Parking czars Bob and Harvey Spear were none too happy last month when Philadelphia Weekly shared the tale of how their E-Z Park lot near 12th and Vine streets usurped a portion of the public sidewalk without city permission.
Once the story hit print, they said they were inundated with calls, including attention from elected officials who wanted to know how nobody noticed how the parking lot between 12th and 13th along Winter Street cut the width of the sidewalk in half.
The brothers now run the family owned business which has “owned, leased and managed more than 100 locations in the Philadelphia area, and we continue to seek expansion opportunities.”
A call received from the Spears brothers – on speakerphone from their office – said they’d never gotten word of phone messages or emails seeking comment on the matter, and questioned the necessity of including records of donations made to the district city councilman’s campaign.
They also noted that they didn’t know about the issue – made public by a tipster – until city Department of Licenses and Inspections inspectors issued 27 code-violation notices for cars blocking the public walkway.
At a face-to-face meeting in the lot a week or so later, they reiterated those concerns, and noted that parking lot owners like themselves are under financial siege from a city’s 22.5 percent tax rate on gross receipts. They hoped this story wouldn’t quell efforts to get that levy reduced, as they’d hoped City Council would work toward.
“We’re honest people. We don’t do things improper or illegal,” Bob Spear told PW. “If anything looks improper or illegal, we rectify it as soon as we find out.”
To that end, the Spears hired a crew to come over on Sunday, Oct. 20 and move the car curbs that mark each spot back a few feet from the sidewalk onto the lot.
The end result of the project – which Bob Spears estimated as having cost $1,500 – was a sidewalk wide enough for people with strollers or using wheelchairs to navigate easily.
“To see something like (that story), it was horrible because we don’t do things like that on purpose. We meant no harm. We’re not like that. All of our locations are in beautiful shape,” he said. “We don’t want to break the law on purpose.
“We got some reaction from people in City Hall, which we don’t like to get. I just hope they see this follow-up story.”
The parking-lot reconfiguration didn’t bring about the loss of any spots, though the area between two rows of parking to back in and out has gotten narrower.
The Spears brothers noted that they paid off the 27 code-violation notices – $100 for each ticket – upon receipt, and instantly called the city to find out what they can do to be in compliance, which led to moving the car curbs.
According to Bob Spear, the city inspector told him on Friday that L&I “was going to close the case” as a result of the corrective actions taken.
Though the situation seems to have been addressed, not everybody was sympathetic toward their plight.
L&I spokeswoman Karen Guss confirmed that the tickets have been paid and that inspectors “confirmed that parking spots and curb barriers have been brought within the boundaries of the lot.”
“E-Z Park’s public land grab was wrong, and L&I is pleased that the Department’s enforcement action got it to stop,” she added. “We just wish that there had been 311 reports about the EZ Park property. L&I would have known about the problem earlier and could have taken action sooner. The City strongly encourages residents who see this kind of thing to report it to 311.”
As for the tipster who went public with the story – the owners mistakenly chalked it up to a disgruntled former employee – he or she doesn’t think they’ve done enough.
“It looks like the parking lot only wants to give back a couple feet, not what they originally stole,” the tipster said. “Also, the sidewalk is dangerous for walking because the asphalt is still covering a couple feet. It’s all uneven, making for a sort of an obstacle course.”
The tipster estimated that it would cost EZ Park about $15,000 to mill asphalt off sidewalks or expose the original surface, which is “pennies” compared to what he thinks the lot made by expanding the lot, an assertion that the owners dismissed as inaccurate.
“He’s still trying to skate. They stole city land, made millions and now give it back,” the tipster said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to just move on. As you can see, I’m determined to see them return it exactly to its original size.”