Friday, August 23, 2013

L&I Snoozes While Demolition Site Across The Street From A City HIgh School Becomes A Landfill, Then A Bloody Crime Scene

By Ralph Cipriano

It's an open demolition site that features the rusting skeleton of a former giant furniture store. The walls are collapsing; so is the roof.

Neighbors say the site is an attractive  public nuisance for local kids, who like to party there and paint graffiti. It sits directly across the street from the ballfields behind George Washington High School on Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia.

For months, L&I has allowed the 11.7-acre site to operate as an illegal landfill. Dump trucks have been seen going in and out of the property on a daily basis, say neighbors and a former L&I employee who visited the site. The dump trucks left behind in the rear of the property a pile of concrete rubble, brick and old tires. Dumpsters formerly kept on the site also attracted plenty of old refrigerators, mattresses and lots of trash.

"It's an eyesore," said a woman who lives across the street but did not want to be identified. At 7:20 a.m. on Monday Aug. 19th, neighbors saw a worker at the site frantically waving down police, who had just pulled up in cop cars with lights flashing.

"Bet you they found a body," the woman recalled saying to a neighbor. "It was just a matter of time."

Daquan Crump, 19, was found shot "anywhere from 10 to 12 times, all in the face and head area,"  Philadelphia Police Captain James Clark told reporters. "It was a very, very brutal murder."

Crump had been forced to kneel in the dirt before he was shot, police said. Ten casings were recovered from the demolition site. The victim, a 2012 graduate of George Washington High, had worked at a neighboring Wendy's on Red Lion Road. He was last seen leaving his job at 11 p.m. the previous Saturday. Police found a Wendy's uniform in his backpack.

On Thursday, a worker shooed this reporter off the site while a bulldozer was rumbling. "We're tearing it down," the worker said. Better late than never.

 L&I officials did not respond to a request for comment on why the department has allowed the property to continue operating as an illegal dumping ground. It's not a legitimate question, said an indignant Rebecca Swanson, a spokesperson for L&I. To show her shaky grip on reality, Swanson also denied that her agency has become a public relations nightmare.

Honestly, who hires these people?

L&I has been the subject of five recent City Council public hearings for its lack of oversight of a June 5th building collapse on Market Street that killed 6, injured 14, and prompted the suicide of an overworked L&I building inspector.

On April 8, 2013, Artifex Design & Construction of Bala Cynwyd received a demolition permit from L&I calling for "complete demolition of all structures on the site" at the old Black Red White Furniture store at 10169 Northeast Boulevard, according to L&I records posted online. The job remains an "active" site, according to the records.

Artifex may no longer be active; the company's phone number is not in service.

The demolition should have been completed in a few weeks, said a longtime former L&I employee who visited the site before the murder. The former L&I employee said he witnessed dump trucks rumbling in and out of the property. Neighbors said they saw the same thing.

"They were running an illegal business on a demolition site," the former L&I employee said. "I said, something's going to happen here."

L&I, however, was not looking at the big picture. L&I records show inspectors visited Northeast Boulevard on April 29, 2013, and cited the illegal dump for a clip violation and high weeds throughout the property, violations "not complied" with. On June 3, 2013, L&I inspectors again visited the illegal dump site and issued a violation for rubbish and garbage in the front of the property. Once again, the violation was not complied with.

"How could an inspector walk away from that," the former L&I employee said. "I saw the weeds and the dumping and it was a red flag. The property should have been secured with a fence. That place was a disaster waiting to happen. They're only demolishing it because a guy got killed or else it would still be going on."

"Nobody cares," he said. "I think it's a disgrace. I would ask what the fuck is going on?"

Former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin, who testified at the recent City Council hearings, said if that site was operating when he was commissioner, he would have gone out to personally inspect it. And then, "I would have shut it down in ten minutes," he said. "Especially if the owner was a contributor to the mayor."

L&I was certainly aware of the property and its many problems. According to L&I records, the property has been cited for 152 code violations during a seven-year-period between March 6, 2007 until June 3, 2013. The violations issued were for various building code, fire code and hazmat problems, as well as overgrown weeds.

The site has been in the process of demolition for at least four years.

L&I records posted online show that on Dec. 16, 2009, M&M Reality Partners LP of Willow Grove took out a permit for "interior demolition of non-load bearing partitions to include two boilers."

On April 13, 2010, L&I issued violations for problems with the boiler room, and for "an area surrounding boiler room demolition (that) needs temporary fence to secure unsafe site." Both violations are listed as having been complied with.

On Aug. 2, 2010, the property was cited for a partially collapsed roof and a partially collapsed wall. The records record the status as "not complied." On Sept. 13, 2010, L&I issued another violation because a building permit was required for "partial demolition at rear of building." This violation was also listed as "not complied."

On March 6, 2012, Associated Paving Contractors of Huntingdon Valley got a permit from L&I to remove "three underground storage tanks," two 10,000-gallon tanks, and one 1,000-gallon tank.

Meanwhile, over the years,  L&I repeatedly cited the property for violations.

On June 17, 2009, L&I issued 23 violations for offenses that included electrical violations, fire protection, standpipes, combustible waste accumulating, and hazmat offenses. All the violations are listed as having been complied with.

On Oct. 12, 2012, L&I issued violations for "clip violation" and "high weeds cut." The status was listed as "complied," meaning taxpayers probably paid for the work.

The property has also been the subject of several L&I review board meetings. Between Nov. 3, 2010 and Jan 27, 2012, the property was the subject of six meetings. In the end, the review board decided L&I screwed up. "The wrong entities were cited," the records say. "The violations cannot be addressed until asbestos is removed and demolition permit is issued."

The property is owned by M&M Realty Partners LP of Willow Grove, according to city property records, and is assessed at $1.6 million. The owner is a dead beat, according to the city, owing $194,915 in back taxes.