Street Level:
Potholes, building heights, chewed-up alleys 
Street Level:
Potholes, building heights, chewed-up alleys 
Jim Kenney and Melissa Murray Bailey respond to The Next Mayor's "Street Level" project, where community leaders ask the candidates about local problems.
Ryan Briggs / The Next Mayor
Videos by Stephanie Aaronson / Staff photographer
Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Shared driveway maintenance:​ Wynnefield, like many outlying neighborhoods in Philadelphia, is made up of blocks of 1920s-era rowhouses with postage stamp lawns in the front and shared driveways in the back.

Often used for parking and trash storage, the driveways have deteriorated as residents have aged, civic association president Jay Johnson told The Next Mayor.

“We have been told by our city officials that the driveways are private entities and [maintenance] is the responsibility of the neighbors that live on those blocks,” said Johnson. “The problem is that there are many senior citizens and people who cannot afford to have those driveways repaired.”

“I’m not saying the city should replace every driveway or sidewalk, but...we can’t say it’s not our responsibility at all.”
Jim Kenney

But Kenney took a different perspective.

“A lot of times [the city] picks up trash back there, so it’s a sanitation route,” he said. “I’m not saying the city should replace every driveway or sidewalk, but...we can’t say it’s not our responsibility at all.”

The candidate suggested “innovative” ways of repairing the driveways while accomplishing other municipal goals.

“The Water Department creates opportunities when it comes to stormwater management, because these are all paved surfaces and rain runs off them into our sewer system,” he said.​

Kenney’s campaign spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, later said in an email that PWD could work “with CDCs, private foundations and other organizations” to offset costs of installing more modern, porous forms of pavement on shared driveways. This would help address stormwater issues while also replacing the “moonscape.”

Without naming a specific organization, Bailey alluded to groups in the city that had already created similar community funds for neighbors struggling with driveway and sidewalk maintenance.

“I would love to connect [Wynnefield] with the neighborhood associations in the city who have created reimbursement programs,” she said. “These programs have helped many across the city defray the cost of improvements.”

Increasing building heights: Mike Hauptman and Jeff Hornstein from the Queen Village Neighborhood Association sounded off about how they feel the increasing height and density of construction projects is imperiling the character of their historic neighborhood.

“One of the issues we’ve confronted recently is the change in the zoning code,” Hauptman said. “One of those issues is the change in the height limit. It used to be 35 feet, which worked really well in Queen Village. Now it’s been increased to 38 feet, with a 10 foot pilot house on the roof.”

The civic association members felt that allowing taller houses to be built “by right” — without community zoning meetings or neighbor input — led to structures that were “monstrously out of proportion” with the surrounding neighborhood, according to Hornstein.

Many developers complained that under the old code, too many buildings were forced into a variance process, and that the resulting community and zoning board meetings made doing business in Philadelphia unattractive.

“If our new zoning codes have had unintended negative impact on preserving the character of our neighborhoods, then we should have a dialogue about revisiting them.”
Melissa Murray Bailey

Kenney acknowledged that the old code was a mess, comparing it to an attic that accumulated too much clutter over the years and needed cleaning out.

“But then the process starts over, because no zoning code is ever going to be written exactly perfect. So you run into these problems,” he said. “What I would suggest, and I think they’ve probably already done it already, is for them to communicate with their district Councilman Mark Squilla, who is very accommodating and understanding of zoning issues.”

Kenney went on to suggest writing new language into the code or possibly creating a neighborhood overlay to deal with excessive building heights.

That’s an issue that’s become more contentious over the years, with planning advocacy groups pushing for more density and less councilmanic involvement in development — groups who say that meddling is what necessitated the zoning code rewrite.

“We live in a democracy, so lets have a discussion,” said Kenney. “The people who have lived there long term have an opinion, the people who are new have an opinion, and somewhere in the middle lies reality.”

Bailey largely echoed these sentiments.

“If our new zoning codes have had unintended negative impact on preserving the character of our neighborhoods, then we should have a dialogue about revisiting them,” she said.

Construction-related potholes: Northern Liberties too is plagued by potholes, but of a much different kind.

“Like many Philly neighborhoods, we have a lot development and our streets are absolutely torn up and destroyed by cutting into them for development when they cut into them for [utility] service,” said Matt Ruben, president of the NLNA, as vehicles slowed to a crawl to navigate fractured asphalt next to glistening condos.

The Streets Department, Philadelphia Water, and Philadelphia Gas Works all have a hand in managing street work and paving. Ruben blamed poor coordination between the various agencies for exacerbating the issue, leaving streets “impassable for weeks or months at a time.”

“Our streets—all across the city—need attention.”
Melissa Murray Bailey

Kenney said he viewed this as an extension of one of his well-known pet peeves, which is blocked sidewalks as the result of construction.

“If you want to open a street for an emergency, gas leak, water main break, that’s one thing. If you need to open it for an economic reason, you’re going to pay for it,” he said.​

He suggested more aggressive enforcement efforts to punish careless construction firms, but also promised to improve responsiveness by installing a sort of infrastructure czar that would bridge city departments and oversee these types of issues.

“I intend to have an infrastructure and transportation person in charge of coordinating all of that with PGW, with PECO, with the cable companies, with anyone who has a need to open a street,” he said.

Bailey agreed that better communication was the answer.

“We do need coordination. We must modernize our government and leverage technology so that different departments can talk to each other in a much more effective way,” she said in an email. “Our streets – all across the city – need attention.”

Ryan Briggs, @rw_briggs
Stephanie Aaronson, @stephaaronson
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