Controller: N. Phila. contractors making a mess and breaking the law

Posted: October 12, 2012

Correction: A story in Thursday’s Daily News about contracting code violations in North Philadelphia incorrectly listed Lashay Knox as a developer skirting city rules, based on information provided by the City Controller’s Office. Knox – whose name is now La’Shay Cobb -- has not broken any rules and was blamed for problems with a job site next door to her home. The Daily News regrets the error.

CONSTRUCTION projects are dirtying North Philadelphia with piles of debris, clouds of dust and bags of trash, according to a new report from the city controller.

Controller Alan Butkovitz on Wednesday said investigators had found contractors violating city building codes near Temple University - adding that lax enforcement by the city was part of the problem.

"North Philadelphia shouldn't be dumped on because it's a lower-income area," said Butkovitz.

Butkovitz said a review of 19 sites over the spring and summer found evidence of short-dumping, causing dust and debris to blow into the surrounding area, unpermitted street closures and sites without proper permits posted.

Butkovitz said poor communication among the city agencies tasked with enforcement - streets, licenses and inspections, water, health and police - has exacerbated the issue.

"The conversations with the departments shows that each thought the other department was responsible for this," said Butkovitz, who recommended a cooperative agreement be set up among the departments, as well as a mobile-phone application that employees could use to share information.

Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the city was cracking down on problems in that neighborhood. As of early September, L&I has increased the number of inspectors on patrol from one to two or three, he said, and a new task force is reviewing construction practices in the Temple area.

Butkovitz said the review was in response to complaints from residents in the area, bordered by Girard and York avenues and Broad and 19th streets.

Among the contractors and developers with problem sites were Temp Villas III, 1849 Holdings and  Michael Olpsonzski, according to the controller's office. Phone numbers could not be found for those three firms.

Kristofer Kaufmann, a lawyer for a group of small developers in North Philadelphia, said developers had approached him wanting to bypass the city's rules and regulations.

"I can't speak for my clients," Kaufmann said. "But there are a lot of developers who are throwing together these properties, and they are skipping a lot of the rules with respect to zoning and L&I. That's causing a lot of problems."


Contact Catherine Lucey at luceyc@phillynews.com or 215-854-4172. Follow her on Twitter @PhillyClout. Read her blog at phillyclout.com.

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