Risky Business in Germantown

Nuisance businesses and commercial blight can be a real problem in cities.

Here, we are going to look at one example of a business currently operating unchecked by the City of Philadelphia, with no regard for the rules and regulations put into place to protect the community.

Tires & Service at 4800 Germantown Avenue

At 4800 Germantown Avenue, between W Wyneva Street and W Rockland Street, sits a 18,584 square foot auto service shop and tire reseller called Tires & Service. Residents have become increasingly concerned about the risk and danger of tire storage sites in the largely residential neighborhood of Germantown. The amount of tires stored at the shop grows each day, increasing from a few hundred to well over a thousand in a matter of months. When the business in question turns out to be operating illegally, concerns are only magnified. The tire shop has tire piles just five feet away from the first house on W Rockland Street and ten feet away from the first house on Wyneva Street.

The big fear is that a long-burning tire fire could destroy homes on nearby blocks.

 

Click to enlarge. View more photos on Flickr

Many Philadelphians still remember the great eight-alarm tire fire of 1996 that compromised the structural integrity of I-95, caused the Health Department to issue air quality advisories, injured two firefighters and slowed commuter traffic for weeks. The fire started in an illegal tire yard underneath the highway and caused over 6 million dollars in damage. (Side note: Larry! Stephanie!)


Secondary issues raised by neighbors include the likelihood of a mosquito infestation in the summer months and the unsightly condition of the property. There are lots of other problems with Tires & Services, of course:

  • According to the Licensing & Inspections website, all business operating licenses for the property are expired (all licenses listed were for previous businesses over the years, not the current shop, Tires & Service)
  • The business does not have an Auto Wrecking Yard / Tire Storage License [detail]
  • The business does not have a Commercial Activities License [detail]
  • Tires vertically stacked over 15 high in heaps are collecting water, within 5 feet of nearby homes
  • The business did not shovel snow all winter along the perimeters of the property on W Rockland Street, Germantown Avenue or Wyneva Street
  • Initially, the business was not open at all hours, but after just a few months, signs were installed advertising 24-hours a day, 7-days a week services; no notice was given to nearby residents

Zoning and ownership

4800 Germantown Avenue is zoned CMX25 Commercial / Commercial Mixed-Use and listed as an Auto Repair Shop.

Tires & Services are renting the property. The owners of 4800 Germantown Avenue were found using Philadelinquency.com’s genius property search feature:

Jacob Gabbay
Judith Gabbay et al
Cobris Properties
1314 Chestnut Street, 10th Floor
Philadelphia PA 19107

4800 Germantown Avenue, which has been occupied by several different businesses over the years, has a long history of Licensing & Inspections violations.

LI_violations_4800 Germantown Avenue

What’s the 311?

philly311_logoMany neighbors have mentioned that they have called the City’s Philly 311 hotline by phone about problems at Tires & Services.

Digging into public Philly311 records, one online complaint was submitted 8 months ago (August 12, 2013: Tires! Mosquitos! Dog Feces! Trash!). The report raised several issues, from mosquito problems to the abundance of tires and dog feces. Licensing & Inspections visited Tires & Service and closed the ticket with the conclusion that the complaint was unfounded.

Here is where we have a problem. Too many 311 complaints get the “Service Request Completed / Unfounded” tag to the bewilderment of the citizen reporter, leaving problems to persist and neighbors unsure of how to follow up.

A new 311 request was submitted for this business on April 16, 2014. The ticket number is 342740.

As it stands, Tires & Service is still a mess. It’s time for Licensing & Inspections to call a supervisor because another unfounded 311 ticket designation isn’t going to cut it.

BEFORE

Google Maps street view of 4800 Germantown Avenue from W Rockland Street. Gibson Auto Repair was operating at the site prior to the opening of Tires & Services in 2013.

Google Maps street view of 4800 Germantown Avenue from W Rockland Street before the tires and the opening of Tires & Services in 2013.

TODAY

Click to enlarge. View more photos on Flickr

A few good rules and regulations…

For City officials and neighborhood advocates, included below are a list of rules and regulations surrounding this type of operation. No Philadelphia citizen should be required to have to figure this out in order to address a neighborhood problem.

Tire fires in popular culture... The Simpson's long-burning Springfield Tire Fire is always on fire, though it was extinguished a few times.

Tire fires in popular culture… The Simpson’s long-burning Springfield Tire Fire is always on fire, though it was extinguished a few times.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

According to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Waste Management Inspection Report on Residual Waste Tire Storage Facilities, there are dozens of requirements that prevent Tires & Service from operating their facility.

Here are a few line items from the DEP inspection checklist Tires & Service do not meet or are violating, which anyone can see in plain sight:

  • Surface area of outdoor tire pile is not greater than 2,500 square feet.
  • Within 300 feet from an occupied dwelling, unless the owner thereof has provided a written waiver consenting to the activities.
  • Within 50 feet of a property line unless the owner has provided a written waiver consenting to the facility being closer than 50 feet.
  • Vertical height of outdoor tire pile is not greater than 15 feet.
  • Corridors or firebreaks on all sides of outdoor tire pile of at least 50 feet.
  • Firebreaks for outdoor tire piles are free of waste, equipment and structures.
  • Outdoor storage of waste tires conducted to control mosquito propagation.
  • Preparedness, Prevention and Contingency (PPC) for outdoor storage plan prepared and maintained at the waste tire storage facility and be updated annually.

