For the second time in as many months, city officials have cited Gagandeep Lakhmna’s demolition contractor with safety violations at the Kensington factory that the embattled developer is working to replace with apartments.
Neighbors’ videos from Monday showed demolition machinery toppling a portion of the old hosiery mill at 2400 E. Huntingdon Ave. The collapsing bricks and window glass snapped Peco Energy Co. power lines, sending orange cable covers and dust onto adjacent Huntingdon Avenue.
The city fined J.D. Fedele Construction & Demolition Inc. of Horsham $2,600 Wednesday for allowing debris to fall onto the street and for not following a safety plans it filed with the Department of Licenses and Inspections.
The city also ordered work stopped at the site while officials investigate, said Karen Guss, an L&I spokesperson
The stop-work order “will stay in effect while the investigation continues,” Guss said. It “could be longer depending on the results of the investigation.”
J.D. Fedele owner Joe Fedele, however, denied that any construction debris had fallen into the street and said he would fight the citation. “It was falling into our established site-safety zone,” he said.
The video seems to show debris falling inside the fence area around the project, but cable covers from the Peco lines falling outside.
Two Peco power poles and their lines were damaged, Peco spokesperson Kristina Pappas said. No customers lost power and repairs have been made. Information on damage costs were not available, she said.
Fedele said he assumes “that we will be getting a bill from Peco.”
Lakhmna and his attorney, Dan Auerbach, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Construction at the site was shut down for the first time in April after an earlier video showed debris falling into the street. J.D. Fedele was fined $2,000 at that time for working with an expired demolition license and for using machinery after getting a permit that only allowed demolition by hand.
Before resuming the work that was again halted Wednesday, Fedele had renewed his license and had obtained a new permit that allowed the use of machinery, Guss said.
That permit required Fedele to have an engineer at the site throughout demolition — a “special inspector” — to monitor safety precautions and adherence to plans, she said.
Officials are investigating whether the special inspector at Lakhmna’s demolition site, Media-based AR Engineers LLC, had been providing those services in a manner compliant with city regulations, she said.
A person who answered a call to AR Engineers referred questions to Dennis Williams, identifying him as the project manager at the demolition site.
Williams hung up on a reporter after saying he knew nothing about the work.
The video of Monday’s collapse was shot by a neighbor who had been walking their dog, said Hanna Sherrill, who lives in a house across from the former hosiery mill that she bought in 2018.
Sherrill emailed that video, along with another captured from a farther-away angle by her home-security camera, to L&I and to Councilmember Mark Squilla’s office, as well as to the city’s air-quality agency and federal workplace safety regulators.
The offices were quick to respond, she said
“Without those videos, I don’t think they would have been able to shut it down,” she said. “God forbid someone had been walking under [the power line] when that thing snapped. The wire could have hit somebody and electrocuted them.”
Sherrill said the site is often unsecured and unlocked. Yesterday, she saw children climbing on the rubble of the half-demolished building, she said.
She said officials should do more to clamp down on the continuing demolition, such as shutting down Huntingdon Street for cars and pedestrians or requiring the work to be completed by hand.
“There is no fighting the demolition,” she said. “I just want it to happen safely for the workers and for our neighborhood.”
Neighbors opposing Lakhmna’s plan for a seven-story, 150-unit apartment complex at the site have latched onto the demolition mishaps to call for the developer to be stripped of his right to build in the city, something that there is no clear mechanism to do.
Lakhmna, who has projects throughout Philadelphia and in Los Angeles, has separately been embroiled in a dispute with residents that he illegally evicted from one of his North Philadelphia apartment complexes, the Moscow and Monica.
The case had been heading toward a resolution as of mid-April, when Lakhmna was said to have agreed to drop his attempt to evict 25 tenants.