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Holme Circle residents demand answers on sinking street

Residents of the 3000 and 3100 blocks of Fairfield Street want the city to stabilize their sinking sidewalk and street.

From left: Michael Fagan, Nicole Figueroa and Linda Colwell-Smith are three of the Holme Circle residents pushing for a resolution to the issues on Fairfield Street. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

For Dawn Smith, walking her dog has become similar to navigating an obstacle course.

Large cracks and holes dot the sidewalk and street around her house on the 3000 block of Fairfield Street. Parts of the sidewalk near the curb look as if they could collapse if a person were to step on them.

Concrete blocks are also sinking into the ground, creating what Smith believes is a dangerous situation.

“I really feel like something needs to be done,” Smith said. “There’s definitely an issue in this neighborhood that nobody wants to address.”

For the past two-and-a-half years, Smith, her neighbors and the Holme Circle Civic Association have been pushing to get the situation resolved on the 3000 and 3100 blocks of Fairfield. So far, they haven’t gotten anywhere, and they say the situation is getting worse.

“It’s frustrating,” said Holme Circle Civic Association President Michael Fagan, who also lives on the block. “How long are people supposed to wait for real answers?”

Recently, a new problem arose: A gas leak was discovered near the curb in front of Smith’s house. Fagan said Philadelphia Gas Works told him it was a sewer gas leak.

Large cracks and holes dot the pavement on the 3000 and 3100 blocks of Fairfield Street in Holme Circle. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

John DiGiulio, who works in community relations for the Philadelphia Water Department, said the department is in the process of investigating the issues brought up by residents.

“What we found in the past was there were several defective laterals that caused some issues in the street and sidewalk, but we never identified a problem with the sewer,” he told the Northeast Times.

Smith said Water Department employees were out inspecting the block in early May. They marked the holes and cracks in the street with white paint, she said. Some of the larger holes have been covered with orange traffic cones.

“I’m getting to the point where I’m tired of waiting,” said Smith, who has lived on the block for 18 years.

Residents said the problem has worsened over time. Homeowners say they have paid to have their sidewalk redone only for the cracks and holes to reappear a year or two later.

JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

Concerned neighbors and the civic association have also contacted local and state elected officials about their sinking street. 

Alicia Stavitzski, a spokeswoman for Sixth District Councilman Bobby Henon’s office, said Henon wants to work with the civic association and neighbors to bring in a private engineering firm to assess the situation. 

“The Councilman has had each utility and city department conduct site visits and despite these efforts, the source of the problems haven’t been definitively identified,” Henon’s office said in a statement.

Stavitzski said the councilman hopes the engineer will be able to begin work examining the issue in August.

A significant worry for the Fairfield residents is whether they will be on the hook for the cost of whatever repairs have to be made to the street.

In a letter to the Water Department, the civic association asked the city to compensate anyone who has been charged for work that would not have been necessary if the department had acted earlier to fix the underlying issues.

An exasperated Smith said she feels she shouldn’t have to pay for the work, especially as her property tax bill grows each year.

Sinking streets are not a new problem in Philadelphia or in the Northeast.

About 15 years ago, residents on 3200 and 3300 blocks of Fordham Road, just around the corner from Smith’s house, had similar issues, according to a 2003 Times article.

In the 1990s, about 30 homes in Wissinoming were condemned and demolished after a sinking issue, and, famously, more than 900 properties were razed in Logan due to unsteady ground conditions.

Those two well-publicized incidents were caused by the erosion of material that was used to fill in creek beds before the neighborhoods were built. It’s unclear if any historic creeks or swamps existed under the Fairfield Street homes. ••

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