May law could have prevented demolition permits prior to collapse

Posted: June 28, 2013

UNDER A law that went into effect in May, licenses for the contractor and the permit expediter involved in the deadly June 5 Center City building collapse could have been revoked, City Councilman Jim Kenney said yesterday.

The law, which Kenney and Councilman Bobby Henon cosponsored, created several criteria in which the Department of Licenses and Inspection can suspend or revoke a license, including if a contractor provides inaccurate cost estimates of construction on permit applications.

The permit to demolish the four-story building on 22nd and Market streets that killed six people when it collapsed onto a neighboring thrift store listed the cost of the job at $10,000, but Griffin's attorney Kenneth Eldelin said the bid was $112,000.

"It was an unrealistic number and there should be someone at L&I that looks at that number and says, 'Whoa, what are you talking about? You can't do this for that with the size of the building, age of the building, asbestos in the building,' " Kenney said yesterday after the second of five hearings by a Council committee investigating the collapse.

The law was not yet in effect when expediter Plato Marinakos obtained the demolition permit in February.

Other provisions in the law that allow the city to revoke licenses include repeated failure to comply with violation notices and failing to pay a tax related to the licensed activity.

Contractor Griffin Campbell had outstanding violations against other properties in the city, and the Daily News reported last week Marinakos owes the city thousands of dollars in business taxes dating back to 2002. Marinakos and Campbell had both filed for bankruptcy.

"The Revenue Department would have stopped him if they would have been engaged," Kenney said.

Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said L&I's Construction Site Task Force is conducting a first-ever review in conjunction with the Revenue Department to ensure that all companies licensed to operate construction and demolition sites in the city are still tax compliant. The review will continue until technology improvements are completed that will allow data to be easily tracked and integrated across both departments, McDonald said.

Meanwhile, the city's building trade unions warned the committee that unsafe work sites exist throughout the city and argued that license requirements are too lax. (The city has stepped up requirements for demolition permits.)

"We do not have any kind of protocol for demolition," said Pat Gillespie, business manager for the Philadelphia Building Trades. "We have a lot of license requirements, but no one enforces things."

Kenney said he plans to introduce legislation that would establish a prequalification process before obtaining a permit.


On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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