between October and November - in fact, it got worse. A Streets spokeswoman explained that the inspector who visited the site couldn't determine whom to ticket, because the mess was partly on public property, partly on private.

Also in November, the Department of Licenses and Inspections visited 6401 Glenmore and issued a code violation to Dugan.

For her part, Hall was doubtful that issuing tickets would solve the problem, since the adjacent building is abandoned. "They could give out 20 tickets," she said.

Try, try again: After not getting very far by calling 3-1-1, Hall decided to contact City Council President Anna Verna's office on Dec. 7. A staff member promised to contact the city on her behalf.

"They were very responsive," said Hall. But a week passed, and nothing happened.

Then City Howl called Verna's office. After speaking with Hall and taking a look at her photos, a staff member contacted the Managing Director's Office, with a request to address the problem.

The situation is dangerous and deplorable, explained Verna staffer Angela DiGuilio, and, she believes, requires special consideration because the house next door is vacant.

Success! On Friday, all of the debris was removed. By Sunday children were playing football in an area that had been virtually impassable just days before.

"Every stitch of trash and weeds and debris and everything you could possibly imagine has miraculously disappeared," said Hall.

"I couldn't believe it," she added. "I appreciate it so much."

A Christmas miracle?

Not exactly.

Upon request from the Managing Director's Office, the Streets Department cleaned up the debris.

Deputy Managing Director Tom Conway explained that Streets isn't legally allowed to clean up private property on its own - its charge is, well, streets. But because this particular property had an existing code violation from L&I, Streets was granted permission to enter the property and clean it.

Usually in situations like this, where a mess is on both public and private property, Streets reaches out to the Managing Director itself to ask permission, Conway said.

The clean-up cost $952. Six hundred dollars of that will be billed to Dugan, the owner of 6401 Glenmore.

So the heap is gone for now. But it's certainly possible that the illegal dumping will resume.

As a deterrent, Hall can contact Council President Verna's office again and request that a No Dumping sign be placed in the area. Illegal dumping typically carries a fine of $300.

Kristin Lindermayer reports for It's Our Money, a partnership between the Daily News and WHYY. Dealt with city services lately? How did it go? Let us know at thecityhowl.com, e-mail howl@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5855. And check out this story on the Fox29 News at 10 tonight.

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