For Kensington resident and property manager Anthony Bove*, the trash in the Dollar General parking lot at the corner of Allegheny Avenue and Amber Street has always been a problem. But when the store permanently closed earlier this month, he said the lot took a big turn for the worse.
“Last week, they dropped off four big 20-yard dumpsters that sat here from Thursday to Monday, and people were just ripping the dumpsters apart and pulling up and throwing stuff in them,” Bove said in an interview on Jan. 20. “It was just a free-for-all, and I guess this is the result of when they took the dumpsters away.”
Bove, who lives down the street from the store, also manages three properties on Amber Street between Allegheny Avenue and Westmoreland Street. He said that for the last four years, he’s tried everything he can to get the property cleaned up.
Bove estimates that he’s filed more than 50 Philly311 complaints about encampments, feces, illegal dumping, and trash overflow on and near the lot. Philly311 is a City service center for non-emergencies where people can file service requests and other complaints. In 2022, city residents made nearly 564,000 requests. The ZIP code 19134, where the property is located, had the fourth-highest number of service requests in the city last year.
Bove said he also complained directly to the Dollar General store manager about feces on the sidewalk near the property. However, the store manager told him that their corporate office told employees not to clean it up. They didn’t want employees getting stuck by needles or sick from exposure to human waste. So the employees would wait for the City or Impact Services to clean it up. But it would happen again.
Then, Bove tried talking with the management company that owns the property. He said he spoke to them once but hasn’t been able to reach them since. According to the City’s property records, the property’s ownership transferred from Louis Rappaport to Jacob and Jesse Rappaport in December 2020. The property owners could not be reached for comment.
Finally, Bove said that a few months ago, he reached out to former Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez for help. However, he wasn’t aware that Quiñones-Sánchez, who served District 7 (not District 6, where the Dollar General was), resigned in September to run for mayor.
“It’s very aggravating and frustrating and upsetting to see it be like this and that nobody cares,” Bove said.
City Hall’s response
The 2101-11 Allegheny Avenue lot is located in Councilmember Mark Squilla’s district (District 1).
However, starting in January 2024, the property will be part of Councilmember Mike Driscoll’s district (District 6). Following the 2020 Census, the City Council district boundaries were redrawn and finalized in February 2022. (Click here to see the new boundaries going into effect in 2024.)
Bove’s experience highlights questions that many other residents have about conditions in the neighborhood. Kensington Voice reached out to Driscoll and Squilla to collect the following responses.
Whose responsibility is it to keep properties like these clean?
Councilmember Squilla, District 1
According to Squilla, property owners are ultimately responsible for keeping their properties clean.
To hold property owners accountable, the City relies on its Streets & Walkways Education and Enforcement Program (SWEEP) to issue citations for violating the City’s sanitation code. If property owners don’t clean their properties after receiving a citation, Squilla said he usually reaches out to them directly to ask them to clean it up.
Then, if owners don’t respond to that request, the City uses its enforcement arm — CLIP. Once CLIP is involved, they send a notice to the property owner requesting that they clean the property. If they don’t clean the property within 10 days of that notice, CLIP will take care of the cleanup.
Councilmember Driscoll, District 6
Driscoll made it clear that the property is not currently in his district. However, when the new City Council boundaries go into effect in January 2024, it will be part of his district (District 6).
According to Driscoll, the process Squilla described is designed that way because of legal requirements.
“With regard to the cleanup, it’s disgusting … I want to get it done ASAP,” Driscoll said. “I just have to do it legally.”
By law, Driscoll said, CLIP needs to give the property owner two weeks to clean up their property. After that time is over, CLIP will reinspect the property. If the owner did not clean it up to CLIP’s standards, then the City can legally enter the property to clean it.
According to Driscoll, CLIP then bills the owner for the cleanup costs. They also put a lien on the property, which means the City possesses the property until the owner pays the cleanup costs.
How can residents keep property owners and the City accountable?
