FOX 29 Investigates: Philly Building Boom's Downside

Residents in some Philadelphia neighborhoods say there's a downside to the wave of new construction sweeping through the city.

Their beef is with developers and contractors who they claim are trampling all over their communities.

FOX 29's Jeff Cole has this report.

On South Garnet Street in Point Breeze there's tension.

"It's been - can I say it? It's been hell, really," said resident Betty Beaufort. "And then they don't respect the people who live on this block."

In this community, the old is being over taken by the new as homes are gobbled up by investors, rehabbed, rebuilt and flipped for a tidy profit.

Fearing trouble, one longtime resident asked we shield his face and use only his middle name, Joe. He says contractors are bullying residents.

"'It's Point Breeze, we can do what we want,'" Joe said of the contractors' mindset.

"Seriously, you think that's the view?" Cole asked.

"Absolutely," Joe replied.

"They can get away with what they want because no one's gonna pushback?" Cole asked.

"They can get away with murder," Joe answered.

He has snapped pictures of damaged sidewalks and massive piles of construction debris. He complains of demolition work without permits and tardy city inspectors missing it all.

And, there's something FOX 29 Investigates has seen before - trash trouble.

Pickup is Tuesday on South Garnet, but on Thursday March 30, a neighbor's security video shows city workers were all-too-happy to help a crew working out of 1334 S. Garnet St. toss construction trash into their truck in direct violation of city rules.

Streets Department Commissioner Carlton Williams says the city's Inspector General is on the case. But he's also angry at contractors.

"You're concerned that contractors are enticing city workers to do this?" Cole asked.

"Absolutely, it's a two-way street that both parties … should not be engaging in that because ultimately it affects public trust and it costs the taxpayers dollars," Williams said.

The city workers hightailed it when a neighbor confronted them, and workers in 1334 seemed not to know much.

"City trash workers were picking up construction debris here. Do you know anything about that?" Cole asked them.

"Not really," a worker replied.

We left a card at the South Lambert Street city address of the building owner. William Cunningham called to say he fired the private crew he paid to haul the trash and doesn't condone their actions.

But it's not the only problem.

We spotted a no-parking sign on South Garnet Street that sure looks official. However, when FOX 29 Investigates asked the Streets Department if anyone had pulled the required permit for it, guess what?

"Are they bogus?" asked Cole.

"Ah, yes, we do not have any record or any application of a right-of-way permit to the Streets Department, so they are bogus, and it's illegal to do that," Williams told us.

FOX 29 also obtained security-camera video showing contractors saving parking spaces and posting no-parking signs in late March.

A resident says police ticketed vehicles before realizing the signs were bogus. The tickets were pulled.

Police tell FOX 29 they'll cite any contractor doing this.

Cole: "They're doing this primarily so their vehicles can park?"
Joe: "Correct."
Cole: "That's what this is?"
Joe: "Yup."

City records show 1324 South Garnet has had a rocky history while under rehab. It was hit with a half-dozen code violations by the city's Department of Licenses & Inspections last year, including construction without a building permit.

"From day one they thought they could start demolition and construction without permits," Joe told us.

The owner, Helpful Home Buyers Inc., later came into compliance with the city.

As we began to ask a man who said he was with the company, about those violations the door was closed.

But there was more to see there.

There was something up with the electric meter out back. There were nails in there!

We ran into a PECO Electric Co. crew after it had just checked it. The PECO employees said it was an "illegal hookup."

That's right, somebody had altered the meter to steal the juice. A PECO worker showed us one of those nails.

We went to the front door to ask a few questions.

Cole: "Hey, PECO tells me you guys had an illegal electrical hookup back there."
Company official: "Ah, I don't know."
Cole: "They cut it."
Company official: "This was a while ago."
Cole: "No, this week."
Company official: "Oh, really, I don't even know. We're working with generators."
Cole: "There were two nails in the PECO hookup back there."

Company official: "All right, I don't have no time for that right now, I'm with the inspector, so. OK, I'll let them know, though. Thank you." (Door closes.)

We don't know who tampered with the meter, but PECO says doing so is dangerous and a fire hazard. It cut the power to the property.

The Department of Licenses & Inspections says it's taking a hard look at the entire situation. We'll keep you posted.

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