Monday, July 16, 2007

One Small Step for Philly Pedestrians

The sidewalk in front of 1352 Lofts on the 1300 block of South Street may end up a little wider thanks to the city's legal action - but not by much. All in all, it looks like pedestrians will get a four-foot-wide clear footpath, while developer Samir Benakmoume is allowed to construct a nice five-foot-wide terrace, er, wheelchair ramp to access the ground-floor shops below his million-dollar condos.

It took more doing than should be necessary in a democracy, but this afternoon I was finally able to secure a copy of the legal agreement, which was hammered out last Thursday between Benakmoume and city lawyers. (It's included at the end of this post.) You may be no wiser after wading through the legalese, so I will do my best to explain.

The agreement is odd in that it specifies exactly how much room that Benakmoume's illegal terrace is guaranteed - five feet - but says absolutely nothing about how much clear sidewalk space the public is due. Thanks to Jim Campbell, an architect who is a member of the South Street West Business Association, I was able to make these calculations:
-The normal sidewalk width in that area of South Street is 11-feet-6-inches. (It may be as wide as 12-feet-6-inches at the west end of Benakmoume's building.)
-Subtract Benakmoume's 5 feet. That leaves 6-feet, 6-inches for the public footpath.
-Of that, about 2-feet, 6-inches will be consumed by lamp posts and street signs
-What's left over for the public, then, is four feet of clear space for strolling. That's one more foot than what is there now. The clear footpath, however, "should have been five feet," according to Campbell, who is half of Campbell Thomas & Co. "It's an issue of gentility. It's an issue of comfort. It's an issue of access."

So, yes, two people will be able to walk side-by-side past this building, but only if they're very good friends. Expect to see a lot of dosey-doe-ing. While a person in a wheelchair should able to maneuver down the block now, it's looks a poor deal for the poor pedestrian.

Here's the agreement:

Whereas, Rimas International, 1352 South LLC (the “Defendant”) is the owner of the mixed-use development located at 1324-52 South Street (“Subject Property”), and
Whereas, the City of Philadelphia has a legal duty to assure safe and adequate passage on the public rights of way, and,
Whereas, South Street is a legally opened street, and
Whereas, the Defendant or its agents did construct encroachments upon the southerly line of South Street fronting the Subject Property, consisting of an access ramp, steps, landing and tree wells, and
Whereas, the sidewalk and curbline, as constructed by the Defendant or its agents is not set within the proper lines and grades, and
Whereas, the encroachments and existing sidewalk cannot be maintained upon the public right of way, as built,
Now, therefore, the City of Philadelphia and the Defendant (the “party”) agrees to enter into this Consent Decree upon the following terms and conditions:
The Defendant agrees that within ten (10) days of the date of this Consent Decree, they shall submit detailed architectural plans (“Plans”) to the Streets Department Right-of-Way Unit, indicating that the encroachments shall be reduced in size and/or relocated so that no encroachments along South Street will extend beyond the building line of the Subject Premises by more than five feet (5’);
The City agrees to review the Plans in order to determine if the reconstruction of the encroachments may be approved by permit, pursuant to Title § 11 of the Philadelphia Code.
If Plans may be approved for issuance of a permit under Title § 11 of the Philadelphia Code, the City shall issue a permit and lift the Stop Work Order imposed on June 29, 2007.
Defendant shall immediately thereafter commence work in order to comply with the conditions of the permit and make good faith efforts to complete said work within thirty (30) days.
The City shall forthwith survey the sidewalk and curbline along the South Street side and shall thereafter provide the Defendant with the correct lines and grades of the sidewalk and curbline.
Upon receipt of the specifications for the proper lines and grades of the sidewalk and curbline, the Defendant shall obtain a Curb and Footway Permit authorizing reconstruction of the sidewalk and resetting of the curb in order to conform to the correct lines and grades, and shall commence work necessary to achieve compliance.
Defendant agrees to the imposition of a One hundred thousand dollar ($100,000.00) conditional fine, all or part of which may be made absolute by the Court if it is shown that the Defendant has acted in contempt of this Consent Decree or fails to complete the encroachment modification set forth herein.
In the event that the Plans submitted by the Defendant cannot be approved within the parameters of §11-604 of the Philadelphia Code, the City reserves the right to request a hearing before the Court, at which time the City may seek appropriate injunctive relief.
This Consent Decree shall not bind the City to authorize, by permit or ordinance, any activity or construction upon the public rights of ways abutting the Subject Premises.
This Consent Decree shall not prejudice the right of the City to demand compliance with any provision of the Philadelphia Code, or other applicable law, that is not contemplated herein.
Either of the parties may request that a status hearing be held in Court on this matter within thirty (30) days of the date of this Consent Decree.
Samir Benakmoume, for Defendant, Ramis International, 1352 South LLC
Ronald J. Patterson, Esquire Attorney for Defendant, Ramis International, 1352 South LLC
Leonard F. Reuter Assistant City Solicitor Attorney for Plaintiff, City of Philadelphia


Blogger ryeguy said...

