Special committee: Strengthen demolition regs

Posted: September 27, 2013

A SPECIAL City Council panel that convened in the wake of June's deadly Center City building collapse released a report yesterday calling for a complete revamping of how the city regulates private demolitions.

The committee, which held five hearings, produced 71 recommendations, including creating a new licensing category for demolitions, requiring property owners' signatures on permit forms and making more Licenses & Inspections records available online.

Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. led the panel, which emphasized the difference between demolitions managed by the city and those by private contractors.

Jones said private projects operate on an "honor system," whereas city-run projects have high standards and a good record of worker and resident safety.

"The vast majority of demolition contractors are indeed honorable, but the small minority of not-so-honorable demolition contractors are whom these regulations are primarily for," he said.

In the June 5 tragedy, a wall from a private demolition project at 22nd and Market streets fell onto a Salvation Army thrift store next door, crushing six people to death and injuring 14 more. The property owner and contractor have been criticized for running an unsafe work site, although the project was approved and inspected by the city.

Councilman Jim Kenney, a committee member, said the city needs to refocus its efforts regarding demolitions.

"The Licenses & Inspections department is not a commerce department," Kenney said. "It is a public-safety department."

The question of how much the proposed regulations would cost the city to implement and contractors to follow will be an issue as Council and the administration tackle the report in the coming months.

"The cost of safety? Priceless," said Jones, who added that legislation from the report will be introduced next week.

Days after the collapse, Mayor Nutter issued an executive order that similarly increased standards for private demolitions and called on Council to adopt some measures that require legislative action.

Nutter "greatly appreciates the hard work" of the committee and "looks forward to working with Council going forward," according to a statement.

Also yesterday, Council approved a ballot question that would change the Home Rule Charter to extend the city's living-wage standards to subcontractors doing city work.

Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said in an email that the mayor supports the "underlying premise of this effort" but wanted to see amendments that would prevent unintended consequences.

"Those amendments never materialized," he wrote. "The mayor will now take a careful look at this legislation."

The bill, championed by Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., passed with enough votes to override a veto. Voters could see the question on the May 2014 primary election.


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog:ph.ly/PhillyClout

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