Point Breeze discusses trash pile up in lots, alleys

Residents express concerns about illegal dumping from contractors.

Located between Reed and Wharton and 20th and 21st Streets, an empty lot in Point Breeze is proposed for development. This week, residents of Point Breeze met with Councilman Kenyatta Johnson to discuss a plethora of community issues — namely the persistent piling of construction debris in vacant lots and alleyways. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Dozens of Point Breeze residents recently convened on the corner of 21st and Reed streets to voice various community concerns to Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.

From parking permits to street conditions, several discussions emerged from the “On Your Block” Quality of Life meeting, but a recurring concern among most neighbors surrounded excessive dumping of construction debris in local lots and alleyways.

An epicenter of development, Point Breeze residents say, as new real estate pops up around the region, they continue to witness contractors and workers let litter and other waste pile up — despite homeowners expressing complaints to the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection.

“I was raised on 20th and Tasker, so when I was growing up, people came on trash day and cleaned the alleway,” said Kay Shiver, who now lives behind newly-built homes on 20th and Dickinson. “Then, when they started building, the contractors started throwing debris in the alley.”

Along with trash and overgrown weeds that already cause fire hazards, residents also say they’ve seen contractors abandon oil drums in alleyways, which also worries them.

Representatives of L & I were in attendance and stressed that, in the south district whose headquarters are at 11th and Wharton streets, there are only about 10 area inspectors, causing the number of grievances to exceed the number of working personnel.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson discusses community issues with Point Breeze residents. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Aside from calling 311, residents who want to report a complaint are encouraged to email the south district or visit its office with a specific address to share, detailed comments and, ideally, a photo of the site or vehicles where an offense is taking place.

“We agree with increasing the fines, making the penalties more severe,” said Steve Porreca, construction compliance supervisor of the south district. “In the meantime, if you see a truck — please take a picture of it. The hardest problem for our inspectors, any inspector is hearing — someone’s just coming up and saying ‘There’s cement in my alley’ … then, we’re stuck with it just like you are.”

Once L & I sends out an inspector, the department will determine which agency is most appropriate to address the issue, such as the city’s CLIP — or Community Life Improvement Programs.

However, Johnson explained that, currently, there is no designated city department to clean up alleyways, as, according to city policy, homeowners technically possess the plots behind their houses.

“For the most part, right now, the city is going to say you’re responsible for that particular alleyway,” Johnson said.

While no city department immediately addresses the backyard clutter, Johnson suggests residents reach out to programs such as Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee, a network of block captains, that can provide cleaning equipment for free to those interested in scheduling a day to tidy the neighborhood. Sometimes, the city can send community service volunteers on these events, as well.

Following the meeting, Johnson told SPR he plans to continuously work with with Parks and Recreation, as well as the Street Sanitation Department to brainstorm solutions regarding the obstructed passageways.

“As a city, we need to do a better job in addressing alleyways that are clogged with dirt from contractors and making sure that these alleyways are clean so people are able to get in and out of their alleyways in the event that a fire happens,” he said.

As far as illegal dumping in lots, he says his office works closely with CLIP in not only cleaning up the parcels but preventing construction debris from piling back up.

Empty lots along the 1900 Block of Gerritt Street are the sites of multiple concerns presented by Point Breeze residents. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

When witnessing an illegal dumping of any form, residents are advised to take a photo of the license plate if offenders are driving a vehicle. In a bill introduced by Councilwoman Cindy Bass, if a business is proven to unlawfully throw trash in such public spaces, their businesses licenses will be suspended.

“The contractors are just taking their excavated soil piles, leaving them there,” said resident Esther McGinnis, who, aside from L&I, is contacting the Department of Environmental Protection regarding a vacant lot on the 1900 block of Gerritt Street. “They’re not protected. They’re not covered. They’re supposed to be covered, … I understand (construction) but there’s a flagrant violation of city codes, disrespect for the homeowners. You’re not supposed to leave those piles out there for weeks on end unprotected.”

Residents inquired if city council would consider introducing a bill that, in the event of a construction causing nuisances to the immediate area, that project be stopped until concerns are resolved.

While, if a city contractor causes damage, homeowners will be reimbursed for the costs, the same civil jurisdiction does not necessarily exist for other developers.

“We have a lot of work to do to hold the private (contractors) accountable,” Johnson said.

Some residents say contractors promised to fix removed or wrecked parts of their homes, such as fences, but fail to do after several months since construction broke ground.

If properties are damaged by private entities, the L&I representatives says, legally, permits and insurances are supposed to be posted on job site.

However, residents claim, in several cases, these documents are not presented in plain sight. In that case, they can call L&I to seek this knowledge if given a specific address, as this is public information.

“Some contractors in our neighborhood use it as a dumping ground,” said resident Haley Dervinis. “Councilman Johnson — their office is good at responding to the calls and helping to pick it up, but at the same time, they can’t do it all the time. They’re not on demand. It would be nice if L&I would put more dedicated inspectors in the neighborhoods that are rapidly gentrifying to help support neighbors, because it’s really hard for people emotionally, financially — just the whole thing. So, it’s be nice if there was that kind of city support.”