Category Archives: Trash, Illegal Dumping and Litter

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’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.


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.


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.

Read more


Momentum in Germantown: 30 projects planned for annual Philly Spring Cleanup

In its seventh year, it’s time for the City of Philadelphia and the Streets Department to drop mega-trash stats to show and prove just how much we can all clean up during the Philly Spring Cleanup on Saturday, April 5. Just how big are the numbers? 1,014,540 pounds of trash collected, 4,030 tires removed and 23,341 pounds of recycling was collected during the 2013 clean up.

In Germantown there will be a huge presence felt all over the neighborhood with 30 official projects registered! Can you feel it? It’s momentum. Keep up the sweep up!

The W Rockland Street Project has two projects planned for the big day – Emaleigh will be working with W Rockland Street Neighbors on a block cleanup and Aine will be leading a cleanup with the Southwest Germantown Business District at Freedom Square (5101 Germantown Avenue).

Sign up to volunteer for a Germantown (or any other neighborhood!) project by clicking here!

Momentum \mō-ˈmen-təm, mə-\ 
the strength or force that something has when it is moving.
the strength or force that allows something to continue or to grow stronger or faster as time passes.


Volunteer for one of many project sites in Germantown

Sign up in advance … or just show up to lend a hand!


1. Lingelbach Elementary School
6340 Wayne Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19144

2. Hood Clean Up
4901 Germantown Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19144

3. SoLo/GCA-WAM Philly Spring Clean Up 2014
Municipal parking lot
4919-25 Wayne Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19144

4. Friends of Happy Hollow Playground and Community Garden
4800 Wayne Ave (upper level Pulaski Ave and W. Logan St.)
Philadelphia, PA 19144

5. Friends of Loudon
4650 Germantown Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19144

6. Neighborhood and Park Cleanup (DIA Clean Up)
Wayne & Johnson Sts.
Philadelphia, PA 19144

7. Germantown Town Hall Cleanup
Germantown City Hall
Germantown and Haines St
Philadelphia PA, PA 19119

8. 6100 Block Germantown Avenue
Cleanup Historic 1770 Germantown Mennonite Meetinghouse
6121 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19144

9. Rockand Street Neighbors
15 W Rockland Street
Philadelphia, PA 19144

6200 W. Chew Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19138

Read more

Cleanup Philadelphia with A Litter Scavenger Hunt

On August 4, we pitched a tent and signed up about 15 kids who were out and about on the block, ranging in age from 3 to 13.

Kids worked solo and in pairs with names like Team Bomb, Cool Kids and Star Girls. Armed with a list of commonly littered items from cigarette butts to fast food packaging to bonuses like clothing, the kids set out to collect trash discarded on the sidewalk, in the street and in the block’s vacant lots.

The list!

The almighty list! See the full list up-close.

Donning neon vests and plastic gloves, the sleuths stormed up and down the block quickly filling their plastic grocery store bags with litter of all kinds.

Not before long, the kids rushed back to the tent with bags unfortunately bursting with garbage to have their bounty scanned and sorted. The organizing crew spread out the litter collection on a table and examined all the different elements while matching the items to the lists.

Displaying and sorting all that litter was the most important part of the experience. Kids got to see just what kind of trash was all over our block.

At the end of the day, the kids received prizes, temporary tattoos and hot dogs.

Game for just about anything, children play a big role in cleanups across Philadelphia and their involvement in beautifying their own neighborhoods helps change behavior. The scavenger hunt is an easy and very low cost activity that you can do on your block!

To drive home the anti-litter message with the adult set, West Rockland Street also organizes block cleanups throughout the year and participates in the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee‘s (PMBC) official district cleanups and the Streets Department’s annual Philly Spring Cleanup.

After the cleanup, the children of West Rockland Street offered these suggestions on how to keep the block clean:

  1. “When you see a piece of trash on the ground, don’t walk by, just pick it up” – Harmony, 11
  2. “No spitting” – Ahjanayah, 11
  3. “Cleanup with brooms” – Kevon, 9
  4. “Use the trashcan” – Shaquille, 12
  5. “Sweep the porch” – Khadiera, 11
  6. “When you see someone litter ask them to pick it up” – Lamont, 10
  7. “No litter” – Alan,12
  8. “Pick up stuff and put it in the trash” – Shireef, 6
  9. “Clean up once a week” – Yahmina, 7
  10.  “Sweep the sidewalks on the block” –Indiya, 8


Rockland St in Action: Block Cleanup, Aug. 3, Block Meeting, Aug. 6

This weekend, W Rockland Street will participate in the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee’s monthly district cleanup. Come out and spruce up the block on Saturday, August 3 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. There will be a special kids activity in front of the DePaul Catholic School in the afternoon!