  • A gate or other barrier is maintained at all vehicular access points.
  • Fence or other suitable barrier maintained around area to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Access to the site shall be limited to when an attendant is on duty.
  • Site constructed, maintained and operated to prevent and minimize the potential for fire or threat to public health or safety, public welfare or the environment.
  • Equipment in proper working condition is available that will control, contain and suppress fires or other hazards.
  • An internal communications or alarm system is available.
  • Portable fire extinguishers and suitable fire control equipment is available.
  • Available water, at sufficient volume and pressure and suitable foam agent (3%—6% mixture) and application equipment at the storage site (or an agreement with the local fire Department to provide the equipment) to temporarily contain a fire at the facility until emergency personnel arrive.
  • Equipment sufficient in size and design to provide timely movement of tires and tire derived materials in case of an emergency is available.
  • The operator shall immediately implement the Preparedness, Prevention and Contingency (PPC) plan if there is a fire or other emergency.
  • Surface water runoff from storage areas shall be minimized. Collection of surface water runoff shall be managed in accordance with The Clean Streams Law and the regulations thereunder.
  • A daily operational record is maintained for each day that waste tires are received or transported off the storage site.
  • Authorized tire haulers used to deliver and remove waste tires.

The DEP also requires the waste tire site storage operator to fill out this form that includes the signature of the property owner as well as stipulations that:

  • Storage of waste tires longer than 1 year is prohibited under Section 299.155(c) of DEP regulations.
  • 75% of waste tires must be marketed/disposed within one year to qualify as storage site. Waste tires marketed/disposed shall be verified through weigh receipts.
  • This notification is not a Department permit. It is a notification to the Department under Section 299.156 of DEP regulations. This notice is required by operators who store waste tires generated by their business on-site. Others who accept tires from others may require a permit. Contact your regional DEP office for further information.

The Philadelphia Code

In the Philadelphia Fire Code section of The Philadelphia Code it states that an Operational Permit is required by the business to house tires exceeding 2,500 cubic feet, about 320 square feet or the size of a 40-foot freight container. Tires & Service’s tire piles and stacks definitely exceed 2,500 cubic feet and there’s even a tractor trailer sitting out front that may hold additional tires. There is another trailer on the Wyneva Street side of the business surrounded by heaps of water-filled tires.

CHAPTER 1
ADMINISTRATION

SECTION 105  PERMITS
F-105.6.12 Storage of scrap tires and tire byproducts. An Operational Permit is required to establish, conduct or maintain storage of scrap tires and tire byproducts that exceeds 2,500 cubic feet (71 m3) of total volume of scrap tires and for indoor storage of tires and tire byproducts. The Operational Permit that is required for this operation shall be the same that is required for waste handling facilities.

*      *      *

CHAPTER 25
VEHICLE SALVAGE, TIRE REBUILDING AND TIRE STORAGE

SECTION 2501  GENERAL
F-2501.1 Scope.
 Tire rebuilding plants, tire storage and tire byproduct facilities shall comply with this chapter, other applicable requirements of this code and NFPA 13. Vehicle salvage and wrecking facilities shall comply with Section 2510 and other applicable requirements of this code. Tire storage in buildings shall also comply with Chapter 23. [2501.2 Permit required. Permits shall be required as set forth in Section 105.6.]

*      *      *

SECTION 2503  TIRE REBUILDING
F-2503.1 Construction.
The new construction of [T]tire rebuilding plants shall comply with the requirements of the [International] Philadelphia Building Code, as to construction, separation from other buildings or other portions of the same building, and protection.

*      *      *

SECTION 2510  VEHICLE SALVAGE AND WRECKING FACILITIES

F-2510.1 General. Facilities conducting vehicle salvage or wrecking operations shall comply with Sections F-2510.2 through F-2510.8.

F-2510.2 Control of combustibles to prevent fire. Combustible rubbish (trash, debris, etc.) on the exterior of a property performing vehicle salvage or wrecking operations shall be stored in containers with lids. Vegetation (bushes, shrubs, grass, weeds, etc.) shall be kept trimmed to prevent it from becoming a fire hazard. Dead and dying vegetation shall be removed.

F-2510.3 Cutting and welding. Cutting and welding operations shall be in accordance with Chapter 26.

F-2510.4 Portable fire extinguishers. Portable fire extinguishers shall be in accordance with Section 906.

F-2510.5 Tire storage. Tire storage shall be neat and orderly. The exterior storage of tires shall be in accordance with Section 2505.

