On Wednesday, neighbors shot video of debris falling from an aging factory in Kensington that beleaguered developer Gagandeep Lakhmna wants to replace with a hulking apartment block.
Hours later, city officials halted the teardown.
Acting after neighbors posted the video — which documented some of the demolition — the city’s Licenses & Inspections agency told the workers to stop leveling the 100-year-old hosiery mill building at 2400 E. Huntingdon St.
The contractor at the site, J.D. Fedele Construction & Demolition Inc. of Horsham, was found to have been working with a demolition license that had expired in early March, city spokesman Mike Dunn said.
The stop-work order comes about a week after neighbors gathered to protest the seven-story, 150-unit apartment complex that Lakhmna aims to build at the site he bought in September 2020. Residents say it would block sunlight to surrounding two-story rowhouses.
L&I’s intervention also came the same day that Lakhmna was thrust back into headlines after a Common Pleas Court judge found him in contempt of court for again illegally locking out more than a dozen tenants of one of his North Philadelphia apartment complexes.
J.D. Fedele was fined $2,000 for working with an expired demolition-contractor license and for demolition work that was not approved in plans submitted for permitting, Dunn said.
The freeze will remain in place until the contractor renews his license, said Dunn. The contractor must also renew his demolition permit for the site if he intends to use machinery to complete demolition, he said.
L&I is investigating whether Lakhmna played a role in the violations and whether there were any additional violations.
J.D. Fedele, Lakhmna and a lawyer for the developer did not respond to emails seeking comment.
The Twitter videos were posted by Adrian Bondy, a neighbor who is also part of a group formed to oppose the Huntingdon Street project, dubbed Build Like You Live Here.
In one, an offscreen female voice berates a man in a hardhat and bright orange sweater while a clawed demolition machine picks at the roof of the partially razed red-brick, three-story industrial building in the light rain.
“You are not supposed to be tearing down a building with nothing blocking the debris,” she tells the man, who remains silent and eventually walks away. “People are still driving, people are walking, and stuff is falling into the street. This isn’t right.”
In another, debris can be seen hitting a fence set up around the perimeter of the site, and, in at least one case, overshooting the fence entirely and landing in the street.
“Look at this, all over the street,” says the woman, as the image pans across scraps scattered over the wet asphalt surface. “They haven’t closed the street: It’s still open to cars, it’s still open to pedestrians.”
A representative of the city’s Philly 311 complaint service replied to that post, saying a demolition complaint had been forwarded to L&I.
“We were very excited to know the demolition was stopped, but we know this is a much bigger fight,” said Emma Erwin, a resident near the project and organizer with the Build Like You Live Here group. “We need him to not be able to develop this project.”
Lakhmna, who has kept a low profile in the city since suffering a spate of business failures around the time of the Great Recession, attracted notoriety last month, when he began illegally evicting residents of one of his apartment complexes, the Moscow and Monica.
More than 25 residents of the complex say they were scammed by the building’s former property manager, who stole their rent money, but Lakhmna and his lawyer argue they aren’t legal tenants and want them out.
Lakhmna’s new property manager began locking residents out of their homes, and shut off their utilities. Some were forced to sleep in their cars with their children, and were unable to access important medication. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office intervened, and the case is ongoing.
Earlier this week, following a hearing in the case, Lakhmna again tried to lock out tenants, violating a judge’s previous order. That judge on Wednesday found Lakhmna in contempt of court and fined him $23,000. All Moscow and Monica residents have since regained access to their homes.
Thursday afternoon, Shapiro gathered in front of the complex with Councilmember Helen Gym, staffers from state Sen. Nikil Saval’s office, and Community Legal Services staffers to make it clear that they were watching Lakhmna closely, and were prepared to take further legal action.
Shapiro called Lakhmna a “greedy landlord” who has made “callous decisions.”
“The law works for everybody, not just the privileged few or the powerful who get to own a yacht,” Shapiro said. He was referring to Lakhmna’s Facebook posts from earlier this week, showing him sailing in the Caribbean.
Gym said L&I and other city officials are reviewing Lakhmna’s permits at the Huntingdon Street property.
“Someone who executes on such bad practices here should not be involved in significant development that leads to other problems elsewhere,” she said. “Anything in the future will be closely reviewed in light of the past behaviors.”