City Howl Help Desk: The gigantic piles of unsightly dirt in Francisville

One of two piles of dirt on the Francisville lot.
One of two piles of dirt on the Francisville lot.
Posted: June 01, 2011

THE PROBLEM: The vacant lot across from Deborah Staton's Francisville home never caused her much grief.

Sure, no one seemed to be caring for the land, but, fortunately, Staton always found someone to keep it decent. When the lot's weeds grew too wild, she called City Councilman Darrell Clarke's office, and someone would tidy it up. Later, when a Coldwell Banker Welker real-estate sign surfaced on the lot, she called the realty agency and someone took care of the overgrown weeds and litter.

But in December, something appeared on the lot that complicated Staton's relationship with the place: two towering piles of dirt. Wooden planks and large shards of concrete were in the mix, too. The piles appeared to come from a construction site around the corner.

Staton tried asking the construction workers to clean up the dirt. But they paid her no mind, she said.

Concerned, she called Clarke's office to ask if the construction workers were allowed to do this. A staffer told Staton they would look into it, but she never heard back. She also called 3-1-1, but got no results, she said.

Then spring arrived, and the dirt remained. It wasn't just an eyesore (though those unsightly weeds were thriving) but a nuisance, too. Blown dust from the pile coated cars parked on the street. Staton and her neighbors kept their windows shut, even on nice days, to avoid dust clouds in their living rooms. And Staton, who's been struggling with a bout of bronchial asthma, believes the dust had something to do with it.

WHOSE DIRT IS IT? That's a tricky question.

Help Desk contacted the owner of the lot, Victor Pinckney. He owns a property-management business, and he's not pleased with the dirt either. The piles were dumped on his lot without permission, he says. Upon receiving a violation from Licenses and Inspections about lot upkeep back in December, he marched onto the construction site and demanded to know who was responsible for the work being done.

Pinckney said he spoke with John and Ashley Nelson, the couple behind the construction, and they agreed to move the dirt, he said. This was in early February.

Ashley Nelson confirmed that the construction workers she hired dumped the dirt on the lot, but she says she paid to use the lot for that purpose. A community group agreed to dispose of the dirt, she said. She refused to give any further details.

We called the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp. to see if it knew anything about the dirt. It has received a number of complaints about the piles, but it didn't agree to get rid of the dirt, a staffer said.

CAN THE CITY HELP? L&I is well- aware of the issue, L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy said.

Back in December, it cited the owners of the construction site (not the Nelsons) with illegal dumping. Even if permission was given to dump the dirt on that lot, it's still illegal, Kennedy said. You can't dispose of construction debris that way.

"There's no such thing as legal dumping," Kennedy said.

Because the owners of the site failed to comply with three notices of violations, L&I has taken them to Municipal Court. A judge will decide if they must remove the dirt, as well as pay fines. We hope they'll get this taken care of for Staton.

Pinckney, it turns out, wasn't cited for the dirt piles, but for not maintaining his lot properly. Aside from overgrown weeds, he lacked a lot license, which is required for vacant lots. Kennedy says there are still open violations against him.

AS FOR THE HEALTH CONCERNS . . . If you have a concern about air quality, you can call the Air Management Services complaint hot line (215-685-7580). The division will send out an inspector to look at the problem and possibly issue a violation to the owner of the property or to the "operator," which refers to the person who caused the problem, or both, said Department of Health spokesman Jeff Moran.

An inspector came to look at the piles but told Staton he had to come back when the wind was blowing in order to see where the dust went, Staton said.

-- JULIANA REYES

Have a concern about city services? Let us know at www.thecityhowl.com, email howl@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5855. And follow us on Twitter! @phillyhowl.

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