Tag Archives: Germantown Avenue

Redevelopment of Germantown’s YWCA about more than just one building

The shuttered YWCA.

The shuttered YWCA.

UPDATED: 4:30 PM February 17, 2015

Local media turned it’s attention to development in Northwest Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood this week as journalists reported on the fate of the historic YWCA building. Set on the 5800 block of Germantown Avenue, the building frames the northern side of leafy Vernon Park and fronts the commercial corridor. The week’s tales of woe, much of which centered on whether the building would face demolition or redevelopment, left me feeling very sad about Germantown as a neighborhood and place I call home, frustrated but not at a loss for words.

Here’s my letter to The Inquirer in response to architecture critic Inga Saffron’s take in her Changing Skyline column, published in the Tuesday, February 17th Opinion section (glad it’s back to two pages of commentary):

Promising neighborhood deserves better

TEXT: When it comes to planning and development, the Germantown community is feeling its way through the dark (“Without Y, Germantown loses part of its past,” Feb. 13). Where, for starters, is the City Planning Commission’s district plan for Germantown?

Whatever happens with the neighborhood’s vacant YWCA will affect its central park, its commercial corridor, and the future development of Germantown in a big way.

I know Germantown has what it takes. And I’m looking for change I can believe in, not change I’m mildly OK with. But if the wave of development sweeping the neighborhood now doesn’t meet my expectations, I will, with a heavy heart, look for a new place to live, work, and play.

I have already invested (and sacrificed) years making a positive difference on my own block, only to be crushed by the weight of insurmountable problems – poverty, ever more diminished city services, and the lack of oversight or feigned interest of the city agencies handling inspections and public housing.

I want neighborhood reinvestment that excites me. I’m young. I’m civically engaged. But I’m burning out fast. And I could use a good shot of espresso at a café in my very own neighborhood, as well as the ability to stop at a convenience store that isn’t reminding me over a loudspeaker every minute that I’m on camera.

We should have opportunities and we should have options to shape a grand vision for Germantown.

Emaleigh Doley, Philadelphia, www.rocklandstreet.com

The Germantown YWCA serves as a border for Vernon Park and as a backdrop to the Pastorius Memorial. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

The Germantown YWCA serves as a border for Vernon Park and as a backdrop to the Pastorius Memorial. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

The Philadelphia Inquirer ads to its stock photography collection of developer Ken Weinstein, here outside of the Germantown YWCA. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

The Philadelphia Inquirer ads to its stock photography collection of developer Ken Weinstein, here outside of the Germantown YWCA. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

big-news-clipart-200x243In the news

1. The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s architecture critic Inga Saffron pens an ode to the old building and brings the hammer down on councilmanic prerogative: Changing Skyline: Political battle could topple Germantown Y.

2. Earlier in the week, The Inquirer‘s city hall reporter Claudia Vargas captured Councilwoman Cindy Bass’ point of view: What’s to become of the old Germantown YWCA? The article notes the Councilwoman doesn’t want more subsidized housing at this location on Germantown Avenue. Bass says that given Germantown’s potential, time is needed to find the right plan for the old Y. “Land in Germantown, I believe, is becoming more and more valuable as we speak.”

3. Flying Kite Media offered a recap of the January 22, 2015 community meeting about the fate of the YWCA building, convened by Germantown United CDC.

4. Here on The W Rockland Street Project blog, my top 5 questions about the YWCA redevelopment leading up to the January 22 meeting.

5. A range of opinion and community conversation on Changing Germantown: facebook.com/groups/ChangingGermantown

Map view


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.


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

Neighborhood News: Dog-fighting ring found in Germantown

Just read this story in the Philadelphia Daily News about an illegal dog-fighting operation happening just a few blocks away from W Rockland Street.

Dog-fighting ring found in Germantown

Philadelphia Daily News
By DAVID GAMBACORTA | March 26, 2009

Police found drugs, chewed up pit bulls and training equipment for a dog-fighting operation in a Germantown barbershop on Thursday night.

Narcotics Capt. Debra Frazier said officers raided the Lil Man Barbershop, on Germantown Avenue near Wister Street, and confiscated one pound of marijuana and one gram of crack.

The cops found a homemade treadmill, weights and two pit bulls – one of whom was scarred with bite marks – in the basement of the shop, Frazier said. Officers with the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals were called to the scene and took both dogs.

“It appeared to be a training operation,” Frazier said. The Department of Licenses and Inspections posted a cease operations order in the shop.

Jermaine Russell, 20, Leslie Norris, 40, and Richard Vaughn, 20, were arrested at the scene, Frazier said. Both Vaughn and Norris worked at Lil Man.

Neighborhood News: Roadwork to close part of Germantown Avenue

Much needed roadwork happening on Germantown Avenue just a few blocks from W Rockland Street. We’re looking forward to seeing the transformation. We hope the City puts as much work into the project as was devoted to the construction on the Avenue in nearby Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill!

Roadwork to close part of Germantown Avenue
By Paul Nussbaum | March 25, 2009

Extensive roadwork will close two blocks of Germantown Avenue for 11 weeks, beginning Monday.

The road will be closed between Ashmead Street and Queen Lane in Germantown as crews build a new concrete roadway with new trolley tracks, granite curbing and block shoulders, sidewalks, decorative street lights, and trees. Old underground water and sewer pipes also will be replaced.

Trolley tracks are being replaced at the request of residents, even though SEPTA buses have replaced trolleys that were “temporarily” removed from service there in 1992. Block-by-block closures will be in place on the avenue through late November for construction.

The work is part of a $9.2 million reconstruction project. Seravalli Inc. of Philadelphia is the general contractor on the project, which is financed with 80 percent federal and 20 percent state funds. Last year, PennDot rebuilt Germantown Avenue between Allens and Mermaid Lanes in Mount Airy in a $17 million project.