Someone made this comment in the last post, but why can't they extend the sidewalk into the street? Without parking on the other side, it seems like there's ample asphalt on that block.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Niel said...

Is the terrace as it stands with this new agreement legal? If not, this agreement has no validity and should be immediately scrapped.

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like I was right.
This is the compromise: Berkouly can keep his patio. End of compromise.
I hate this city.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

This constitutes a taking, an eminent domain in reverse, of public property and privatizing it. His real estate has a property definition outlined in the deed, through a physical inspection and measurement of the land, a survey. Does his property now include this 5 feet and if so what is the fair market compensation to the city for it, was title transfered? Legally? Does his property tax go up now that his property has increased in size? Is it only a leasehold, what is the compensation to the city for that?

8:22 AM  
Blogger noah said...

Jackhammers would have made such a clear statement. An agreement also makes a clear statement: do what you want and we'll accommodate you.

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to the terrace, can he really use it for seating and yet claim it is for ADA compliance? Can't a handicapped person legally challenge being told "sure you can enter, let's just clear all these people eating their food away first" as that would be intimidation?

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you can barely walk as is now on any city sidewalk where there is a cart vendor so I do not understand what's the fuss over a terrace of a beautiful building which will improve the area.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you can barely walk as is now on any city sidewalk where there is a cart vendor so I do not understand what's the fuss over a terrace of a beautiful building which will improve the area.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with rye guy. Just make the street 1 foot or so narrower at that portion or on the entire block. Problem solved.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with rye guy. Just make the street 1 foot or so narrower at that portion or on the entire block. Problem solved.

1:19 PM

Your idea does not solve the problem. Have you looked at the pictures?? One foot is not going to help. What if every Center City restaurant decided to pull a permanent sidewalk grab?? It would be chaos. Narrower streets + narrower sidewalks = more congestion.

The other problem which no one is talking about is what happens when the parcel of land on the other side of the street gets developed next year?? Is everyone just going to walk in the street???

The guy intentionally ignored the zoning code and took public land for his own private use. That should never happen. This agreement, if it stands, sets a very bad precedent. Memo to Mayor Street - Stop rewarding bad behavior.

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that "about 2-feet, 6-inches [of the sidewalk] will be consumed by lamp posts and street signs" - why? Because Philadelphia has chosen decorative street poles with honking huge bases, that's why.

The 5'-0" number for the terrace, um, RAMP, is probably derived from the ADA minimum wheelchair turning diameter, 60" clear. And yes, there could be seating along some of the platform so long as a wheelchair user had a few clear areas to make a 360 degree turn, especially at doors. Generally it is frowned upon to have to move more than a chair to accomodate the turning circle.

6:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where is this guy's property line? is it not that simpe? or are all sidewalks good for the taking now?

7:13 AM  
Anonymous krisada said...

The City still has plenty of opportunity to push the terrace back---the agreement does not say anything about permitting the installed ramp as-is or any ramp/terrace that projects 5 feet into the sidewalk. The agreement simply cites the owner for violating the street line by more than 5-ft and offers the owner a chance to submit plans for redoing the ramp/terrace; the Streets Code has other requirements that are even more restrictive and will be in effect for this location. (4ft 6inches is a dimension used to restrict cellar doors in sidewalks, a similar condition.)

If you are interested, those requirements can be found here:$f=templates$3.0&vid=amlegal:philadelphia_pa

Particulary interesting is subsection (4):

Fences and Railings. 63 No fence or railing shall extend beyond the street line so as to reduce the width of the sidewalk to less than 16 feet where the width of the street is 100 feet or more; to less than 14 feet where the width of the street is between 80 and 100 feet; to less than 12 feet where the width of the street is between 50 and 60 feet; or to less than 8 feet where the width of the street is less than 50 feet.

Armed with this knowledge, perhaps it is useful to call your neighborhood rep and make sure that Streets Department and L&I stick to their own stated requirements. Prolly more effective than just ranting on this blog.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Joe C. said...


Thanks for the great work on this issue. Unfortunately, as Jane Jacobs noted long ago sidewalks "go unrecognized and unrespected as the uniquely vital and irreplaceable organs of city safety, public life and child rearing that they are." It's bad enough when sidewalks are shrunk to accommodate traffic, but now private development as well.

How wide is the street? If the comment quoting our zoning code is accurate, it would seem that at minimum the sidewalk should be 8'; 1'6" wider than the result of the agreement. An extra foot and a half of pedestrian space would be nice.

I like the suggestion of using some of the parking lane. A bumpout would provide more room to work with, and works well in slowing traffic.

2:46 AM  

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