All residents of W Rockland Street and nearby neighbors who participate in our programs are also invited to the next Block Meeting, which will be held on Tuesday, August 6 at 6 p.m. outside on the school steps of the DePaul Catholic School. One of the big issues we’ll be discussing is the incident that occurred on W Rockland Street on Monday, July 29, which unfortunately drew numerous police and choppers to the scene (read more about that on NewsWorksWHYY).  If you don’t come out, no one hear’s your voice. Be there!

Flyer: Block Meeting August 6

Flyer: Block Cleanup August 3

It’s Time to Grow This Block! (Again) – W Rockland St’s Annual Block-wide Planting Day in Germantown, Saturday, June 1

This Saturday, June 1 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., residents of W Rockland Street in Germantown will participate in Grow This Block! – the W Rockland Street Project’s third annual neighborhood gardening experiment.

This entire yard was ripped up and transformed! Big thanks to Matt Wysong for helping with the project!

This entire yard was ripped up and transformed! Big thanks to Matt Wysong for helping with the project!

We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to grow flowers and food gardens right in the city. 

This year, residents and volunteers will plant annuals, perennials, shrubs, herbs, veggies and even fruit. All residents will have the opportunity to make a sidewalk planter, add new plants to their gardens, build entirely new gardens, in yards or in containers, hanging planters and pots. Everyone is encouraged to get involved in this block-wide planting day, even first-time gardeners.

Residents pay an affordable registration fee to participate (details below). We are able to subsidize the cost of plants and supplies with the help of a Philadelphia Activities Fund grant, issued by 8th District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass. Many plants are also created by dividing existing perennials from gardens on W Rockland Street. Growing from seed and striking new plants from cuttings and layering also contribute to lowering costs.

Grow This Block! works to build community and connect neighbors, beautify the block, reduce litter, educate children and adults about urban farming and horticulture, and more. Two-thirds of the block’s 46 households have participated in past years. For a look at the event, check out our photos and recap from GTB! 2 and for more insight, read architecture critic Inga Saffron’s take in The Philadelphia Inquirer here: Germantown sisters use tactical urbanism to bolster their block.

Sweat equity. Grow This Block! 2012 was a huge success. See more photos here.

Sweat equity. See more photos here.

Volunteers make things grow. Consider joining us this weekend! Planting location is the Unit Block of W Rockland Street in Germantown, 19144, between the 4800 blocks of Germantown Avenue and Greene Street (here’s a map). Contact Aine or Emaleigh at (215) 805-8091 // for more information. Check out the flyers below to learn how Grow This Block! works.

Recap: Germantown United CDC’s Sustainability Forum, Zack Bird is the Man

We had a great time talking about neighborhood revitalization and citizen engagement projects at Germantown United CDC‘s second annual forum last week. While sharing our work was fun, it was equally cool for us to learn about other projects in Philadelphia. Zack Bird’s DIY anti-graffiti campaign was particularly inspiring, and we could relate to his remarks about why he does it (see below). After reading Inquirer columnist Karen Heller’s story about his paintings in the Wissahickon, you’ll probably want to pick up a paint brush and join him in the park, too. He has quickly achieved philebrity status in our book! We couldn’t actually wait until after the panel to tweet about him –

If you missed the program, check out Luke Smith’s recap of the event below, which includes a summary of Zach’s talk and our contribution. For more, see Germantown-based photographer Tieshka Smith’s collection of photos or check out stories in The Philadelphia TribuneNewsWorksWHYYFlying Kite, and the Philadelphia Real Estate Blog. – Aine & Emaleigh

Guest blog post by A. Luke Smith | Board Member of Germantown United CDC

About a hundred people turned out at the Flying Horse Center last Wednesday evening, May 8, 2013, to attend Germantown United CDC’s Second Annual “Forum on Sustainability,” which featured a “trade show” followed by a panel discussion where attendants learned how “it IS easy being green!”

Aine representing Tree Germantown. You want a tree, right?

Aine representing Tree Germantown. You want a tree, right?