Councilmember Squilla, District 1
Squilla emphasized the importance of community members notifying the City about sanitation violations. To do that, he said community members should report issues directly to Philly311. Residents can submit requests on the Philly311 website, via the Philly311 mobile app, by calling 215-686-8686, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
When residents don’t submit 311 requests, the City doesn’t know about the problem, Squilla said. For example, he said that a community member recently approached him at a meeting the other day to complain about graffiti that had been on a building for more than two months.
“They said, ‘There’s been graffiti on this building for over two months,’ and I said, ‘Well did you report it to somebody?’” Squilla explained. “And they said, ‘Oh, well we put it on Facebook.’”
Therefore, he said his goal is to educate people to report things to 311 right away and follow up if the City doesn’t address it.
“The more advocacy you have from the community, the more attention gets paid to those concerns,” Squilla said. “If they call 311 to report these things, they will get the same attention as every other area.”
Squilla said that residents can also report directly to their City Councilmembers. In Squilla’s case, that means calling his office at 215-686-3458 or submitting an online contact form. He also emphasized following up.
“We ask that the resident or whoever calls and complains follow up if it’s not done within 10 days,” Squilla said. “Then we get back on [the phone] with City services to make sure that they respond.”
Councilmember Driscoll, District 6
Driscoll said that he is working with the City’s Department of Licenses and Inspections to install more cameras to capture the license plate numbers of the people dumping trash. From there, he said the City can fine and arrest them.
So, in addition to filing a complaint with 311, Driscoll said the community could help by taking pictures of people’s license plates themselves. However, he recommended that residents don’t engage with the people doing the dumping.
According to Driscoll, he also supports the community in organizing clean-ups. However, when it’s private property, community clean-ups are not an option.
Still, a deeper issue: Neighborhood disorder
On Jan. 23, the City’s Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP) cleaned up most of the trash on the property. They also removed a dumpster. The cleanup followed two 311 requests, according to the City’s 311 database. The first was submitted on Jan. 18 and assigned to the Department of Licenses & Inspections. The second was submitted on Jan. 19 and assigned to the Department of Streets. The cleanup also followed an email that Kensington Voice sent Councilmembers Mark Squilla and Mike Driscoll, alerting them of the problem.
However, Bove said the situation at Dollar General represented a much larger problem that caused the store to close in the first place — a lack of social order in the neighborhood. He said that over the years, his security cameras captured a lot of stealing. When he spoke to Dollar General’s regional manager in December, they told him the store was closing due to retail theft.
“They didn’t want to hire outside security to protect the employees or their merchandise,” Bove said. “It was cheaper for them to close this location down.”
Dollar General’s Public Relations office did not provide details about why the corporation closed its Kensington location.
“After reviewing several factors, we closed our store at 2101 East Allegheny Avenue,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to Kensington Voice. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our customers.”
However, City crime data supports Bove’s explanation. In 2022, there were more than 2,400 thefts reported to the 24th Police District, where the property is located. Nearly 10% of those happened on Allegheny Avenue. Fifteen percent of thefts on Allegheny Avenue occurred on the 2100 block.
Now that the store on Allegheny Avenue is closed, Bove said that instead of being able to walk down the street, his family needs to drive to access a different store on Aramingo Avenue.
“My kids used to like to come in and buy their coloring books and their drinks and their snacks,” Bove said. “Now that they don’t have that.”
Bove thinks it’s up to lawmakers to create stricter policies around loitering, shoplifting, and open-air drug sales. He also wants to make sure that the City issues citations to property owners in Kensington to hold them accountable. That way, he thinks the owners will take the complaints seriously.
“These are staples of our community and places for us to go for our convenience, and when they close down, it costs us even more money to travel to get the basic daily necessities,” Bove said. “If you don’t fix it or don’t address it, it’s just going to get worse.”
*Editor’s Note: Anthony Bove is also the building manager for the building where Kensington Voice’s office is located. Bove did not read or approve this story before publication.
Editor: Zari Tarazona / Designer: Jillian Bauer-Reese
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