Morning Headlines: Deteriorating Stone Wall in East Falls Costs Locals

A city structural assessment reports the walls threatens to collapse, but its residents responsibility for its repair.

East Falls - W. Penn and Midvale driveway screenshot

Beginning of driveway between W. Penn and Midvale, from Vaux Street corner.
Photo credit: Google Street View

Picture this: the 85-year-old retaining wall that divides your yard from the back street’s common driveway starts deteriorating. The damage extends for two blocks, and if unaddressed, will result in the collapse of your rear deck (as well as those of your neighbors). The city then does a structural report on it, which verifies its danger, and says you and other affected residents must pick up the repair bills.

That’s exactly what happened to some locals from East Falls.

According to PlanPhilly’s Alan Jaffe, sixty-five residents — those living along 3401-63 W. Penn Street and 3400-58 Midvale Avenue– must collectively pay an estimated $450,000 to ensure the stone wall dividing the W. Penn homes from the Midvale driveway is fixed. Jaffe reports that’s “an average cost of $6,923 for the residents, depending on the width of their properties.”

Should residents opt to ignore this city directive (they recently received “in violation” letters from L&I, but were told they would only pay for repairs, not fines for the violations cited), the city would respond by “demolish[ing] and reconstruct[ing] the wall at the homeowners’ expense,” something Jaffe says would cost residents “20 percent more than if [they] hired a private contractor to make the repairs.”

For anyone wondering why the city deems the wall’s renovation a responsibility of the locals, here’s some history from PlanPhilly:

The block — bounded by Midvale Avenue and Penn, Vaux and Conrad streets — was developed by builder Michael J. McCrudden in 1928 to 1929, according to a report by city surveyor and regulator John Parkinson.

To complete construction of the houses and to deal with “compelling grade problems,” the builder constructed the 12-foot-wide driveway behind the Midvale properties with a retaining wall that supports a 3-foot-wide alley, sidewalk and fence for use of the Penn Street homes.

Parkinson’s report (PDF) concluded that in keeping with a municipal act from 1923, the responsibility for repairs to the entire driveway should be shared by property owners on Midvale, and repairs related to the alley and fence be apportioned among owners of the Penn Street properties.

Any repairs to the retaining wall should be shared by all of the property owners of Midvale and Penn in proportion to the width of their properties abutting the wall, Parkinson wrote.

Fortunately, the $450k bill isn’t the only option these residents have. Darin Gatti, chief engineer for the Streets Department, claims they have two more: “partial reconstruction, focused on the worst sections of the 550-foot-long wall” or “installation of tiebacks that would hold up the wall at the worst points along the expanse.”

Residents of two East Falls blocks face $450K bill for alley-wall repairs [PlanPhilly]

Meanwhile, moving onto other news…

Welcome to Chump City [Daily News]

The New Life Of The Old Family Court (And Its Murals) [Hidden City]

Historical society and developer at odds over the fate of a 104-year-old home [Chestnut Hill Local]

Temple president: William Penn High School purchase means room to grow [Business Journal]

Mural arts program to design wall in Frankford [Northeast Times]

Ardmore, Penn Wynne libraries’ renovations delayed after board rejects all bids [Main Line Times]