The projector displayed a tuxedo-wearing Kermit the Frog to welcomed guests to the beautiful space at the Flying Horse Center, where various organizations and city offices engaged face to face with interested Germantowners.  Derrick Searles of the Streets Department’s Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee informed visitors that anyone can host a block cleanup and,  with just an advanced phone call,  the city will gladly come and pick up all of the trash and debris the same day.   The Sustainable Business Network recruited Germantown business owners and entrepreneurs to join the citywide network of businesses committed to the business ethos embodied in what they call “the triple bottom line,” or “Profits, People, Planet,” a concept that was repeated later during the forum discussion.  Attendees bounced between tables hosted by local urban farms like Grumblethorpe, organizations like The Food Trust dedicated to bringing that healthy fresh food to Philadelphians living without access to it, and a prison-to-work program called “Roots to Re-entry” that gives prison inmates the opportunity to learn urban farming in the prison’s rehabilitated green house.  There were too many fantastic organizations and agencies to list here (see the pre-event flyer for that).  So many, in fact, it was a challenge to get interested Germantowners to leave the tabling area and take their seats at the forum!

Once seated, the audience listened intently as each of the seven panelists shared presentations and spoke passionately for 20 minutes about their work, and the work of their respective agencies and organizations.

Keynote Speaker and discussion moderator Robert Fleming, founder of Philadelphia University’s MS in Sustainable Design Program, posed the first question to the panelists:  “Most peoples’ objective in life is to make enough money to live as comfortable as possible.  But you guys are special.  What makes you tick?”

After a moment of humble silence, acclaimed graffiti-fighting Muralist Zack Bird was the first panelist to chime in.  “I actually have a good answer to that,” he began.  “In my work for Palm Restaurants, I’ve had the chance to travel around the county building restaurants.  I spent up to a month on each job, and so I’ve gotten to know a lot of American cities.  But when I recently returned to northwest Philadelphia, I really rekindled my love affair with this place, especially with the natural beauty of the Wissahickon, and the history. I’ve found that it’s really a unique place, and I wanted it to be beautiful. And so a while ago I made a commitment to pick up litter anytime I see it.”

“At first I thought I was doing a favor to the community by picking up trash.  But I was thinking about this recently, and I’m really doing a bigger favor to myself.  Whether it’s picking up litter, or faux-finishing to restore a tagged up retaining wall in the Wissahickon, it just makes me feel great, like I’m floating on a cloud.  So I guess that’s why I do it. That’s what makes me tick.” 

Every panelist applauded in agreement to Zack’s response.

Zack Bird paints away graffiti and recreates stone.

Read more

Party with W Rockland St at the Philly Spring Cleanup, Saturday, April 13

Philly Spring CleanupSo you think picking up trash can’t possibly be fun? Think again! If you want to make a difference in Philadelphia and have fun doing it, join W Rockland Street Neighbors in Southwest Germantown for another exciting Philly Spring Cleanup project.

This is our fourth consecutive year W Rockland St has participated in the cleanup – in the past, we’ve cleared mounds of trash from vacant lots, built community gardens, painted vacant houses, planted flowers in the sidewalk, and more (take a look at our 2012 and 2011 projects). We call that change you can see, and we couldn’t have done it without the wonderful volunteers that join us each year. Come along and work with W Rockland St Neighbors!

2013 Spring Cleanup Goals:

  1. Help neighbors sweep the sidewalk and street along the entire block;
  2. Lend a hand in basic cleanup and maintenance of two large parcels of vacant land on the block;
  3. Repair and paint the wood fence protecting the vacant lot in the middle of the block;
  4. Help cleanup in front of vacant houses;
  5. Assist elderly neighbors in sprucing up their front yards;
  6. Plant flowers and plants in large pots and garden beds for sidewalk beautification.


W Rockland serves as an example of what one Philadelphia city block can do to change its future through citizen engagement, do-it-yourself spirit, and tactical urbanism. We are located between the 4800 blocks of Germantown Avenue and Greene Street, flanked by the 100 blocks of Logan and Wyneva Streets. Read more about our neighborhood improvement projects right here on our blog.

Got questions? Contact // 215-805-8091 

Cleaning the alley during the 2010 Philly Spring Cleanup

Cleaning the alley during the 2010 Philly Spring Cleanup

Loading up the Streets Department trash truck during the 2012 Philly Spring Cleanup

Loading up the Streets Department trash truck during the 2012 Philly Spring Cleanup

Watering new pop up sidewalk gardens on W Rockland St

Watering new pop up sidewalk gardens on W Rockland St

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