F-2510.6 Vehicle fluids. The storage, handling and use of flammable and combustible liquids shall be in accordance with Chapter 34. Fuel shall be removed from vehicle fuel tanks scheduled for salvage or wrecking within 48 hours of the arrival of a vehicle. Fuel tanks not removed from vehicles within 48 hours of arrival shall be filled with water until the tanks are removed. Other fluids shall be removed if leaking, but not later than the start of further salvage or wrecking operations.

F-2510.7 Lead-acid batteries. Lead-acid batteries shall be removed from vehicles if leaking, but not later than the start of further salvage or wrecking operations.

F-2510.8 Burning of vehicle parts. The burning of vehicle parts is prohibited.

International Fire Code

The Philadelphia Code mentions Section 2505 as an additional set of code that governs outdoor storage of tires. This was unable to be located within the Philadelphia Code however the following code regarding outdoor tire storage is available:

SECTION 2505 OUTDOOR STORAGE 
2505.1 Individual piles.
 Tire storage shall be restricted to individual piles not exceeding 5,000 square feet (464.5 m2) of continuous area. Pile width shall not exceed 50 feet (15 240 mm). Piles shall not exceed 50,000 cubic feet (1416 m3) in volume or 10 feet (3048 mm) in height. 

2505.2 Separation of piles. Individual tire storage piles shall be separated from other piles by a clear space of at least 40 feet (12 192 mm). 

2505.3 Distance between piles of other stored products. Tire storage piles shall be separated by a clear space of at least 40 feet (12 192 mm) from piles of other stored product. 

2505.4 Distance from lot lines and buildings. Tire storage piles shall be located at least 50 feet (15 240 mm) from lot lines and buildings.

Exceptions:

1. Tire storage piles containing less than 500 tires shall be permitted to be located no closer than 10 feet (3048 mm) from lot lines or from buildings. Tire storage piles shall not exceed 6 feet (1829 mm) in height when within 20 feet (6096 mm) of any property line, building or perimeter fencing. Side slopes shall not exceed 60 degrees (1.05 rad). When approved by the fire code official in accordance with Section 1.11.2.4 distances of less than 10 feet (3048 mm) from lot lines or from buildings may be approved.

2. When approved by the fire code official in accordance with Section 1.11.2.4, exempted facilities defined in Public Resources Code Sections 42808(c) and 42831 and used tires as defined in Section 42806.5, tire storage piles shall be permitted to be located no closer than 10 feet (3048 mm) from lot lines or from buildings. Tire storage piles shall not exceed 6 feet (1829 mm) in height when within 20 feet (6096 mm) of any property line or perimeter fencing. Side slopes shall not exceed 60 degrees (1.05 rad).

3. When approved by the fire code official in accordance with Section 1.11.2.4, “minor waste tire facilities” as defined in Public Resources Code Section 42808, tire storage piles shall be permitted to be located no closer than 10 feet (3048 mm) from lot lines or 50 feet (15 240 mm) from buildings. Tire storage piles shall not exceed 6 feet (1829 mm) in height when within 20 feet of any property line or perimeter fencing. Side slopes shall not exceed 60 degrees (1.05 rad).

4. Existing “minor waste tire storage facilities” as defined in Public Resources Code Section 42808, legally permitted prior to January 1, 2011, shall be permitted to maintain tire storage piles located no closer than 10 feet (3048 mm) from lot lines or 50 feet (15 240 mm) from buildings. Tire storage piles shall not exceed 6 feet (1829 mm) in height when within 20 feet (6096 mm) of any property line or perimeter fencing. Side slopes shall not exceed 60 degrees (1.05 rad).

2505.5 Fire breaks. Storage yards shall be maintained free from combustible ground vegetation for a distance of 40 feet (12 192 mm) from the stored material to grass and weeds; and for a distance of 100 feet (30 480 mm) from the stored product to brush and forested areas.

2505.6 Volume more than 150,000 cubic feet. Where the bulk volume of stored product is more than 150,000 cubic feet (4248 m3), storage arrangement shall be in accordance with the following:

1. Individual storage piles shall comply with size and separation requirements in Sections 2505.1 through 2505.5.

2. Adjacent storage piles shall be considered a group, and the aggregate volume of storage piles in a group shall not exceed 150,000 cubic feet (4248 m3).

Separation between groups shall be at least 75 feet (22 860 m) wide.

2505.7 Location of storage. Outdoor waste tire storage shall not be located in any of the following:

1. Under bridges, elevated trestles, elevated roadways or elevated railroads.

2. In any area where they may be subjected to immersion in water during a 100-year storm unless the operator demonstrates that the facility will be designed and operated so as to prevent waste tires from migrating off site.

3. On surfaces with grades or other physical features that will interfere with firefighting equipment or personnel unless mitigating measures have been approved in writing by the local fire authority or a fire safety engineer registered by the State of California. Measures established by a fire safety engineer shall be subject to approval by the local fire authority.

2505.8 Rim removal. Waste tires stored on rims shall be stored separate from other waste tires.

2505.9 Pyrolytic oil runoff. The facility shall be designed and constructed to provide protection to by bodies of water from runoff of pyrolytic oil resulting from a potential tire fire.

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